If Guadagnini was without doubt the most important figure in the early history of violin-making in Parma, in the 19th century the personality we must consider was not a luthier but an instrument enthusiast and collector, and one who is remembered as the greatest violinist of all times: Nicolò Paganini (Genova 1782-Nice 1840). Paganini arrived in Parma in 1795 while still adolescent. Having already given proof of his incredible talent in Genova, he was sent to perfect himself in an environment which could offer him better incentives. In fact Parma in the 18th century was already one of the most important cultural realities in the country, and could boast, in addition to an intense activity in the field of operas, of a robust tradition in instrumental music, which was extremely rare in Italy at that time.

When Paganini arrived the two most important personalities were Alessandro Rolla and Ferdinando Paer, who was chapel-master of the Dukedom. Rolla on the other hand was a violin and a viola virtuoso as well as Director of the Court Orchestra. Although Rolla was one of the most important custodians of the Italian instrumental tradition, Paganini did not need the Master's tuition for long. Rolla soon introduced him to Gasparo Ghiretti, who gave him lessons in harmony and counterpoint.

It is also curious to note that Alessandro Rolla, after his transfer to Milan, was a member of the adjudicating commission which rejected another famous Parmesan, Giuseppe Verdi, at the entry examination in the Conservatory of the city.

During his stay in Parma, Paganini not only completed his education, but also won the benevolence of the local aristocracy and was awarded a violin made by Guarneri del Gesù. In fact tradition tells us that a Parma nobleman offered Nicolò the instrument when he astonished the audience by playing a concerto at first sight.

The success which Paganini enjoyed in Italy and in theatres all over Europe resulted in his being absent from Parma for a long time. However he evidently remained tied to the city because in 1834 he acquired a villa in its immediate surroundings, in Gajone, where he sojourned for long periods before his death. Paganini, a virtuoso who became a legend in the public's fantasy, received a triumphal welcome on his his return to Parma. The Dutchess Maria Luigia had him hold numerous concerts and appointed him as a member of the Orchestra Commission and of the Court Theatre. Paganini returned to France during the last years of his life. Long vicessitudes - due to the suspicion of satanism and impiousness - prevented the burial of his body for decades after his death. It was only in 1876 that he was laid to rest in the cemetery of Parma, where he still lies today.

During his life Paganini's character was marked by a strange blend of his penchant for sharp business dealings and impetuous acts of generosity, as when he donated a large sum of money to Berlioz. His aptitude for business, on the other hand, manifestated itself in the purchase and sale of musical instruments. Thanks to his charism, we find during those years traces of great dynamism in instruments dealing in Parma. We can mention as an example the contact which Paganini had with Vincenzo Merighi (1795-1849). Merighi was a descendant of a family of parmesan luthiers, and was an excellent cellist and instrument expert. He procured numerous valuable instruments for his illustrious colleague, including one made by Giovan Battista Guadagnini. A second figure who must have certainly been influenced by Paganini was Antonio Gibertini (Parma 1797- Genova 1866), a well respected maker who drew inspiration particularly from Del Gesu's instruments, and who subsequently moved to Genova.

Prescinding from the importance of the Genovese virtuoso, during the 19th century several luthiers wothy of note were active in Parma. Among them we may mention Alessandro Mantovani, who possibly came from the Piedmontese School of Rocca and who worked around the mid-century period; his apprentice Antonio Garsi; Ferdinando and Giovanni Leoni; Giuseppe Tarasconi who later moved to Milan.

Associazione culturale Liuteria Parmense - Tel./Fax : +39 0521 207034 - [email protected]