Italian violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini (October 1782 – 27 May 1840) is considered one of the great instrumentalists and performers of all time, who revolutionized the very way to play the violin. Paganini innovated such violinistic techniques as artificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicato, and he was known to be able to play three octaves across four strings in a hand span – an incredibly range of flexibility and dexterity by any standards. His peerless skill, along with his rather salacious reputation, led many contemporaries to suspect he may have even sold his soul to the devil!
Superstitions aside, Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin were composed between 1802 and 1817, and remain landmark works for the instrument. Each of the first 23 caprices he dedicated to a fellow musician who Paganini admired, while for the 24th and final one, the dedication reads “Nicolò Paganini, sepolto pur troppo (to my self, regrettably buried.)” He used all the tools in his virtuosic toolkit, including parallel octaves, lightning-fast arpeggios, the aforementioned left-hand pizzicato, and double stops (chords) covering demanding intervals like thirds and tenths.
The 24th Caprice is so iconic that is has inspired dozens of composers to try their hand at it. Chopin quotes it in his Rondo à la Krakowiak, Gregor Piatigorsky, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Sergei Rachmaninoff each wrote their own variations on it, and even Benny Goodman and electric bass virtuoso Victor Wooten took it for a spin.
These present a demanding challenge for even the most skilled violinists, but approaching the piece on the cello takes it to another level. In a 2022 Stars of Tomorrow concert, 14-year old cellist Nicholas Wong displays stunning technical ability and artistic mastery in his daring performance of the legendary Caprice No. 24 in A minor.
An 1831 bulletin advertising a performance of Paganini