Dr. Spohr’s style as a player, while remarkable for its display of technique and command of resource, always subordinated mere display to the purpose of the music. The Italians called him “the first singer on the violin,” and his profound musical knowledge enabled him to produce effects in a perfectly legitimate manner, where other players had recourse to meretricious and dazzling exhibition of skill. His title to recollection in the history of music will not be so much that of a great general composer, but that of the greatest of composers for the violin, and the one who taught violinists that height of excellence as an excutant should go hand in hand with good taste and self-restraint, to produce its most permanent effects and exert its most vital influence.
The Birth of the Greatest of Violinists.—His Mother’s Dream—Extraordinary Character and Genius.—Heine’s Description of his Playing.—Leigh Hunt on Paganini.—Superstitious Rumors current during his Life.—He is believed to be a Demoniac.—His Strange Appearance.—Early Training and Surroundings.—Anecdotes of his Youth.—Paganini’s Youthful Dissipations.—His Passion for Gambling.—He acquires his Wonderful Guarnerius Violin.—His Reform from the Gaming-table.—Indefatigable Practice and Work as a Young Artist.—Paganini as a Preux Chevalier.—His Powerful Attraction for Women.—Episode with a Lady of Rank.—Anecdotes of his Early Italian Concertizing.—The Imbroglio at Ferrant.—The Frail Health of Paganini.—Wonderful Success at Milan, where he first plays One of the Greatest of his Compositions, “Le Streghe.”—Duel with Lafont.—Incidents and Anecdotes.—His First Visit to Germany.—Great Enthusiasm of his Audiences.—Experiences at Vienna, Berlin, and other German Cities.—Description of Paganini, in Paris, by Castil-Blaze and Fetis.—His English Reception and the Impression made.—Opinions of the Critics.—Paganini not pleased with England.—Settles in Paris for Two Years, and becomes the Great Musical Lion.—Simplicity and Amiability of Nature.—Magnificent Generosity to Hector Berlioz.—The Great Fortune made by Paganini.—His Beautiful Country Seat near Parma.—An Unfortunate Speculation in Paris.—The Utter Failure of his Health.—His Death at Nice.—Characteristics and Anecdotes.—Interesting Circumstances of his Last Moments.—The Peculiar Genius of Paganini, and his Influence on Art.
In the latter part of the last century an Italian woman of Genoa had a dream which she thus related to her little son: “My son, you will be a great musician. An angel radiant with beauty appeared to me during the night and promised to accomplish any wish that I might make. I asked that you should become the greatest of all violinists, and the angel granted that my desire should be fulfilled.” The child who was thus addressed became that incomparable artist, Paganini, whose name now, a glorious tradition, is used as a standard by which to estimate the excellence of those who have succeeded him.