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Niccolò Paganini-The Devils Violinist

Niccolò Paganini-The Devils Violinist – Sometimes you can be so good….they think you’re bad!

Niccolò Paganini was the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time. A man so talented that people say he must have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his incredible abilities. Some even claim he was Satan himself.

Born in Genoa in 1782, he was the third of six children. His father was a part time musician and starting teaching a young Niccolò, then aged 5, how to play the mandolin. By the age of 7 he had moved on to the violin and his talent didn’t go unnoticed. Local violinists, masters of the instrument, such as Giovanni Servetto and Giacomo Costa gave the young prodigy lessons but he soon surpassed their ability. By the age of 15 he was doing solo tours and playing in front of sold out crowds.

But how could such a young boy sell his soul to the Devil? Well, according to the stories it was in fact his mother who made the deal. She was so desperate to see her son become one of the greatest musicians of all time that she condemned the young maestro’s soul in exchange for his remarkable gifts.

Nowadays we tend to think of classical musicians as well dressed, posh, prim and proper. But that was not always the case, in the 18th and 19th centuries they were the rock stars of their day. While on tour at the age of 15, Paganini had already developed a reputation for drinking, gambling and was a well-known womaniser. These vices along with mastering the violin, occasionally referred to as “the devils instrument,” are probably where his rumoured connection to Satan started. A rumour he did little to dispel throughout his life.

While most musicians read sheet music on stage, Paganini instead learned the music off by heart, he was one of the first musicians to do this. This gave him the freedom to move and dance across the stage as he performed. The audience would watch on in amazement as the virtuoso dazzled them with his dexterity and the speed at which he played, although some onlookers noticed a little more going on.

At a performance in Vienna one audience member claimed to have seen the Devil on stage helping Paganini play. This soon led to more demonic sightings with people claiming to see Paganini lookalikes with horns and hooves. It is even believed that the Devil once sent a lightning bolt which struck the end of Paganini’s bow as he played.

Perhaps one of the strangest stories linking the hugely talented instrumentalist and Old Nick is one involving murder. Rumour had begun to spread about Paganini killing a woman. He reportedly cut out her intestines so he could use them as violin strings. He then imprisoned her soul in the violin, the woman’s screams could be heard echoing from the instrument as he performed on stage.

He was a striking figure. Tall, thin, hollow checks, pale skin and always dressed in black, certainly the look of a man in cahoots with the Devil. He had remarkably long fingers which allowed him to play three octaves in one hand span. It is now believed this was due to Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. Paganini was also known for the speed at which he could play, an incredible 12 notes per second. One of the reasons for this could be put down to another disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which can cause increased flexibility.

Throughout his life Paganini suffered with a number of ailments including syphilis, which was treated with a mix of mercury and opium. Not an ideal treatment method as it caused further issues to his health. A number of years later he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and although he recovered relatively quickly the effects of the disease had taken its toll on him, so much so that he decided to retire from performing publicly.

In 1840, at the age of 57, Paganini died from internal bleeding after a long battle with illness. A week before he died a priest was sent to administer his last rites but Paganini turned the priest away, claiming that he didn’t think he was going to die. Those who believed the Satanic rumours refused to accept his excuse and saw it as further proof of his deal with the Devil. The church denied his body a Catholic burial in Genoa for religious and public health reasons. It was nearly 4 years before his body was eventually transported to Genoa after an appeal was made to pope Gregory XVI.

There are a number of different accounts of what happened to his body in those 4 years. One version of events suggests that his embalmed body was moved around from his death bed to a cellar, to an abandoned leper house, to a cement vat in an olive oil factory, before being placed in a private house in Nice. Another version tells of his son Achillino’s search for a suitable resting place for his father. He sailed out to the uninhabited island of Saint-Ferréol where he buried his father’s coffin until a better place could be found.

Although his body was taken to Genoa in 1844, he wasn’t actually buried until 1876, but that wasn’t the last time the corpse of the famous violinist would be seen. Czech violinist František Ondříček convinced Paganini’s grandson to allow a viewing of his body in 1893. Paganini’s body was finally reinterred in 1896 in Cimitero della Villetta, Parma, where he lays to this day.





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