Paganini’s Daemon

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Allegro Films
ALBUM TITLE: A film by Christopher Nupen
PERFORMER: Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Coro Della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana and Lawrence Foster

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Paganini was a man possessed by an almost superhuman talent, which he exploited to acquire wealth, fame and women – that’s a crude summing-up of the idea behind this film. But, along the way, we get a summary of Paganini’s life accompanied by seemingly every painting, drawing or sculpture ever made of him. The chronology takes a while to settle: beginning with the 19-year-old Paganini dazzling a congregation by playing a 28-minute concerto in the incongruous setting of a Pontifical Mass in Lucca, the film then spends some time on generalities about his career, before going back to his birth in Genoa, where his father pushed the young Paganini to his limits.

The music clips mostly illustrate the narrative: Christopher Nupen provides this himself, although there are quite a few quotes from contemporary sources. Not all of these are complimentary and it’s plain that Paganini often compromised his musical position with personal traits which could be antagonistic. There aren’t as many quotes from Paganini himself as you might hope for and much of the time, Nupen makes conjectures about his motives and state of mind without hard evidence to back them up.

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What is clear is that, despite his awkwardness and eccentricities, Paganini almost always won over his audiences with his playing. There’s a fascinating sequence where a contemporary analysis of the new techniques that he introduced is mirrored by extracts from his music and you can see what the fuss was about. Martin Cotton