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ClassicsOnline Home » PAGANINI, N.: Ghiribizzi (Janssens)
The ultimate violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini also wrote more than 100 pieces for guitar, including these Ghiribizzi (‘whims’). Composed for ‘a little girl in Naples’ who must have been both talented and eager to develop her technique, these whimsical works explore a wide range of musical styles idiomatic to the guitar. Many of the 43 short movements draw on themes by Rossini, Paisiello, Süssmayr, Mozart, Giuliani and, of course, Paganini himself. Praised by Les cahiers de la guitare as ‘inspired’ and Koelner Stadt Anzeiger as a ‘genius’, Denis Sungho Janssens made his 2005 Carnegie Hall début as a Rising Star of the European Concert Hall Organization.
Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)
Ghiribizzi M.S. 43
Both the personality and the genius of Niccolò Paganini never cease to fascinate musical historians, critics, and the public. As a violinist he represents the ultimate virtuoso, the artist who developed his instrument’s expressive and technical possibilities well beyond what any performer had achieved previously. But Paganini was also a prolific composer, producing over thirty works for violin and orchestra, chamber music including fifteen string quartets and a quantity of violin solos, vocal pieces, as well as over a hundred works for guitar.
Paganini’s relationship to the guitar is a significant aspect of the instrument’s early nineteenth century history. The great Italian guitarist, Ferdinando Carulli, described Paganini as ‘an excellent guitarist’, while Schottky asserted that he ‘plays the guitar extraordinarily well’. Paganini composed 37 sonatas for the guitar in addition to several sonatinas and other short pieces. He also wrote nine quartets for guitar and strings, trios for guitar and bowed instruments, and a variety of compositions for violin and guitar, among them over fifty sonatas.
Born in Genoa in 1782, Paganini was taught violin and mandolin by his father, and later took lessons with local professional violinists. By the age of twelve he was already playing concerts and shortly after composed a set of variations for violin and guitar entitled Carmagnola, in honour of the municipality of that name in the Italian region of Piedmont. Paganini went on to study violin and composition with a number of eminent teachers. In the late 1790s, Napoleon’s invasion of Genoa compelled Paganini to move to Leghorn, but between 1801 and 1809 he settled in Lucca, where he was first violinist in the Republican orchestra. His next step was to become a freelance solo artist, touring the main cities of Italy. In 1828 he performed fifteen concerts in Vienna, followed by a Prague début, where he first encountered his future biographer, Julius Schottky. Intent on expanding his horizons, he now toured Germany and Poland, making more than a hundred appearances in forty towns. In 1831 he made his Paris début to great acclaim, followed shortly after by a London recital on 3 June of the same year. In the early 1830s he became an enthusiastic advocate of the viola, which he frequently played in public and wrote a sonata for viola and orchestra. In the remaining years of his life, Paganini continued giving concerts, conducting and composing, with periods in Parma and Turin, and tours to Marseille and Nice. Even though his health declined rapidly after 1837, he continued to compose. A legal case concerning alleged breach of contract, however, caused him many problems and he eventually moved to Nice where an adverse judgement on the matter could not be enforced. It was there that he died on 27 May 1840.
Paganini’s 43 Ghiribizzi (Whims) for guitar were ‘written for a little girl in Naples’, the ‘charming daughter’ of Signor Botto during the autumn of 1820. In these pieces Paganini considered he was ‘doodling’ rather than composing but observed that some of the themes were ‘not unappealing’. Throughout the sequence, the composer explores a number of styles and musical concepts idiomatic to the guitar appropriate to a young player’s technical and expressive range.
Ghiribizzo No. 1, is a miniature scalic exercise over open strings while No. 2 begins in tenths with a pedal bass before offering a minore contrast reminiscent of No. 1. The third piece takes the form of a lively waltz in the key of C, with a middle section in A minor.
No. 4 draws its theme from the Allegro vivo e spiritoso movement of Paganini’s Sonata Op. 3, No. 6, for violin and guitar, and is a study in thirds over open strings in the bass. Ghiribizzo No. 5 uses a melody from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which can also be found in Paganini’s Variazioni sul tema ‘Non più mesta accanto al fuoco’ for violin and orchestra.
No. 6 makes imaginative use of octaves, ornamentation and open string basses, bringing together several of the techniques deployed singly in the previous Ghiribizzo.
No. 7, a waltz, unites intervals of the sixth and semiquaver scalic passages, and has a central Trio in the minor key. No. 8 is a study in arpeggios and scale patterns, the former element to be expanded in No. 41.
Nos 9 and 10 also explore textures previously used, namely thirds, arpeggio patterns, and open string bass lines. The theme of No. 11 is the same as the Rondò of Paganini’s Sonata a Preghiera (Sonata to Prayer) for violin and orchestra.
Nos 12 to 15 intermingle technical aspects such as pedal basses, embellishments, and scale passages supported by open strings, with No. 14 giving access to the higher reaches of the fingerboard and slurred notes.
No. 16 is a version of the Aria, In cor più non mi sento (In my heart I no longer feel the same) from Paisiello’s opera, La Molinara (The Miller’s Wife). Paganini wrote a set of variations on the same melody and used it again in his Pot-Pourri for violin and orchestra. The theme of No. 17, Le streghe (The Witches) can also be found in the composer’s Variations for Violin and Orchestra, and takes its origin from the oboe solo accompanying the witches in the ballet Il Noce di Benevento (The Walnut Tree of Benevento) by Süssmayr.
No. 18 deploys an elegant melody over open string pedal basses, the same notes being sounded more sparsely, in the maggiore middle section. No. 19, Corrente, is a simple study in thirds which give way to brief scalic phrases. No. 20, Là ci darem la mano (Give me your hand) is a reference to the renowned duet in Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni.
No. 21, in A major, has clear similarities to No. 18, especially with regard to groups of pedal notes. The melody of No. 22 is taken from Paganini’s sonata, La Primavera (Springtime) for violin and orchestra. The integration of thirds with rapid groups of septuplets and, in the second half, dextrous embellishment, raises the technical level.
No. 23 is characterised by the use of open bass strings in a kind of ostinato to support a melodic line. In the key of A major, contrast is provided by a central minore section. The same basses are evident in No. 24, essentially a further exploration of the elements of No. 23, the time signature of two-four in the former now being replaced by six-eight.
The first part of No. 25 in C major presents violinistic thirds and fifths but omits any bass line until the minore episode where the three open bass strings accompany a theme in the treble. No. 26, Arietta, in D major, is a study in dotted rhythms and syncopations, developing in the second half into groups of thirds. No. 27, in the same key plays with little rhythmic figurations and the use of slurs while the next Ghiribizzo, No. 28, also in D, uses a theme from Paganini’s Valtz in C major for solo guitar.
No. 29, Marcia (March) introduces three part chords with the lowest string tuned to D, the catchy rhythm expressing a subtly martial atmosphere. No. 30, employing similar scordatura with the bass string, takes as its theme the Neapolitan song Tengo più di trentun’ anni e mi voglio maritar (I am past thirty-one and wish to marry), a melody also to be found in Giuliani’s Variations, Op. 147.
No. 31, Minuetto, raises the technical level combining pedal notes and lively semiquaver patterns later interspersed with rapid arpeggiation, ascending octaves, and repeated triplets on the top string. In No. 32 Paganini’s delight in threading a theme over the open string accompaniment is continued but in the second half by using a bass line with fretted notes, the texture remains firmly two part.
No. 33 opens with brilliant downward arpeggio sweeps before moving to slurs on the top string and, in the middle section, repeated notes over a fretted bass line. Paganini chooses once more the key of A major in No. 34, Valtz, semiquaver rests imparting to this piece its own rhythmic qualities.
No. 35 follows previous examples of wide distances between open string bass lines and the melody on the top string. But No. 36 makes effective use of chords with two part counterpoint in the minore section. No. 37, Adagetto con espressione, has the name ‘Rossini’ written beneath the stave, while the second half has ‘Paganini’ engraved there. Thus the latter offers a kind of response or comment on the first melody, the voice of each composer being clearly distinct.
No. 38, marked Vivace, begins with a single line melody which develops into arpeggiated fragments and concludes with simple chords. In No. 39, Allegretto, Paganini’s exploration of the higher notes of the fingerboard proceeds with the fifth and fourth open strings of the guitar providing accompaniment for a theme which would be featured again over a decade later in his Rondo Allegretto of the Terzetto for violin, cello and guitar.
No. 40 is created from tiny melodic elements which develop into semiquaver runs. No. 41 is a brilliant arpeggio study in the true early nineteenth century style similar to that found in the didactic works of Paganini’s contemporary guitar maestros such as Aguado, Carcassi, Carulli, Giuliani and Sor.
No. 42, in A major, presents ornamentation and top string slurs over a bass consisting of the fifth and sixth open strings. The slurs are continued in No. 43 which also features descending scale runs and a maggiore section with three part chords.
Grateful acknowledgement is due to Giuseppe Gazzelloni’s Niccolò Paganini, The Complete Works for Solo Guitar (Chanterelle, 2006).
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PAGANINI, N.: Ghiribizzi (Janssens)