Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Repeated Exhumations of Niccolo Paganini - The Violinist Who Allegedly Sold His Soul to the Devil

Originally published as "Burial of a Great Artist: Story of Paganini's Death Recalled by Recent Exhumation," Kellog's Wichita (KS) Record, Feb 8, 1896.

The late exhumation of Paganini's remains, near Parma, brings to memory all the other peregrinations they have gone through since they were first taken to the Nice cemetery in 1840—when Nice still belonged to Italy. Being refused there, however, because Paganini was not of Nice, the remains were taken to Marseilles, where they were also refused admittance. Not even Genoa, where Paganini was born would receive his body because an epidemic was then raging. A like refusal was received at Cannes.

Shall I tell you why it so hard to find a resting place for his bones? It was a common belief that Paganini had sold his soul to the devil, who would take it immediately after the poor man died! So, for five years, the body was left on the rocks of San Ferreol, where it might be still had not the duchess of Parma insisted on having it buried in the Villa Guime. In 1855, the coffin had to be changed, and in 1876 the body was again removed, this time to the cemetery of Parma. Then, however, all the people in Parma crowded the riverside, down which the body was carried by night, to the light of hundreds of torches. Baron Attilius Paganini, a grandson of the violinist, was also present. Once more, in 1893, the vault was opened, and the features of the great man were again seen. And now again the vault has been opened for repairs. A friend writes and says that the face is still perfectly preserved. The lower part of the body is mere bone; the face, however, is as perfect as ever, and has been photographed. Baron Achilles, Paganini's son (now an old man), has caused the body to be placed in another coffin, and this time a large piece of glass has been placed in the coffin. Thus any artist visiting Parma may now see the features of Paganini by asking Baron Achilles' permission. 

I am told that much of the music which bears Paganini's name was never written by him at all. His real compositions, however, are now going to be published, and they will be a surprise to artists on account of their mechanical difficulties, which will be a perfect test of ability to many of our modern violinists—great as they may be. He used to practice exercises by the hour together with a weight tied to his right arm. Then after this weight was removed his playing sounded as if it were a complete orchestra playing. There are some old people who still remember hearing him practice in this way. Whilst practicing he would also walk up and down the room, rarely looking at the music on the desk. From his youth he always had the preference for one bow. It never left him_ It was very long and was mended over and over again. It always lies on the chimney piece of the Green room in the Villa Gaione. It stands in a gold column, protected by a crystal shade, and on it is a paper telling what it is.

Aberdeen Journal and General Advertiser for the North of Scotland, Jun 17, 1893.

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