Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) was an Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer. He has been celebrated as the best violin virtuoso of his time, and heavily influenced modern violin technique. He is most commonly known for his 24 Caprices for Solo Violin.
Paganini composed his own works for him to play exclusively in all of his performances. His works were technically creative and expanded the timbre and the known ability of the violin. Paganini was known for his flexibility; he had exceptionally long fingers and had the ability to play three octaves across four strings in a hand span, which is extraordinary even by today’s standards. His seemingly unnatural stature and ability may have been attributed to Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder. People with Marfan syndrome tend to be tall and thin, with long arms, legs, fingers, and toes. They typically also have flexible joints and scoliosis.
Paganini’s playing and composition was heavily influenced by violinists Pietro Locatelli and August Durand. While studying in Parma, Paganini came across Locatelli’s 24 Caprices (entitled The Art of the New Style – The Enigmatic Caprices). They were published in the 1730s but were shunned by musical authorities for their many technical innovations, being generally forgotten by the music community.
Paganini was impressed with violinist Durand due to his innovations and showmanship, including his use of harmonics and left hand pizzicato. Paganini was heavily influential in the revival of these violin techniques, which are now regularly used in compositions.
Included below is a performance of this work by renowned violinist Joshua Bell and guitarist Sharon Isbin at the White House in 2009.