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
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