Niccolò Paganini

Portrait of Niccolò Paganini

Niccolò Paganini was an Italian violinist and composer and was celebrated as the greatest violin virtuoso of his day. He was born on 27th October 1782 in Genoa, Italy and died on 27th May 1840 in Nice, France aged 57.

Major Works

24 Caprices for Solo Violin (1802-1817)  
Violin Concerto No. 1 (1818) 
“Moses Fantasy” (1818) 
Variations on God Save the King (1829)
“Moto Perpetuo” (1835)

Biography Timeline

Niccolo Paganini was born on 27th October 1782 in Genoa, Italy. His father was an unsuccessful trader but made some money by playing the mandolin. Paganini studied early on with his father and then with a local violinist, Servetto, and then finally with the famous Giacomo Costa.

1793: He makes his first concert appearance and then moved to Parma to take lessons with Alessandro Rolla and Gaspare Ghiretti. 

1796: The French invade northern Italy including Genoa during March and the Paganinis take refuge at their country property in Romairone, near Bolzaneto.

1797: He tours Lombardy with his father giving concerts. Once his reputation had increased he became independent but also indulged himself in gambling and womanising. A French merchant lent him a Guarneri violin to play at a concert because he had pawned his own. He was so impressed with his playing that he gave the instrument to Paganini permanently..

1800: He travels to Livorno to give concerts. 

1801: He is appointed as the first violin of the Republic of Lucca. He begins to write the first of his 24 Capricci for solo violin which all use innovative techniques.

1805: Lucca is annexed by Napoleon Bonaparte and the region is given to Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi to rule over. Paganini is appointed as Director of Music at Piombino by Elisa and he gives private lessons to her husband Felice for ten years.

1807: Elisa Baciocchi becomes the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and her court transfers to Florence.Paganini travels with the entourage.

1809: At the end of the year he leaves the Baciocci court to become freelance.

1813: He performs at La Scala, Milan for the first time. The concert was a great success and his fame begins to rise amongst the music establishment in Europe. Whilst there he meets a singer named Antonia Bianchi who is originally from Como and the two start a close relationship and travel to concerts together.

1818: He meets Giachino Rossini in Bologna during the summer.

1819: The Violin Concerto No. 1, opus 6, is premiered in Naples on the 31st of March.

1821: He meets Rossini again on his return from Naples in Rome and stands in as the conductor for Rossini’s opera “Matilde di Shabran” after the sudden death of the main conductor. 

1822: He contracts Syphilis.

1825: Antonia Bianchi gives birth to their son, Achille Ciro Alessandro, on 23rd July in Palermo, Sicily and he baptised at San Bartolomeo’s church.

1826: The Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, opus. 7, and the the Violin Concerto No. 3 in E major are composed by Paganini.

1827: He receives the Order of the Golden Spur from Pope Leo XII.

1828: He breaks up with Achille Ciro Alessandro. Paganini then travels to Vienna on 15th August. The concert is great success and his fame begins to spread further across Europe and he continues to give more concerts in major cities in Germany, Poland, and Bohemia which last until Strasbourg in February 1831. 

1829: The Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor is composed in the autumn.

1830: The Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor is composed.

1831: His concerts in Paris and London cause a sensation and he is now a major star.

1832: He tours England and Scotland and these concerts in particular make him a wealthy man. 

1833: He settles in Paris, where he commissions the composer Hector Berlioz to write a symphony. “Harold en Italie”  is the result but Paganini thought the viola part was too easy for him and never played it. 

1834: He is very ill with tuberculosis in Paris and returns to Genoa on 15th September. This puts an end to his public playing career. 

1835: He returns to Parma and is employed by Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, Napoleon Bonapart’s second wife. 

1836: He returns to Paris to set up a casino. Its failure leaves him in financially ruined and he has to auction off his personal effects, including his musical instruments. 

1838: He leaves Paris for Marseille at Christmas.

1839: In Nice his illness has begins to get worse.

1840: In May the Bishop of Nice sent Paganini a local priest to perform the last rites but the composer thought this was premature and refused.

Niccolo Paganini died on the 27th May from internal hemorrhaging before another priest could be summoned. Because of this, and his supposed association with the devil which allowed him to play so wildly, the Church denied his body a Catholic burial in Genoa. After four years and an appeal to the Pope his body was taken to Genoa, but it was still not buried. He was finally buried in 1876 in Parma and finally reinterred in a new cemetery in Parma in 1896.

Further Information

List of compositions by Paganini.