Paganini repeated his triumphs again the following year, performing in Vienna and the principal cities of Germany, and everywhere arousing similar feelings of admiration. Orders and medals were bestowed on him, and his progress was almost one of royalty. His first concert in Paris was given on March 9, 1831, at the opera-house. He was then forty-seven years old, and Castil-Blaze described him as being nearly six feet in height, with a long, pallid face, brilliant eyes, like those of an eagle, long curling black hair, which fell down over the collar of his coat, a thin and cadaverous figure—altogether a personality so gaunt and delicate as to be more like a shadow than a man. The eyes sparkled with a strange phosphorescent gleam, and the long bony fingers were so flexible as to be likened only to “a handkerchief tied to the end of a stick.” Petis describes the impression he created at his first concert as amounting to a “positive and universal frenzy.” Being questioned as to why he always performed his own compositions, he replied “that, if he played other compositions than his own, he was obliged to arrange them to suit his own peculiar style, and it was less trouble to write a piece of his own.” Indeed, whenever he attempted to interpret the works of other composers, he failed to produce the effects which might have been expected of him. This was especially the case in the works of Beethoven.
When Paganini appeared in England, of course there was a prodigious curiosity to see and hear the great player. All kinds of rumors were in the public mouth about him, and many of the lower classes really believed that he had sold himself to the evil one. The capacious area of the opera-house was densely packed, and the prices of admission were doubled on the opening night. The enthusiasm awakened by the performance can best be indicated by quoting from some of the contemporary accounts. The concert opened with Beethoven’s Second Symphony, performed by the Philharmonic Society, and it was followed by Lablache, who sang Rossini’s “Largo al factotum.” “A breathless silence then ensued,” writes Mr. Gardiner, an amateur of Leicester, who at the peril of his ribs had been struggling in the crowd for two hours to get admission, “and every eye watched the action of this extraordinary violinist as he glided from the side scenes to the front of the stage. An involuntary cheering burst from every part of the house, many persons rising from their seats to view the specter during the thunder of this unprecedented applause, his gaunt and extraordinary appearance being more like that of a devotee about to suffer martyrdom than one to delight you with his art. With the tip of his bow he set off the orchestra in a grand military movement with a force and vivacity as surprising as it was new. At the termination of this introduction, he commenced with a soft, streamy note of celestial quality, and with three or four whips of his bow elicited points of sound that mounted to the third heaven, and as bright as stars.... Immediately an execution followed which was equally indescribable. A scream of astonishment and delight burst from the audience at the novelty of this effect.... etc.” This naive account may serve to show the impression created on the minds of those not trained to guard their words with moderation.