Omnibus Lists | Fenella Humphreys’ Top 5 Caprices

By October 31, 2019News

As the incredible 19th Century violinist Paganini is right at the heart of my Caprices programme at Omnibus on 3rd November. Paganini was the rockstar of his day. He could do things with a violin that nobody had thought possible, and his playing was so extraordinary that women would faint as they listened to him. Stories even went around that he’d sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his violin skills! He made the Caprice popular through the set of 24 Caprices he wrote around 1807. Each one is a short piece demonstrating an insanely difficult technical skill and they’re still really seen as a benchmark today. The 24th Caprice which is central to this project is a set of variations on a simple 16 bar tune. It sounds innocuous, but each variation takes you through a different extreme technical skill, and the result is pretty mind-blowing. The melody itself has been quoted so many times in everything from romantic piano music to full on death metal. Here are 5 of my favourites:

Niccolo Paganini 24th Caprice

First off here it is in its original unadulterated form. Ish. This video is a brilliant mash-up cutting between different great violinists

Lutoslawski's Variation for Piano

Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski originally wrote his Variations on a Theme of Paganini for piano duet in 1941, and it’s pretty much a miracle it survived. He reworked it in the late 1970s for solo piano and orchestra and I think both versions are complete genius. Here’s the later version with Stephen Hough, Sakari Oramo and BBCSO at the Proms

Ben Goodman's Orchestral Arrangement

Benny Goodman and his Orchestra take it to a whole new place here in this arrangement by Skip Martin

Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was one of my favourite pieces of music as a child. I couldn’t get enough of Rachmaninov’s own recording with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. For me, Variation 18 (14:20) is the most perfect lush moment there is

Angra (Brazilian Heavy Metal)

You couldn’t really get more different than this – Brazilian metal band Angra. Paganini was also a brilliant guitarist, and I’m guessing if he could have done what they do 5 minutes in, he probably would have

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