Saturday, 8 December 2012

Niccolò Paganini Caprices and Relaxation

The Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini, born in 1782, was at the time widely believed to have sold his soul to the devil. Paganini's technical skills were so astounding that no human was believed to be able to reach his level of mastery without being possessed by the supernatural.
Paganini's famous and very beautiful 24 caprices are rarely performed all in one concert; even most top violinists cannot master the technical skills and have the mental and physical stamina required. It was rumoured that people fainted in concerts when Paganini performed the caprices himself.
Aleksander Markov, a Russian-born Jew living in the United States, performed all 24 caprices in one concert. It takes one hour and a half from the first to the last, each demanding a very high level of concentration, a lively temperament and superior technical skills.
The last caprice, the 24th, is among the most difficult ones in the set. Particularly the left-hand pizzicato at 3:00 is only for those with an unparalleled genius. Ordinarily it is performed with the bow hand; with the left hand it is just too difficult. The 17 seconds are sublime and transport the listener to an otherworldly universe. Turn up the volume and watch it a few times

Relaxation is the key to the best performance
In a master class Markov gave on Paganini's violin techniques, he draw attention to the need to relax while playing technically demanding music. If the body is tense and stiff, the fingers will not move fast on the strings, the shoulder will not allow the bow to glide on the violin and the muscles will not remember the notes to play. When you watch Markov perform, notice the ease of his body and the precise and controlled movements while he remains completely relaxed. The whole of his ensemble is elegant and beautiful.
Markov made an important point that extends beyond playing Paganini. In yoga too it is vital to relax when striking a pose. The body will stretch further when it is not tense, it will shake less and the experience of exercising is more pleasant. For example, Reclining Hero (Supta Virasana) or Standing Revolving Balance cannot be done well if the body is not relaxed. Sometimes the more difficult poses add tension and rigidity to the muscles and the face, so make a conscious effort to relax the harder it gets and find strength, power and grace both in the mind and in the body.

Paganini's 5th caprice (the bow bouncing on the strings)
Paganini's 6th caprice (elegant and extremely complicated finger work; Markov is not playing the violin, he is making love to it) 
The full vesion of Paganini's 24 caprices by Alexander Markov
Leonardo da Vinci and Contrapposti (contrapposti in da Vinci's paintings and yoga) 
Yehudi Menuhin and B.K.S. Iyengar (a master violinist who took up yoga and meditation with a master yoga teacher)
Savasana (relaxation is linked to better sleep and weight loss)
Guitar and Violin Sonatas (Paganini composed lots of charming pieces for the guitar and the violin, which are excellent background music for yoga, cooking, reading and relaxing; I have several CDs myself, some just for the guitar)

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