Niccol PaganiniÕs Twenty-fourth Violin Caprice has inspired composers and performers for nearly two centuries. This little tune has been subjected to countless transformations, mutations and conversions into and out of shapes and styles both familiar and totally alien to PaganiniÕs original conception. Composers from Brahms and Blacher to Rachmaninoff and Wilby have had their go at it. So have performers from Benny Goodman to Nathan Milstein. If a list of source-material was created for composers – we might call it required repertoire for all composers – this little melody would certainly occupy a prominent spot.
The name Paganini also conjures up images of extreme virtuosity. He was known as a ŌHexensohnĶ (witchÕs brat) and people, speculating on his astonishing technical facility, spread rumors that attributed his great talent to contracts that he made with the devil himself.
The majority of works created around the Twenty-fourth Caprice have been for either violin or piano – always the two most popular solo instruments. However virtuosos on every musical instrument have always been around, and IÕve been fortunate in having been asked by several of them to create musical showpieces on PaganiniÕs tune.
The first, Capriccio di Niccol, was for trumpeter Doc Severinsen. This set of variations, designed to display DocÕs unique talents, from blazing virtuosic technical prowess to the seductive voice that never fails to captivate an audience, is perhaps the most classical of my efforts. It was premiered on May 10, 1995 with the Boston Pops conducted by Keith Lockart.
The second, Nine Variants on Paganini for Double Bass and Orchestra, was written for double bassist Franois Rabbath, whose musical temperament is heavily influenced by his Middle-Eastern upbringing. Rabbath played the premiere with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra conducted by Samuel Wong on March 31, 2002.
The final work Paganini in Metropolis was created for clarinetist Eddie Daniels. The first version of the work, for Clarinet and Wind Symphony was premiered on February 20, 2002 with the University of Texas Wind Ensemble conducted by Jerry Junkin. Daniels, who is at home at the highest levels of both the classical and jazz worlds, also premiered the second version, for Clarinet and Orchestra with The Santa Fe Symphony under the baton of David Wroe on February 15, 2003.
In early 2012 I made the acquaintance of eupnominum virtuoso David Werden via YouTube. It seems that he had been playing the Capriccio di Niccolò which I had composed for Doc Severinsen on the euphonium. This tradition of raiding the repertoire of an instrument other than your own is of course very familiar to many players in search of musically greener pastures, but particularly for us double bassists. So I was not only pleased that David chose to play Niccolò, but bowled over with his performance. Being an advocate for the instrument, he encouraged me to create a euphonium version. I was happy to oblige and the Capriccio di Niccolò for Euphonium and Orchestra is now avaiable for those performers looking for something with a huge Wow factor.
All of these works require special soloists who not only possess exceptional technical gifts, but who are also comfortable in a wide range of musical styles, and especially able to communicate on a purely musical level beyond those written notes.