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Niccolo Paganini and Karol Lipinski: The greatest Violinists of all times Compare & Contrast Essay

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Updated: Oct 19th, 2019


The violin is a musical instrument that is considered as one of perfect. It is indeed perfect due to its versatility and attractive musicality. The violin has been described as a human voice because its model is able to reproduce different human moods from a sorrowful mood, to a pathetic mood to exhilarating joy and even lyrical happiness. Massart and Kreisler were violinists reputed for their ability to make their violins cry.

The violin can emulate almost all the other music instruments and can produce varied feelings depending on the skill of the player. It is within the range of the four octaves of a violin to play all the microtones and tones of the scale and can play chords, as well.

The violin can also imitate all sorts of animal noises and bird singing and generally any other sound that can be imagined. There have been many great violin players in history, but the greatest of them all were Niccolo Paganini and Karol Lipinski with the former being more famous than the latter.

The two lived at the same time and even shared performances. The paper presents the life and work of the two prominent violinists going a step further to provide working supportive evidence behind the claim that Paganini was more famous in relation to his counterpart Lipinski.

Life and Work of Niccolo Paganini

Niccolo Paganini was an Italian composer, guitarist, violist and violinist. He lies in the category of the most popular violinists ever in history. In fact, today’s violinists have declared him the foundation of the famous violin skill. Paganini was the third of Antonio and Teresa’s six children and was born in October 27, 1782 in Genoa, Italy.

His parents, particularly his father, were not triumphant as dealers. As a result, they had to venture in other sectors, for instance, the music industry, as a way of backing up their earnings. At only five years old, Paganini began attending mandolin lessons steered by his father.

The bright student, as revealed by the father, was good enough to apply his violin skills learned from his father in real life situations at only seven years. Paganini showed musical talent at an early age, which earned him several scholarships for training in violin playing. Paganini carried out his lessons under a very close mentorship of people like Giacomo Costa and Giovanni Servetto. As a result, his mastery of violin outweighed that of his former teacher: his father.

Accompanied by his father, Paganini paid a visit to Parma in search for more skills from people like Rolla Alessandro. Ghiretti and Paer mostly influenced the composition style adapted by Paganini even though he did not take long with them.

In 1796, the French invaded northern Italy including Genoa. The Paganini family escaped to Romairone near Bolzaneto to seek refuge. Accompanied by his father, Paganini paid another visit to Livorno in 1800. Here, he got a chance to participate in concerts while his father did nautical exertions. He did not earn much from his position and would get most of his income from freelancing. As much as Paganini was a famous violinist, he was equally a womanizer and a gambler.

In 1805, Napoleonic France annexed Lucca, ceding the region to a sister of Napoleon called Elisa Baciocchi who appointed Paganini as a violinist in her court. Paganini also gave private lessons to Elisa’s husband. Baciocchi, the impressive Duchess of Tuscany, went along with Paganini who later left her in 1809 for a freelance career.

In some time to come, Paganini had planned to visit most of the places near Genoa and Parma. Despite the fact that he was popular with the locals in Parma and Genoa, he was little known in Europe. In 1813, he performed at a concert in Milan, which turned out to be his first break in Europe. His success in the concert began to draw the attention of prominent musicians across Europe, although most of them were more conservative compared to Paganini.

He had encounters with famous musicians such as Luis Spohr and Charles Lafont, which created intense rivalry. He continued to perform in Italy for the next few years. In August 1828 to February 1831, he ran a European tour, which he started with a concert in Vienna. It was followed by more concerts in major European cities in Poland, Germany, Bohemia and Strasbourg. He then had another tour in Britain and France.

The tours made him famous in Europe due to his technical ability and willingness to display it. Besides embarking on his own masterworks, with the most liked of it addressing the subject of variations and thesis, Paganini went a step further to change the compositions done by former violinists, for instance, Giovanni Viotti and Rodolphe Kreutze.

Despite of his numerous idealistic conquests, Paganini got a chance to meet and share some dialogue with Antonia Bianchi, a famous musician from Como. They both performed in numerous concerts all through Italy. They even had a son although they never legalized the union.

Paganini was a close friend of composers such as Hector Berlioz and Gioachino Rossini with whom he performed in various concerts. Paganini owned several fine string instruments, most of which he acquired and lost under very legendary circumstances.

For instance, in Livorno while he was still a teenager, he was lent a violin to use in a concert by a wealthy businessperson named Livron. Giuseppe Guarneri, the master, had made the violin. Paganini’s performance at the concert impressed Giuseppe so much: he could not accept his violin back.

During his displaying of his exemplary talent in Parma, the devoted violinist, Paganini, stood an excellent opportunity of winning a precious violin also engineered by Master Giuseppe, after taking the first position of a quite challenging sight-reading exercise.

In his concerts, Paganini restricted himself in his own masterworks. A good number of these works have had a significant positive impact in the world of violin skills. While serving at the Baciocchi court, he composed 24 caprices, as well as quartets, trios, duo-sonatas and solo pieces for guitar. Most of these works were inspired by guitar quintet publications of Boccherini.

Paganini is the de facto master of variations, many of which he composed and performed before the European tour. Generally, Paganini made technically imaginative compositions, which greatly expanded the timbre of violin. He would imitate the sounds of various animals and instruments in his performances. One such a performance was called the Spanish dance, which humorously imitated farm animals. Duetto Amoroso stands out as one amongst his most outstanding performances.

It was a music played by Paganini alone. The solo performance attracted the eyes of many based on the content, as well as message, which the singer passed to the entire violin fans. Even then, his works came under intense criticism for lacking true polyphonic characteristics. He inspired many prominent composers who wrote variations for his compositions.

Life and Work of Karol Lipinski

On the other hand, Karol Lipinski was born on October 30th 1790, eight years after Niccolo Paganini. Lipinski was born in Lublin on an estate belonging to the aristocratic Potocki family in Poland.

Lipinski’s father was a director of music for the Potockis. The notion that a teacher will always have a bigger share of knowledge than the student does not always hold true. There exists cases where students end up acquiring knowledge and skills from their teachers, and based on the criterion they use to deliver the same to others, they do it better compared to their teachers.

Karol Lipinski was such a type: his music knowledge gained from school went far beyond that of the teacher (his own father) who imparted it to him. By the time Lipinski attained eight years of age, he had been playing concertos of Giornovichi and Pleyel. Seeing his son’s ability, Lipinski’s father decided to show some signs of appreciation by offering to take his son for a visit.

This was an excellent opportunity of encouraging Lipinski to do better, as he still had the capacity to improve his present performances. However, it is surprising to note that Lipinski did not accept the offer. He literary rejected it based on his humble background that could not allow him take the offer. Many orchestras of the polish courts were disbanded, as well.

As a result, Lipinski’s family moved to Galicia, in the Austrian partition where his father served as the Kapellmeister of the musical establishment of Count Starzenski. Lipinski took up some of his father’s responsibilities as the Kapellmeister and composed three symphonies and several dances before 1810.

After he had played the cello for some time, Lipinski took up the violin with obsessive practice and a renewed passion. He was confident of the fineness of his technique, but he would later rival Niccolo Paganini for the title of Europe’s greatest violinist. Lipinski was appointed as the concertmaster of the Lwow Theatre in Galicia in 1809. In 1812, he was appointed the Kapellmeister.

He later met Impresario Jan Kaminski, a dramatist whose productions featured at the theatre often. At the time, Polish performances were only allowed twice a week. Impresario inspired Lipinski that he started a career in light opera. Lipinski started contributing as an operetta composer.

He composed The Danube Mermaid, which was performed in 1814. He steadily rose in his profession, which helped him maintain financial security and was able to marry the love of his life, Regina Garbaczynska in 1814. Lipinski was relieved of his theatre duties in 1814 to allow him Vienna, where he met and was acquainted to Louis Spohr who was one of the finest violinist and composer in Europe at the time.

After attending a performance by Louis in February 1815, he was so impressed that he decided to abandon the theatre to become a virtuoso. He took two years to prepare for public performance and made his first performance as a virtuoso in 1817 at the Lwow theatre. Having heard of Niccolo Paganini’s prowess as a violinist, he departed for Italy in late 1817 to hear him. Lipinski dedicated his three capriccios to Paganini and played for him.

Meanwhile, Paganini delighted him when he took up his guitar and played as an accompaniment to the three capriccios. Paganini and Lipinski appeared together in Piacenza during the month of April 1818, where they performed Kreutzer’s Symphonie Concertantes that involved an orchestra and two violins.

Paganini then invited Lipinski to accompany him for a tour of Italy, but Lipinski declined and returned home to his wife since she was expectant and about to give birth. On his way home, Lipinski met a pupil of Tartini who impressed him a lot. In admiration of Paganini, Lipinski followed closely the artistic ethos of Tartini and Spohr.

From 1821, Lipinski organized concerts in Galicia and its neighborhoods in which he performed. In 1823, he jointly performed in a concert with Maria Szymanowska, a pianist in Kiev, and Jacques Mazas, a violinist in Poznan. In 1828, he performed in Warsaw where he was appointed as the Royal Polish Court’s first violinist.

Both Lipinski and Paganini performed 1829 in Warsaw during the celebrations of the coronation of Nicholas Tsar as the king of Poland. Lipinski had been unsuccessfully dissuaded not to perform at the event and let Paganini perform alone. There was a furor in the press following the event. Between 1830 and 1833, Lipinski did not perform in public with in order to polish his technique and make it perfect.

He performed in Poznan and Warsaw in 1834, and then toured Germany between 1835 and 1838 where he tried to vie as a concertmaster for orchestra belonging to Mendelssohn Gewandhaus but was unsuccessful. He also toured France where he performed in various concerts and taught the daughter of Chopin the piano, and Russia. In Riga, he met with Richard Wagner with whom he performed in several concerts.

In the year 1839, Lipinski’s family relocated to Dresden. This is where he got an appointment as a concert director for the imperial group. Berlioz and Wagner worked with him in the royal orchestra, and he made friends with Clara and Robert Schumann. In the same court, he mentored several young violinists who later became famous such as Joachim and Wieniawski. Lipinski received an Amati. Based on the persistent conflicts he had so far experienced with his life, Lipinski made up his mind to let go of these struggles of life.

According to him, he had experienced enough of these vicissitudes. In fact, he officially withdrew from the meticulous life in1846. He was composing his works to be published soon after he was through with editing. He occasionally played in public and even, in the company of Liszt, performed Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in 1853. He established a music school in Lwow for peasant children shortly before his death in December 1861.

Why Paganini was more famous than Lipinski

Based on their performance, fame, character, amongst other outstanding parameters, it would be next to impossible to tell who between the two violinists was more famous in relation to the other. Paganini had his share of fame, just as his counterpart Lipinski had his other share. However, as the paper reveals, although both Noccolo Paganini and Karol Lipinski were great violinists, Paganini was more acclaimed and more famous than Lipinski.

The claim comes in based on the many outstanding performances that Paganini made, as revealed herein, as opposed to Lipinski. For instance, by performing with Paganini in Milan, Lipinski’s fame as a violinist soared due to the association with Paganini who was already a famous violinist in Europe. After the two jointly played for various concerts in Warsaw in 1829, they became rivals, and Paganini would later testify that though he could not tell his position, he knew Lipinski was behind him in terms of fame.

Lipinski was a conventional violinist that was acclaimed for his hard work as a violinist. However, Paganini was very random and introduced a unique style of playing the violin that made his critics doubt his style. However, Paganini’s success made people believe that he was a demonic violinist. Paganini’s legend has it that he acquired magical powers after he had made a covenant with the devil. The magical powers were believed to have enabled him play the violin in a way that created effects beyond people’s reach.

Some people of his time still, thought that the devil possessed him and was responsible for coaxing the violin to produce the music, which came to be known as the devil’s music. Paganini’s playing style in which he literally lashed his bow on the violin-encouraged people to believe that he was demonic.

In the Gothic sense, it meant that he was perverted and corrupt and a licentious criminal as it was in the tradition of Byron’s hero-villains and the Marquis de Sade. Paganini had many interrelated faces among his followers who were amazed by his ability as a violinist. He was viewed as magician, Faust, sadistic villain and Satan.

Paganini’s demonic image was viewed in the romanticist context, as shaped by Byron, Goethe and others with whom Paganini’s demonic image proliferated. The deviant behavior of Paganini as a violinist was associated with Faust’s popularity. This exemplified another romanticist facet that had interest resurge in the dark ages.

Paganini’s image was, therefore, resonating with a number of cultural overtones. People thus identified more with Paganini than they did with Lipinski. The belief that Paganini had supernatural powers within him made him be god-like among his audience in Europe. Therefore, Lipinski who was an exemplary conventional violinist could not match his greatness.

Paganini’s technique was unique and amazing to many because it eradicated any technical difficulties. This made the people believe there were occult forces at play, as it was not viewed as something that is naturally possible. His spectacle that saw him strike his violin with the bow, making it to ‘cry’ brought his audience to imagine him a demonic figure because they believed it was the devil in him that actually did the it. His way of performance was unprecedented with rich connotations that Lipinski’s technique lacked.

Paganini developed unique effects and techniques, which was unseen among contemporary composers. His performance’s virtuosity especially the visually arresting style created an image of a violinist that was beyond skill and technique. The audience could not comprehend it. They were left believing Paganini was supernatural.

Ivry Gitlis was an Israeli violinist who described Paganini as a phenomenon. Despite the fact that Paganini employed some techniques that were already known, his bowing techniques and intonation were not unique but were considered extraordinary. Paganini played a major role in reviving and popularizing some violin techniques such as those of Durand and the 24 caprices of Locatelli.

He used most of these forgotten techniques in his violin virtuoso but in a modified and rather advanced way. Paganini’s flexibility as a violinist was unmatched by even his rival Karol Lipinski. His fingers were exceptionally long which enabled him to play three octaves in a hand span across four strings.

This is a difficult feat even when considered against today’s standards. Scientists attribute his seemingly unnatural ability mostly to Marfan syndrome. Comparing his natural endowment to Lipinski, Paganini had an edge over him, which he could not breach. In addition, Paganini’s unconventional tendencies made him unique.

Paganini was, therefore, extraordinary. This may explain why he was thought to have used unnatural powers. Some commentators regarded his violin bow as a a magic instrument. Paganini’s remarkable abilities were attributed to supernatural forces by his viewers due to their helplessness in explaining how he was able to overcome the difficulties of violin execution techniques.

The supernatural comments were not only made by the audience and critics, but also by great violin virtuosi. For instance, his greatest rival Karol Lipinski referred to him as “a Genoese Wizard” while another violin virtuoso Ludwig Spohr referred him to as a complete wizard.

Paganini earned German nicknames such as Hexenmeister, which means witch-master, and Hexensohn, which means son of a witch. The names did not only associate Paganini with witchcraft, they were also referring to one of his famous compositions called Le Streghe meaning ‘the witches.’

Paganini had taken the theme of the variation set from ballet II noce di Benevento by Franz Xavier. The theme signaled the entrance of the witches onto the stage. In 1813, after Paganini had seen the ballet, he composed the piece, which he frequently programmed during his European tour. The piece was billed as the withes’ dance during Paganini’s Berlin concerts in 1829.

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