The violin is a curious instrument. When ill played, it is supremely ugly; when mastered, more than any other string instrument it approaches the human voice in its ability to communicate what I am afraid can only be called (even in this advanced and putatively rational age) soul-states. It is for this reason, I suppose, that the violin has so often been seen as a favorite instrument of the devil. This association has entered literature and art (to name only two examples, the first now little known and the second relatively recent) in the German poet Lenau’s drama Faust (1836-46) and in Stravinsky’s music-cum-dance-cum-narration L7’Histoire du soldat (1918). In the rather more public world of performance, the suggestion of satanic inspiration formed the largest part of the legends surrounding the Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840).

As far as...


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