Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paganini and Liszt - Bigger Than Life??

Both Niccolo Paganini and Franz Liszt attained folk - hero status during their careers, and history tells us essentially all that is known about these titans.
Paganini was to the violin as Liszt was to the piano. Both had attained such pyro-techniques as to plumb the depths of the potential of their respective instruments, and set the stage for the kinds of writing that ensued after their time.
What is almost as gripping as their gifts are some of the stories that swirled around them within their life spans - whether some or all were apocryphal or otherwise, is not for me to give definite answers to; however, some of these stories really tell us about the power of their hubris over the audiences who were witness:
Paganini, more than once, made it possible for a particular string to break during a performance, and would continue the recital on three strings - I suppose he had to rehearse the transposition of some notes either up or down in order for the compositions to remain intact!
He was said to have chalked a widow's peak down from his hairline to accentuate the Satan - like appearance, along with robe - like outer wear which went to floor length, making him appear as if he were floating, not walking onto and off the stage.
All this, plus the strangely thin body and incredibly long fingers and arms, caused by a genetic disease affecting connective tissue, magnified the aura of this great sensationalist.
Liszt, it is said, at around age nineteen, saw Paganini in concert, which resulted in his quest for the same level of super-technique, practicing as much as twelve hours a day.
The results were quite palpable. More than one historian has related to us that Liszt had at least 27 "love affairs," many of whom were originally in his audiences.
Stage seats were attempted just once to control the great numbers of people wanting to hear him; however, ladies with scissors attempting to snip a lock of his hair while he played put a stop immediately to that project.
During an intermission, a woman took a shot at him, and as she was led away, she cried " If I cannot have him, nobody will!"
In Russia, crowds would hoist him onto their shoulders and pour out onto the streets after a recital, and on more than one occasion.
There were other stories circulating during their tenures - Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles were not the first musical folk-heroes, to be sure.

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