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Paganini’s ‘Carnival of Venice’ inspired a similar set of variations of the same name by H.W. Ernst (1814-1865).
On December 12, 1829, Paganini wrote his friend Germi: "The
variations I’ve composed on the graceful Neapolitan ditty, ‘Oh
Mamma, Mama Cara,' outshine everything. I can’t describe it!"
He was writing from Karlsruhe, in the midst of his triumphal
tour through Germany.
That letter marks the earliest known mention of the variations
that would become famous as "The Carnival of Venice." At
the time of his letter, Paganini had already performed the piece
in at least four concerts. From then on, it would be one of his
most popular compositions.
That same year a young Moravian violinist, Henri Ernst, only
15 years old but already a virtuoso in his own right, set off on
the first concert tour of his own career. He had heard Paganini
in Vienna, and decided to dog the tracks of the great one, in
order to hear him at every opportunity, and learn everything he
could from him. He heard Paganini many times. It depressed him.
But he persevered. Eventually he heard "Carnival of Venice"
often enough to be was able to play it from memory. He began
performing it at his own concerts.
Paganini’s "Carnival" was not published until 1851, more than
a decade after his death. By then, both Ernst and another young
violinist, Camillo Sivori (Paganini’s only pupil), were making
the piece a regular part of their own repertoires. Each claimed
that his version was identical to Paganini’s; but in an apparent
contradiction, each later published a version of the piece under
his own name.
The brief, catchy tune, only 16 bars long, lends itself
beautifully to variations. More than a hundred years after
Paganini’s first composition, an American trumpeter named Harry
James made the tune popular all over again, with his own variations.
Accompanists, however, tend to hate it: Paganini’s original
accompaniment consisted of two only two chords, alternating every
two measures throughout the piece.
This drove at least one orchestra member nearly to distraction.
As a contemporary noted:
"In an incredibly full theatre, Paganini was improvising from
30 to 40 virtuoso variations on ‘Carnival of Venice,' a well-known
melody with continual passages in the tonic and dominant.
This was not very engrossing for the violist Wolf, who had
nothing to play but the notes -- C-sharp, D, D, C-sharp --
repeated endlessly, alternately in whole notes and eighth notes.
Eventually, the violist (who was, anyway, mesmerized by the
soloist’s performance) lost his place. It held not the slightest
importance for the composition in question, but Paganini, whose
rapport with the theater orchestra was already strained enough,
was irritated by the distraction. Hw went right up to the foot-
lights and yelled at the bewildered Wolf: ‘That’s not it!' and
didn’t move from there until that poor devil, who was literally
splitting from fear, got himself back in order with his C-sharp,
D, D, C-sharp.
"At that point some brazen dilettants who were among the public
felt the need to say, ‘The passage must be of a formidable
difficulty if such an excellent instrumentalist of the Frankfurt
orchestra cannot play it without a mistake.'"
(contribution: © copyright Hugh Ferguson <Hugferg@Delphi.com>)
Paganini is referenced and used as contact character in Anne Rice’s (author of the Vampire Chronicles) book "Violin." (Contribution by <email@example.com>.)