Support opportunity - Nicolò Paganini

Nicolò Paganini


An afternoon of mystery, myth and magic.

Old Downton Lodge, 3pm Saturday 3rd September 2022 SY8 2HU

‘Nothing can be more difficult than to describe Paganini’s performance on the violin, so as to make the effect of it intelligible to those who have never heard him… all the anticipations formed of him, however highly coloured, have fallen short of reality…’
From the Times; on Paganini’s London concert, 3rd June 1831.

The prototype virtuoso/pop star Nicolò Paganini was one of the wonders of the world and his bursting onto the stage with debuts in Vienna, Paris and London in the early 1830’s is the stuff of a never-to-die legend.

He had recently published his opus 1 – a collection of 24 ‘Caprices’ for solo violin. These had only increased the mystery as all the top violinists across Europe declared them utterly unplayable. He was said to be in league with the Devil….

In the comfortable surroundings of Old Downton Lodge, Thomas Bowes, joint artistic director of the arts and music festival Arcadia, will reawaken the astonishment of those 19th century audiences with an evocation of this legend. He will play the first twelve of the ferociously difficult Caprices whilst Kim Begley, famed singer and actor, will read from contemporary accounts and impressions.

A world authority on the maestro Andrew McGee has written and collated impressions of the great man and we are delighted that he will be present along with, from his collection, some mementos of Paganini.

Tickets and sponsorship:

Places are available in advance by BACS only and you can guarantee your place(s) of £50 each by donating the appropriate sum to the Arcadia bank account (Name: Arcadia Music Festival;  Sort code: 08-92-99;  Account number: 65667048) using your surname as the reference.  Please write to If you are able to give Gift Aid, please complete this form.

If you choose to sponsor a Caprice, please tell us which one you would like to donate to from the list below. Click here for a concert flyer.

Tom writes...

I like to think that there exists a kind of group consciousness amongst violinists over the ages. (As the centuries have ticked by we’ve all encountered the same frustrations as we scrape away on our little wooden boxes trying to make the world a little lovelier by creating some sweet sounds.)

But if one could see a league table of the misery inflicted upon us by the challenges of mastering various pieces of music, there is absolutely no doubt that the list would be topped – and by some distance – by the 24 Caprices opus 1 of Nicolò Paganini. A vast and unfathomably deep lake of despair and frustration is what I see when I imagine the collected hours of faint hope dented and buckled by this man’s fantastic compositions for the violin.

My own copy of these works was bought for me in my teenage years. It was gazed at and at first only worshipped for the beauty and terror which hovered over the pages. A little later, like approaching a fiendish crossword puzzle, a way in was sought. There was none. Nonetheless, I worshipped the encoded ferocious beauty and as I groped my way towards a technique and my playing became a little more organised, the problems at least became more known.  I too started my own contribution to the lake of frustration but swam slowly away from the deep end of despair.

So, the day has come when in the service of art – and our much-loved festival Arcadia– I must be judged. And this is where your involvement is required. In order to mount an ambitious Arcadia this year we need a fund-raising effort. So, will you come along and hear me meet the violinist’s violinist?

I will be playing Nicolò’s first twelve caprices from his astounding opus 1. And with the help of the star who is Mr Kim Begley we will intone impressions of this great man and recreate some of the mystery and bewilderment that his presence manifested. For an afternoon of generous libation and utter fascination please attend. We will also display some items of the great man from the collection of one of his most ardent admirers - Mr Andrew McGee, a world authority on Paganini.

We ask of you £50 for the pleasure of watching my self-immolation.

Further, I attach a ‘menu’ of each of the twelve for those of you wishing to sponsor a Caprice. Each has a tariff of between £200 and £300 depending on difficulty and we hope that some of you might feel able to ‘own’ a Caprice and underwrite a few of the not so few hours I’ve spent on them.

Capricci à la Carte:

No 1. A fizzing firecracker of a piece, Nicolò ensures that all who open the book are immediately confronted with something nearly unplayable. A bouncing bow over the four strings is hard enough but coupled with some left hand stretches that border insanity and chains of descending and ascending thirds, this is as hard as they get.
10/10 £300 - Already taken

No 2. A wistful and lonely beauty in B minor. Here, Nicolò asks for vast distances between notes and across strings that must nevertheless be put together in a smooth and elegant way.
7/10 £200

No 3. Terrifying octaves and double trills bookend a smooth and ceaseless gurgling melody.
At least one of the double trills is usually ignored by most players as unplayable - unless one wants to invite hand injury.
9/10 £280

No 4. The most substantial of the set is a fantasia-like structure embodying all manner of double and triple stopping. Tenths, octaves, sixths and thirds - all in rapid moving passages that must come across as easy going and never lose touch with an Italianate and operatic character.
8/10 £250

No 5. A mystery bowing for a blizzard of notes is opened and shut with towering arpeggios and cascading downward scales verging on the ludicrous.8/10 £250

No 6. Never ending left-hand tremolo supports a long and lovely melody. If one’s fingers don’t tire or cramp, one has done well.
7/10 £200 - Already taken

No 7. An octave theme marked ‘Posato’ gives way to perky but fiendish scales and arpeggios in up and downbow staccato. Shoulder injury is never far away. A finger bending modulating passage in triple stops is thrown in in the middle for good measure.’
9/10 £280

No 8. Thirds, Octaves; other miscellaneous stretches. It’s a regular day at the office….rounded off by Italianate buffa, charm and humour.
9/10 £280

No 9. Some light relief as double stops imitate flutes and hunting horns. Middle section of ricochet or jeté bowing.
7/10 £200 - Already taken

No 10.  A different and more measured version of the staccato bowing encountered in no 7 in this strongly characterful piece. Many trills are required - often on the ‘wrong’ finger
7/10 £200

No 11.  A gorgeous serenading Arioso in double and triple stops surrounds a crackling middle section of ‘upside down’ bowing. The outer sections remind one that Nicolò was as much a guitarist as a violinist.
9/10 £280 - Already taken

No 12. Fiendish. A constant legato is asked for with smooth string crossings in a relentless throbbing figuration. The stretches are huge and must be touched upon lightly and fleetingly. All too easily a hopeless muddle of broken and knotted knitting needles.
10/10 £300