There are things that are affected by neither twists nor turns of history nor the constant changes in the public opinion. One of such phenomena is the human mentality and a way of thinking which is usually described as ‘genius’. This amazing gift can be observed in different spheres of human activity.
In the world of classical music, the most widespread benchmark for music genius and a high level of professionalism when comparing this or that musician is the great violinist of the past – Nicolo Paganini. The name of the outstanding Italian virtuoso has already become a common noun. Today, even those who are not professionally connected with music use “Paganini” for an extremely gifted musician.
One of the important features of the genius is considered uniqueness. Was Paganini a real man of genius? “Undoubtedly!” – his contemporaries would say. Moreover, people used to ascribe to him supernatural, even demonic abilities. Many music works by Paganini, especially his famous Caprices and Violin Concertos, remain a certain mastery standard for modern composers and an ‘internal Mount Everest’ to conquer if you want to become an exceptional violinist. But on the other hand, even the most advanced pieces by Paganini can be heard today performed by musicians at various concerts, which reduces the ‘uniqueness’ factor to nothing. Does this mean that Paganini’s reputation is wildly exaggerated?
It goes without saying that for his time Paganini really was a unique musician – the first one able to perform the technically difficult passages that his violin pieces almost burst of. There are a number of research works dedicated to the so-called “Secret of Paganini” – the phenomenon that allowed him to achieve such a success at his time. There is a hypothesis according to which Nicolo Paganini was suffering from a disease that influenced his exceptional abilities. But we prefer the attempts based on the discoveries in the modern neurophysiology.
According to this hypothesis, the “Secret of Paganini” is in the human mental ability to store and extract information, in other words, in the mechanisms of ‘coding’ the remembered information. In our brain, data is processed, compressed and then placed in various sections of our memory. To recollect something – or to extract the saved information – we need a ‘code of access’, an associative element that can be compared to the end of a thread: you pull it, you roll open the memory. For a musician, the difficulty of performing technically complicated elements lies, first of all, in the speed at which he/she has to extract from the memory the necessary material and to coordinate the movements of both hands. All that is done unconsciously, of course. At such a moment, one could compare the musician’s state with that of a juggler who has to play with a few fragile items simultaneously.
Complex educational systems have been created to help any-level musicians develop a brilliant performing technique – to master the “Secret of Paganini”. Some methods are, for example, based on the step-by-step transformation of the conscious movements into automatized ones, on the gradual enlargement of the piece’s structure in a musician’s mind, etc. However, to develop such skills is still one of the most challenging tasks for a musician.
Perhaps Paganini managed to form a knowledge system that allowed him to effectively organize the process of compressing and extracting the information and to develop an ability to “slow down the time”. These discoveries gave him an opportunity to increase significantly the speed of movements and, as a result, to develop an unusual performing technique unknown before. Certain facts can serve as proof for this hypothesis: Paganini could go without practicing for a long time; instead, he preferred practicing during trips using only his left hand, which means that the real work on a music piece was performed in his brain.
The genius of a great violinist is in the discovery of the mental patterns, which let Paganini be ahead of time and raise the performing mastery to a level not yet reachable for his contemporaries. Still, this theory is just an attempt to find a rational explanation for the human’s uniqueness. The true answer to the question “What is the Secret of Paganini?” will most probably remain out of your reach of understanding.
VIDEO: N. Paganini. Violin Caprices No.11 and No.24 performed by the laureate of the international competitions Artem Shishkov.