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Niccolò Paganini – Violin Concerto No. 1 Op. 6 in D major

August 9th, 2012

The Violin Concerto No. 1 Op. 6, was composed by Niccolò Paganini in Italy, probably between 1817 and 1818. The concerto reveals that Paganini’s technical wizardry was fully developed. Contemporary audiences gasped at the extended passages of double-stop thirds, both chromatic and in harmonics.


Paganini intended the Concerto to be heard in E-flat major: the orchestral parts were written in E-flat, and the solo part was written in D major with instructions for the violin to be tuned a semitone high (a technique known as scordatura), so that it would therefore sound in E-flat.

This enables the soloist to achieve effects in E-flat which would not be possible with a normal D tuning (for example, the opening of the third movement, where the violin plays a rapid downward scale A-G-F♯-E-D, both bowed and pizzicato. This is possible on an open D-string, but is not possible in the key of E-flat), because two strings would be required. The key of E flat would mute the sound of the orchestra, whose strings would play fewer tones on open strings, and this would make the solo part emerge more clearly from the orchestral accompaniment.

Contemporary audiences did not realise that Paganini had retuned his instrument, and were thus all the more amazed at what he appeared able to play. (The more musical members of the audience would have recognised the distinctive sound of a violin’s open string, and would have observed that this fell on the keynote of work (E-flat), and would have therefore realised that Paganini had re-tuned his violin.)

D major arrangement

A version of the piece was later published (by a composer unknown) with the orchestral parts written out in D major. This was presumably done with sight of the first edition, but it is not known why the orchestral parts were changed to D major, and this orchestration has nothing to do with Paganini. (It is for this reason that there is frequent confusion over the key of the piece, and it is unfortunate that in modern times it is in the wrong key and the wrong orchestration that the piece is most often heard and performed.)

Leslie Howard’s arrangement

Scholar and musicologist Leslie Howard (known for his work on Paganini’s contemporary Franz Liszt) has prepared for publication an edition of the concerto in the correct key of E-flat, with reference both to Paganini’s manuscript and the first (not entirely correct) edition. Howard’s edition is the first to be published in the correct key and with the solo part. (Paganini was famously secretive with his parts in order to avoid the possibility of other people copying his ‘tricks’ or performing his works, so the solo part of the concerto was not included in the original published score.)

Leslie Howard’s edition was commissioned and published by the Istituto Italiano per la Storia della Musica (Rome, 2007), as Volume VIII of the Edizione Nazionale delle opere di Niccolò Paganini. This scholarly edition includes facsimiles of the score, the solo part, and also all the extra parts that were added from time to time.


Paganini’s original published scoring was for 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, and strings.

In the years following the original publication of the work, Paganini occasionally expanded his orchestration, writing out some odd parts to add from time to time in performance: 2nd flute, 2nd bassoon, doubled the horns, added trombones 1 & 2 (moving the existing trombone part to trombone 3 basso), timpani, and banda turca (bass drum, crash cymbals, and suspended cymbal). He never added these into the one and only manuscript score.

The concerto shows the great influence of the Italian bel canto style, and especially Paganini’s younger contemporary Gioachino Rossini,


The concerto is in three movements, as follows:

  1. Allegro maestoso – Tempo giusto
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro spirituoso – Un poco più presto

Source: Wikipedia

Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (Ivry Gitlis violin)

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