The Cooper

Published in Hampshire Magazine Vol. 21 No. 9 July l981


Paganini, Stradivari, Kreisler: these three artists are synonymous with greatness even to the unmusical and have become household names.  The qualities, which gained them this timeless pre-eminence, this lasting honour, I leave others to decide.  By exploring to some extent the life and personality of Nicolo Paganini, some light may be thrown on the subject.

            Many books in many languages have been written about Paganini.  In English the book by Jeffrey Pulver, published in 1912, was the standard reference, but the two volume edition, “The Genoese” by G. I C. De Courcey (1957) supersedes this and is by far the most authoritative publication to date. It is doubtful whether it can ever be improved on.

            This appreciation is based not so much on literature, however, but springs more from personal fascination combined with a great admiration for the man which spans 40 years or so and on the collected evidence in the author’s possession.

            His appearances in Hampshire and the South of England make a suitable subject for local interest.  Since the 1930’s I have known of the existence of a concert bill announcing Paganini’s concerts in Southampton.  Messrs Klitz, the piano firm in Bedford Place, Southampton, had on the wall in their office a photographic copy of this bill.  In 1928 this was in the hands of Mr. George Sandell, father of Miss Elsie Sandell, the well-known Southampton historian, the original being with Mr. Dale who owned and ran a piano and music shop in Southampton High Street in the 1920s.  Obviously, there should be more than one in existence so that I was ever hopeful that some day one would come to light.  My quest for the Dale copy came to nothing after years searching.  However, there is a happy ending as, much to my delight, two years ago three concert bills for Hampshire came up for auction in one of the London sale rooms, including the very one I had been seeking! I just had to buy!  Hopefully, a bill for the Winchester recitals will eventually come to light.

            You will notice that in the illustration of the Southampton bill a Mr. P. Klitz leads the orchestra: besides being a capable violinist he was a pianist and composer of ballads with an active music establishment in Lymington in 1832.  This was a branch of the existing Southampton firm mentioned earlier.

            Nicolo Paganini came to our shores during May of 1831 and gave the first of over fifty concerts in London on June 3.  After extensive provincial tours as well as many more London recitals, he travelled from London to Southampton, stopping overnight at Winchester on March 4 to give his final concert of this tour at St. John’s House, which still exists opposite King Alfred’s statue.  He did not, as some books say, play in Southampton on this occasion.

            The name of St. John’s House might be misleading: it is, in fact, a fine ballroom capable of holding four to five hundred people. Being 30 feet high, its acoustics must be good! Late 18th century swags still decorate the walls.  It is due for restoration soon, having until recently been used as a magistrates’ court. With permission from the owners, St. John’s Trust, it may be possible to install a small plaque commemorating Nicolo Paganini’s visit to Winchester.

            It is intriguing to think that Paganini must have passed through my own village of Kings Worthy.  Perhaps it is stretching one’s imagination a little to far to hope that he could have taken refreshment at our local inn!

            March 8 sees him on board the steam packet bound for Le Havre, a journey in those days of 12 hours or more. The Hampshire Chronicle report on the Winchester concert is so enlightening that I make no apology for quoting it here in its entirety:

“A concert by the celebrated violinist, Signor Paganini, assisted by a select number of the Band of Gentlemen Amateurs of this city took place at St. John’s House, on Monday evening. The well-known and wonderful talent of this highly gifted artist attracted, as was expected, a numerous and fashionable audience.  His power over the instrument he professes beggars all description.  The solo, entitled “Sonata Sentimentale on the Prayer” in Pietro l’Eremita”, said to be executed on one string  (the fourth), must have been heard with admiration by all who could appreciate the “treasure of sweet sounds” elicited from the instrument by this almost supernatural being. His last performance, “Nel cor Piu”, with variations, seemed to give the most unequivocal delight to the audience, and was rapturously encored, the Signor, however, was not persuaded, even by applause almost bordering on frenzy, to come forward a second time.

   “It may truly be said of him, that on earth we shall not look upon his like again, for he certainly is like nothing earthly.  After dilating on the extraordinary capability of this distinguished artist, it might appear superfluous to touch upon the rest of performance, which was got up in a manner highly creditable to the parties engaged.

   “Miss Wills sang Horn’s admired cavatina, “The Deep, Deep Sea”, with much taste and feeling, though rather too slowly for ears which yet tingle at the recollection of the soul thrilling tones of the angelic Malibran.  This young lady, however, possesses a richness and elasticity of voice that gives promise of ‘goodly day to-morrow’, and with proper care and the best instructions it may safely be predicted that she will attain to more that common excellence in their profession.

   “The singular disadvantage under which Mr. Long, the gentlemen who accompanied Signor Paganini laboured, should be noticed.  Till within three hours of the time fixed for the commencement of concert he was not in possession of the copies of the accompaniments. Persons who had seen the M.S. and who were qualified to express a correct opinion on this subject, know that it required the eyes and judgement of a professor well skilled in reading the autographic compositions of  foreign schools, to have done it common justice, even had a much longer period been allowed for preparation.  To such apparent failure, therefore, no want of perseverance, or deficiency in musical knowledge, can be justly imputed: and Mr. L. is entitled to the highest credit, and the thanks of all parties, for his indefatigable exertions in arranging the entertainment of the evening.  Mr. Truss’s quadrille band was in attendance at the close of the concert, and dancing was kept up with spirit till an early hour the following morning.”

            It is interesting to note that the problems facing the accompanist have changed very little over the years!

            The Maestro returned to London at the end of June, 1832, and on August 17 began a tour of the South of England, which was to take in Canterbury, Brighton, Southampton, Winchester, Portsmouth and Chichester.  At the end of this engagement he returned to London for ten days, then left for Paris where he arrived on September 27th.  In Brighton he lodged at the Old Ship Hotel and to this day there is a plaque recording his visit.  Two concerts were given in both Southampton and Portsmouth, in the latter city one in the Green Row Rooms and the other in the Theatre. The report on these concerts the Hampshire Chronicle of September 17, l832 is as follows:

Paganini’s Morning Concert, at the Green Row Rooms, on Monday, was exceedingly well attended, and the evening concert, at the Theatre, was crowded.  He was accompanied on the pianoforte by Signor Negri, and Miss Wills sang several songs, which were rapturously applauded.  Mr. Targett, of Southampton, performed a duet on the flute, assisted by Mr. P. Klitz on the piano. The orchestra was full and complete, and embraced the talented assistance of the principal professors and amateurs in the neighbourhood, in addition to the Messrs. Klitz.  Much praise is due to Mr. Wellman, for his spirited exertions in procuring such a rich treat to lovers of music.  Paganini repeated two of his favourite pieces, which were rapturously encored, in the most condescending manner, and was greeted with long incessant cheers.”

            The report on the Southampton appearances states that nearly a thousand people attended the two events, both held in the Long Rooms on the evening of August 30 and the morning of August 31.

            His only recital in Winchester on his tour was given again in the St. John’s House, during the afternoon of September 4 and is glowingly reported on September 10.

            Great as his position was as a performer his lasting achievement must be seen in his laying the cornerstone of modern violin playing and thereby pushing the technical aspect to the very limit of the instrument’s capabilities. His influence on both players and composers was very considerable. The 24 caprices for solo violin are still the mainstay of the professional violinist’s “bible”.

            Franz Listz, as a young man, on hearing Paganini was inspired to do for the piano that which the Maestro had done for the violin. This Listz achieved in no uncertain way.  Franz Schubert was greatly moved on attending a Paganini recital.

            Evidence of the impression he has made on composers is to be found in their use of his themes - for example, Rachmaninov’s “Variations on a theme of Paganini”  for Piano and Orchestra is from the 24th Caprice. 

            Hector Berlioz’s Symphonic work for Viola and Orchestra, “Harold in Italy”, was commissioned and written for Paganini. Thereby hangs another tale! The 19th century publications on Nicolo Paganini often imply that he was avaricious and with little compassion.  He certainly did cause an uproar in the London Press by doubling the charge of admission!  While it was obviously sensible to make the most of his tours financially, there certainly was a humanitarian side to his character. For instance, he gave many concerts for charity and the poor.  In l835 a plague of cholera struck Genoa and it was widely reported that Paganini had succumbed!  In a letter to a friend in England dated November 13, 1835, (this letter is in the author’s collection) he says, and I quote:

“It so happened that someone bearing my name died in the epidemic which gravely affected Genoa and this is how the error arose, God, however, spared me to pray for his soul and to know the feelings towards me of my best friends among those being yourself.”

            This reveals his feelings towards his fellow beings, sincerely and without malice.

            He was among the first, if not the first, artist to arrange concert tours and to make music for the general public.  With Fritz Kreisler we come full circle, for he was among the last of the great violinists to tour in the grand style, giving “Celebrity Concerts” in all our major cities, including Portsmouth and Southampton.

            Yehudi Menuhin is the link between the old and the new era (post 1945) as he was touring in the grand style at a very tender age.

            Another link in the chain is Antonio Stradivari.  Although both Paganini and Kreisler played on violins by Joseph Guarneri del Gesu for most of their careers, Fritz Kreisler from 1908 to 1946 owned several of the finest examples of Stradivari.  When Nicolo Paganini died an important part of his estate consisted of seven violins, one viola and two cellos all by Stradivari.  Quite a collection by any standards! Yehudi Menuhin also performs on violins by Joseph Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari. 

            So we take leave of this amazing personality and musician as Nicolo Paganini, except for a brief visit during the summer of 1833, was never to return to England again. It was a truly remarkable light in music’s history, and it is gratifying to know that he devoted a good proportion of his English tours to the South of England.


The violin that Paganini played on for all his tours was made in Cremona, Italy by Joseph Guarneri Del Gesu and dates from 1742. It is now preserved in the Municipal Palace at Genoa, Paganini’s place of birth.