• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 5: A Paganini Twofer!

Niccolò Paganini: THE violin virtuoso of the early 19th century. (His abilities were so great that he was rumored to have bargained for them with the devil himself!) His 24th Caprice, a fiendishly difficult theme and variations, has remained a favorite showpiece amongst solo violinists. Its theme, in particular, has proven to be a rich breeding ground from which other composers have crafted their own variations—Brahms and Rachmaninoff come to mind.

The famed pianist Fryderyk Chopin also found inspiration in Paganini's theme, but he wasn't the only Polish composer to do so. Witold Lutoslawski was one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. His Variations on a Theme by Paganini (for two pianos) was composed in 1941; he arranged the piece for piano and orchestra in 1978. This performance features Stephen Hough at the piano, accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo.

Boris Blacher was one of the most influential German musical figures of his time, although his music has been largely forgotten.... He was revered as both a composer and teacher, but lost his position at the Dresden Conservatory after the Nazis accused him of writing “degenerate music.” Blacher resumed his career after the war, and later became President of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. His Variations on a Theme by Paganini, a purely orchestral work, was composed in 1947. This performance features the RIAS Orchestra (now the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin) and one of my all-time favorite conductors, Ferenc Fricsay.

Happy listening! :)

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