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Viral Virtuosity and the Itineraries of Celebrity Culture

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On 12 November 1841 it was still dark, hours before sunrise, when Franz Liszt entered the city of Osnabrück in Lower Saxony. His watch had just turned 6:00 a.m. when he arrived at his local hotel and took a three hours’ nap before breakfast. In the afternoon, he improvised a matinée performance at the home of a local citizen and in the evening he gave a public concert at 7 p.m. Very early next morning he continued to Bielefeld where he gave a solo recital the same day, on 13 November. This rhythm of life was typical of Franz Liszt, the virtuoso who was known as ‘a dazzling wizard, a showman and superman of the keyboard’. He was able to travel without a passport like a king in a world that was split by political borders. He was one of the most famous celebrities of his time, like the Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini before him, thrilling audiences from Scotland to Spain, from France to Russia. Paganini and Liszt represented different generations. While the former had been born in 1782 in Genoa and died in Nice 1840, the latter was born in 1811 and continued his career until 1886. Paganini made a success in the 1820s and especially 1830s, whereas Liszt’s triumph took place particularly in the 1830s and 1840s. The trajectories of these virtuosos offer an opportunity to reflect upon European culture during a period of political and economic turmoil. During the first half of the nineteenth century, already the map of Europe change considerably. The advent of steamship services enabled new connections and more regular timetables. The breakthrough of railroad traffic intensified the change. Able to cover long distances in any type of weather, the railroads launched a remarkable boom, making commercial connections quicker and more reliable. In addition to this, from the 1830s onwards, the high speed presses allowed the printing of tens of thousands of newspapers in a day, inexpensively. The first half of the nineteenth century was thus characterised by rapid flows of both people and goods. As cultural phenomena, celebrities like Paganini and Liszt embarked also something new. They travelled at a hectic pace and allowed many people to experience their performances. At the same time, they seemed to have a strange appeal to the audiences who were tempted to follow them not only on stage but also outside the blaze of the limelight. It was often hard to conceive the appeal of these extraordinary performers in the 1820s–1840s. The mysterious attraction of these star-like figures was sometimes explained in terms of magnetism and other natural forces, sometimes, as in the case of Paganini, by supernatural and invisible diablerie. Heinrich Heine coined the term Lisztomania to describe the active, even fanatic audiences who participated in the performances and were ready to express openly their emotions. This chapter focuses on the rise of musical celebrities in the early nineteenth-century Europe and its resonance with and intervention in the concept of culture. Its point of departure rests on the entangled histories of industrialisation, consumerism, monetary capitalism and new technologies which enabled the rapid and often unexpected expansion of fame and stardom, challenging earlier notions of culture and assuming new spatial forms. The overriding idea is that figures like Paganini and Liszt were not products of a cultural change but their careers evolved simultaneously with the transformation of material conditions. The argument is that the culture of celebrity had conceptual resonance and made a culture in its own right, not only through the physicality of stars in front of the audience but also through the detachment of their fame from the geographical region they had pastured and its afterimage in publicity within and outside European borders. This chapter starts by considering Paganini’s and Liszt’s strange gravitation, then continues by reassessing their mobile way of life and those territories that their European-wide tours encompassed and ends in sketching the global ramification of the culture of fame in the early nineteenth century.
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Viral Virtuosity and the Itineraries of Celebrity Culture
Hannu Salmi
Final draft of the article, published in
Travelling Notions of Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Europe. Eds. H. Salmi, A. Nivala & J. Sarjala. Routledge,
New York 2016: 135153.
On 12 November 1841 it was still dark, hours before sunrise, when Franz Liszt entered the city of
Osnabrück in Lower Saxony. His watch had just turned 6:00 a.m. when he arrived at his local hotel
and took a three hours’ nap before breakfast. In the afternoon, he improvised a matinée performance
at the home of a local citizen and in the evening he gave a public concert at 7 p.m. Very early next
morning he continued to Bielefeld where he gave a solo recital the same day, on 13 November.1
This rhythm of life was typical of Franz Liszt, the virtuoso who was known as ‘a dazzling wizard, a
showman and superman of the keyboard’.2 He was able to travel without a passport like a king in a
world that was split by political borders. He was one of the most famous celebrities of his time, like
the Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini before him, thrilling audiences from Scotland to Spain, from
France to Russia.
Paganini and Liszt represented different generations. While the former had been born in 1782 in
Genoa and died in Nice 1840, the latter was born in 1811 and continued his career until 1886.
Paganini made a success in the 1820s and especially 1830s, whereas Liszt’s triumph took place
particularly in the 1830s and 1840s. The trajectories of these virtuosos offer an opportunity to
reflect upon European culture during a period of political and economic turmoil. During the first
half of the nineteenth century, already the map of Europe change considerably. The advent of
steamship services enabled new connections and more regular timetables. The breakthrough of
railroad traffic intensified the change. Able to cover long distances in any type of weather, the
railroads launched a remarkable boom, making commercial connections quicker and more reliable.
In addition to this, from the 1830s onwards, the high speed presses allowed the printing of tens of
thousands of newspapers in a day, inexpensively. The first half of the nineteenth century was thus
characterised by rapid flows of both people and goods.
As cultural phenomena, celebrities like Paganini and Liszt embarked also something new. They
travelled at a hectic pace and allowed many people to experience their performances. At the same
time, they seemed to have a strange appeal to the audiences who were tempted to follow them not
only on stage but also outside the blaze of the limelight. It was often hard to conceive the appeal of
these extraordinary performers in the 1820s–1840s. The mysterious attraction of these star-like
figures was sometimes explained in terms of magnetism and other natural forces, sometimes, as in
the case of Paganini, by supernatural and invisible diablerie.3 Heinrich Heine coined the term
Lisztomania to describe the active, even fanatic audiences who participated in the performances and
were ready to express openly their emotions.4
This chapter focuses on the rise of musical celebrities in the early nineteenth-century Europe and its
resonance with and intervention in the concept of culture. Its point of departure rests on the
entangled histories of industrialisation, consumerism, monetary capitalism and new technologies
which enabled the rapid and often unexpected expansion of fame and stardom, challenging earlier
notions of culture and assuming new spatial forms. The overriding idea is that figures like Paganini
and Liszt were not products of a cultural change but their careers evolved simultaneously with the
transformation of material conditions. The argument is that the culture of celebrity had conceptual
resonance and made a culture in its own right, not only through the physicality of stars in front of
the audience but also through the detachment of their fame from the geographical region they had
pastured and its afterimage in publicity within and outside European borders. This chapter starts by
considering Paganini’s and Liszt’s strange gravitation, then continues by reassessing their mobile
way of life and those territories that their European-wide tours encompassed and ends in sketching
the global ramification of the culture of fame in the early nineteenth century.
Man-Machine and Magnetism
Early on, Niccolò Paganini and Franz Liszt showed musical mastery, but on different instruments,
on violin and piano. They differed also in their backgrounds, Paganini coming from the Republic of
Genoa, Liszt from the village of Doborján in the Kingdom of Hungary. Liszt was a child prodigy
who aroused enthusiasm in London as early as 1824, as echoed by, amongst others, the Dutch daily
Arnhemsche courant and the Finnish Finlands Allmänna Tidning.5 At that time, Paganini was
already a travelling virtuoso, although his real fame started in Vienna in August 1828 and continued
with a tour to Germany, Poland and Bohemia. Paganini’s accomplishments were also widely
publicised in the media. The Spanish Crónica científica y literaria wrote already in April 1819 of
the ecstasy produced by the virtuoso in his concert in Rome. According to the local press, Paganini
had carried his audience to the heights of the mount Olympus ‘with his heavenly instrument
covered with ambrosia and the fragrances of the sweetest nectars’.6
Paganini and Liszt became known for their extraordinary skills, tricks and technique and their
amazing bravura.7 It is intriguing that the audience also paid attention to their physical appearance.
This is not in itself surprising since they consciously stepped into the limelight, to become the
object of gaze. Especially in the case of Paganini, it became a habit to start a concert review with a
description of his physiognomy.
In the middle of his exhaustive tour through Germany and Bohemia, Paganini gave a concert in
Prague in December 1828. In his writing, Johann Sedlatzek portrayed Paganini’s appearance in the
following, remarkably physical and material manner:
He is as thin as anyone can possibly be, with this a sallow complexion, a pointed
aquiline nose, and long bony fingers. He seems barely able to support the weight of his
clothes, and when he bows, his body is so strangely contorted that one fears any
moment the feet will part company with the rest of him, and the whole frame fall
suddenly to the ground, a heap of bones.8
What is distinctive in Sedlatzek’s description is its extremely detailed absorption with Paganini’s
physicality, down to his skin and bones. Already during his tours in Italy in the early 1820s,
Paganini had health problems which left its traces on his body. It seems that he did not perform
during the season 1822–1823 while recovering from syphilis. He had also continuous intestinal
problems, and in 1828 he lost all the teeth of his lower jaw. In 1831, the physician Francesco
Bennati delivered a talk at the Académie des Sciences in Paris under the title Notice physiologique
sur le célèbre violoniste Nicolo Paganini, naming for example Paganini’s catarrhal fever, measles,
pneumonia, scarlet fever and throat problems.9 It is obvious that Paganini’s body was of particular
interest to all who saw him on stage in the 1830s.
It was not only Paganini’s body that was highlighted but also his deeds which were accompanied
with wildest rumours. Some argued that he had learned his extraordinary skills during a stay in
prison. Some stories made him a murderer who used the intestines of his victims as strings in his
violin. His life story was also mixed with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (1808, 1832),
insinuating that his diabolic, unearthly talents benefited from a pact with the devil. Some people in
the audience even saw the devil guiding his bow arm during the concerts.10 The author Heinrich
Heine recycled the infernal image of Paganini in an ironic manner in his novella Florentine Nights
(Florentinische Nächte, 1837) by describing the virtuoso dressed in black and representing the
realm of Proserpine. According to Heine, the fiddler was almost like ‘a corpse arisen from the
grave, a vampire with a violin, who sucks, if not the blood out of our hearts, at the least the money
out of our pockets’.11
Early nineteenth-century authors often emphasised physiognomy in their literary portraits. In the
case of Paganini, however, there seem to be cultural ramifications that are symptomatic of the new
culture of fame. In Sedlatzek’s account, the virtuoso was depicted as an assemblage of bones,
muscles and veins, as a battle ground of forces that, against the expectations of the spectator, finally
avoided the total collapse of the body. The virtuoso was not only an assemblage of bodily
constituents but he was also inseparably bound together with his instrument. Paganini and other
virtuosos were man-machines.
After Francesco Bennati gave his talk on Paganini’s body in Paris, excerpts of it were published in
La Revue musicale on 14 May 1831.12 Bennati’s views were soon reiterated around Europe, also in
medical and technical journals. The British Mechanics’ Magazine ascribed Paganini’s ‘peculiar
confirmation, which enables him to bring his elbows close together, and to place them – one over
the other – to the circumstance of his left shoulder being higher than the right – to the slackening of
the ligaments of the wrists – and to the peculiar suppleness of his fingers, which he can move at
pleasure in any direction’.13 The Medico-Chirurgical Review took a more critical approach in its
short notice ‘Organisation of Paganini!!’ by writing:
Dr. Bennati thinks that the modern Orpheus owes his excellency, not so much to
practice, as to an original peculiarity in the organisation of his outer man; he tells us that
all the machinery of his arms is so beautifully pliant and moveable, that Nature
evidently intended him for a great fiddler! Moreover, the trumpets of his ears are
marvellously adapted for the reception of sound!14
Obviously, as the Review concludes, Bennati wanted to maintain that ‘Paganini is an inimitable
violoniste by the necessity of corporeal structure!’15 These news items did not pay attention to the
list of diseases that Bennati presented to his audience in the original lecture. Rather, in the press
coverage, Paganini began to look like an automaton, like a machine that could continue his playing
forever a view that was probably corroborated by the fact that Paganini was constantly on the
move after 1828 and after Berlin conquered both Paris and London. By these means, his
corporeality had spatial ramifications: a man-machine could stretch his itineraries to the most
distant corners of Europe, not only to the biggest music centres but also to minor ones. He could
play indefatigably, day after day. There were soon mechanical rivals too. In 1837, the French
inventor Marreppe presented his automaton violin-player, filled with small cranks and planned to
perform airs à la Paganini.16 The news spread like an infection, and Paganini’s rival received
publicity as far as Singapore already in May 1837.17
Alan Walker, the author of the seminal Franz Liszt biography, has emphasised the influence
Paganini had on the young Liszt. In April 1832, cholera was raging in Paris, but it did not prevent
Paganini from presenting his concerts. Franz Liszt was in the audience and was thrilled by the
performance, especially by the inseparability of the virtuoso and his instrument. As a result, he
began to exercise frantically to become ‘the Paganini of the piano’.18 For him, the Genovese
virtuoso was hardly an automaton but perhaps rather an assemblage of mind and matter that had
faculties and capabilities that surpassed the mere sum of its constituents. Soon Franz Liszt would
take a similar position in the limelight and become seen as an inseparable whole with his
instrument, the piano.
The contemporary audiences celebrated both Paganini and Liszt. Still, the irresistible appeal that
drew people towards their idol was mixed with amazement of those forces that aroused such strong,
unexpected interest among the public. The celebrities moved around the Continent, but at the same
time the spectators were drawn to them, to experience their performances. Heinrich Heine used the
term “Lisztomania” to describe the hysterical relationship of the audience towards the famous
pianist. Liszt’s so-called Glanzperiode started in 1839, and especially his visit in Berlin after
Christmas 1841 was the culmination of his popularity. The recital in Singakademie on 27 December
evoked very strong emotions among the audience, and Liszt decided to stay as long as ten weeks in
the city. He performed at a frantic pace, and soon Lisztomania was like a virus among the public.
Fervent admirers tried to cut curls from his hair, and even collected his cigar butts from the street.19
In many contemporary reviews the notion of magnetism was associated with those mysterious
powers that drew people towards Franz Liszt. After he had performed in Milan in 1838, the German
Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung wrote on 9 May that he was ‘a physiological-psychological-
artistic triad’, ‘an aggregate of all in his body acting forces with their peculiar circumstances,
especially electricity and animal magnetism’.20 From the present-day perspective, the nineteenth-
century “aggregate” can be paralleled with the Deleuzian and Guattarian idea of an assemblage of
human and non-human forces.21 Liszt, like Paganini, was a machinery that gained new faculties
through its complicity with the instrument. Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung mentioned the notion
of “animal magnetism”, too, which is revealing. It refers to the late eighteenth-century idea of the
German physician Franz Mesmer that there was an invisible force exerting from all animals and that
this force could have concrete effects, for example, for healing. Mesmerism and animal magnetism
had a profound impact on nineteenth-century art and literature, also the interpretation of early
celebrities and their appeal.22
Heinrich Heine, famous for his instant, often ironic analyses of contemporary phenomena, paid
attention to Liszt’s appeal in one of musical feuilletons, dated on 25 April 1844:
What is the reason for this phenomenon? The solution of this question belongs to the
domain of pathology rather than that of aesthetics. A physician, whose specialty is
female diseases, and whom I asked to explain the magic our Liszt exerted upon his
public, smiled in the strangest manner, and at the same time said all sorts of things
about magnetism, galvanism, electricity, of the contagion of a close hall filled with
countless wax lights and several hundred perfumed and perspiring human beings, of
historical epilepsy, of the phenomenon of tickling, of musical cantherides, and other
scabrous things…23
Here, too, magnetism, galvanism and electricity are mentioned, but interestingly the culture of fame
is also explained as a contagion, as an infectious disease that seems to spread in an uncontrolled
manner in the crush of the concert halls. If the audience in the streets of Paris was threatened by
cholera, among the Lisztomaniacs it was threatened by another kind of virus.
Mobile Culture and the New Forms of Territorialisation
Early celebrity culture, as the discussion above suggests, had a viral character and was mobile by
nature. One of the most famous compositions by Niccolò Paganini was Moto perpetuo Op. 11,
which seems to go on for ever and ever, and Paganini himself was described as a perpetum mobile
who was never tired of playing. This view was corroborated by the fact that he toured with an
amazing rhythm, especially after his breakthrough in Vienna 1828. The same goes for Franz Liszt
whose pace seems to have been even faster. For Liszt, the turning point came in 1839 which marked
the start of his Glanzperiode, which lasted throughout the 1840s and led him to the remotest corners
of Europe.
It is a doubtful claim that it is simply that Paganini and Liszt suddenly realised the new
opportunities for travelling and exploited the new musical markets that had appeared. There is every
reason to conclude that there were also unexpected interventions of technology and rising
capitalism that shaped cultural spheres. Steamboat and railway connections contributed
transforming the itineraries of early celebrities. The early nineteenth-century culture of stardom
assumed new spatial forms that evolved in conjunction with changes in transport technology. It is
important not to interpret these cultural ramifications as consequences of modernisation, but instead
to ask how both the early nineteenth-century mobile culture and celebrity culture were constructed
simultaneously. It is no coincidence that the period of Paganini’s and Liszt’s success was the 1820s,
1830s and 1840s, at the same time that new steamboat routes were opened and railway connections
built. As Wolfgang Schivelbusch argues, the new means of transport were accompanied with the
changed feeling of space. Famously he refers to Heine’s utterance that the railroad had brought the
surf of the North Sea to his doorstep in Paris.24
The first steamboats had already come into use in the late eighteenth century, and their
implementation did not require such profound structural changes in the transportation network as
railways a few decades later. In the 1820s steamboats were seen both in the Mediterranean and the
Baltic Sea. The problem was however that the new energy source took a lot space in the ships,
which meant that steam engines were practical on shorter distances rather than on longer ones. A
positive aspect of steam, however, was that the ships were not so dependant on weather conditions,
thus allowing more exact timetables. For musicians who had to time their concerts as punctually as
possible this was a clear advantage. In the 1830s there were rather efficient connections for example
within the Baltic Sea region and between Great Britain and the Continent.25 Railway connections
developed more slowly, but from the 1840s onwards they played an increasingly significant role in
everyday mobility. In the case of musicians, it is often difficult to estimate when they actually
shifted over to new technologies of transportation since this has traditionally not been under
scrutiny in the historiography of music. In autobiographies of nineteenth-century musicians, the
change is often disclosed. For example, Richard Wagner mentions in his memoirs My Life (Mein
Leben, 1870–1875) that he tried railway travel as early as 1839, after arriving from Riga to London.
On the other hand, somewhat later he comments that in Paris he was so poor that he could not
afford to take a train.26 New technology was not for everyone.
In the case of Paganini and Liszt, it is noteworthy that Paganini died in 1840, which means that his
stage career was not really based on railways. He used mainly horse-drawn transport, and of course
maritime connections while crossing the English Channel and the North Channel. Liszt used horse-
drawn carriages too – he even had a luxurious wagon, where he could rest before the concert. But
he was able to employ the emerging railway network too and thus to extend his travels wider than
Paganini. The sites of Paganini’s and Liszt’s concert tours are gathered in Figures 1 and 2. In
Paganini’s case the map covers the years 1827–1840, in Liszt’s case 1839–1847. It must be noted
that both artists performed so intensively that it is difficult to illustrate their complete itineraries on
the map. For example, in 1829–1830 Paganini gave more than 100 concerts in 40 German and
Austrian towns. Paganini and Liszt also performed many times in a same place. This has been
represented in Figures 1 and 2 by giving more graphical weight to such musical centres as London,
Paris and Vienna, which were frequently visited by the virtuosos.
FIGURE 1
The map of Niccolò Paganini’s concert sites in 1827–1840 with present-day state
borders.
FIGURE 2
The map of Franz Liszt’s concert sites in 1839–1847 with present-day state borders.
Franz Liszt was able to reach also remote areas of Europe, performing both in Lisbon and Moscow,
Dublin and Constantinople within only a few years. During his most successful period he was not
so active in the Mediterranean region, nor in Scandinavia. Paganini’s tours stretched between
southern parts of Italy and the northern areas of the British Isles, but on the east-west axis his
itineraries remained limited. The mapping of Paganini’s and Liszt’s tours also reveal both the
importance of their areas of origin, Italy and Hungary, and the gravitational pull of big musical
centres, especially London, Paris and Vienna. Christopher Rueger has argued that, although Liszt’s
fame exploded in the era of the emergent railway networks, his Glanzperiode was not yet able to
rely on train connections.27 On the other hand, the first long-distance railway was commenced in
1837 between Leipzig and Dresden, two focal points of musical life. By 1849, there were already
5,000 kilometres of track in Germany, which was more than a double the network in France.28
Furthermore, there is evidence that Liszt carefully considered technological possibilities in choosing
his places of residence. For Liszt’s career, Weimar became important from 1848 onwards,
especially because the city had its first railway line in 1846. One could easily make a round-trip to
Leipzig or Berlin in a day, and to Düsseldorf and Cologne with an overnight stop.29 There was
demand for Liszt’s presence, and Weimar was an ideal node in the transportation network.
Paganini’s and Liszt’s tours were also moulded in conjunction with the rising monetary culture and
capitalism. If London and Paris were important music centres, they were also cradles of stock
exchange and business markets. These were the places to go if someone in the early nineteenth
century wanted to make a profit. At the same time, music culture was in turmoil. Paganini started as
a court musician in Lucca, but he took advantage of the advent of public space for music, the public
concerts.30 New possibilities emerged for a touring virtuoso. In a letter, dated in Baden-Baden on 30
August 1830 Paganini wrote to his Italian friend:
As I approve of all you have done for me, I have commissioned Eskely to remit you
51,305 francs. Paris, London, and Russia will make it up to a million, which I hope you
will invest for me to the best advantage. A retreat and quiet bliss will be most dear to
me after all this, where we can have our musical duets and quartettes, together with our
ravioli.31
Russia was famous for its generous nobility that supported the arts, but finally Paganini did not
head eastwards, either for his health issues or simply because of the fact that London and Paris were
so much nearer and offered seemingly unlimited possibilities for success. Paganini’s economic
interests were obvious everywhere: he often chose the biggest concert halls, and even performed
alone on an opera stage, which was unusual.32 His business methods were also sharply commented
on in the contemporary press.33
In such cities as London and Paris, there were wealthy members of the bourgeoisie who could
afford the high prices of the tickets of Paganini’s and Liszt’s concerts. From the spatial perspective,
it is important to note that it was not only the public sphere that tempted virtuosos but the semi-
public salon scene was very much still alive, and Liszt in particular mingled in the société smoothly
and gave concerts for smaller circles too. In the formation of music culture, it is obvious that new
modes of business became visible in salons and private homes. The so-called Salonmusik, or parlour
music, was at its heights in the 1830s and 1840s, at the time when the salons of French high society
in particular became venues for piano virtuosos. Short pieces, of which Frédéric Chopin’s
nocturnes, waltzes and mazurkas are excellent examples, were composed for salon use.
Simultaneously, the production of pianos rapidly increased together with the commercialisation of
easy arrangements and piano transcriptions.34 Paganini and Liszt were virtuosos and famous for
their incomparable skill, but they were also conscious of these changes.
Heinrich Heine, who commented on both virtuosos in his texts, paid particular attention to the way
Franz Liszt had organised his success:
It seems to me at times that all this sorcery may be explained by the fact that no one on
earth knows so well how to organise his successes, or rather their mise en scene, as our
Franz Liszt. In this art he is a genius, a Philadelphia, a Bosco, a Houdin, yes, a
Meyerbeer! The most distinguished persons serve him gratis as his colleagues, and his
hired enthusiasts are models of training. Popping champagne corks, and a reputation for
prodigal generosity, trumpeted forth by the most reliable newspapers, lure recruits to
him in every city.35
According to Heine, Liszt was a genius in staging his art and in making it a spectacle. Heine refers
to the famous magician, alchemist and juggler Jacob Philadelphia (1735–1795), the illusionist
Bartolomeo Bosco (1793–1863), the legendary magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805–1871)
and the master of grand opéra Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864), whose works were often
spectacular entertainment for bourgeois audience. In Heine’s view, staging not only referred to what
happened in front of the spectators, it also meant how ‘hired enthusiasts’ were used to arouse
ecstasy.
In creating their trajectories as virtuosos in Europe, Paganini and Liszt transgressed geographical
borders. Europe was split by different customs practices and border formalities, but the political
situation was favourable for mobility. Until the political upheaval of the year 1848 there were no
limits for stretching the boundaries of celebrity culture. In addition to geographical borders,
Paganini and Liszt transgressed social demarcation lines, performed for different audiences in
various scenes and, during the rise of nationalistic aspirations, appealed to an international public.
Their transnational activity was suggesting a completely different notion of culture compared to
those tendencies that at the same time sought to establish separate territories in Europe with clear
borderlines.
Celebrity Culture and the Globalisation of Media Space
Early nineteenth-century virtuosos created new territories through their activity as travelling
musicians. Especially in the case of Franz Liszt, it can be argued that he also succeeded in
performing to an unprecedentedly large number of Europeans throughout the continent. Many had
experienced him on stage or at least heard firsthand evidence of his extraordinary talent. From the
spatial point of view, it is noteworthy that all this was echoed and amplified by the media,
newspapers and magazines, images and literature. The virtuosos were not travelling alone; also
news about them spread quickly from one place to another, on both old and new forms of
technology. Music, like other art forms, gained momentum from the increasing power of the press
from 1820s onwards. News, announcements, advertisements, rumours and controversy spread often
in an uncontrolled manner. Paganini’s undertakings became known in areas where he never visited.
In July 1828, for example, Laibacher Zeitung in Ljubljana, present-day Slovenia, reported that the
celebrated fiddler was in such a poor condition that his life was at stake.36 In 1831, the editor of the
Spanish journal Cartas españolas used all possible means to describe to his readers how Paganini
was able to create the sounds of the orchestra with his violin, even the tone of the human voice.37
The global expansion of the newspaper business gave visibility to the actions of the virtuosos in all
continents, to an extent that could not be predicted beforehand. Thus, the process of
territorialisation exceeded the limits of mere physical mobility and extended celebrity cultures
beyond European borders. Following Marshall McLuhan’s controversial thoughts in his Gutenberg
Galaxy, it may be argued that both literature and the press had already had a globalizing effect since
the mid-fifteenth century.38 The capacity of print technology, however, multiplied in the early
nineteenth century, which made a difference compared to previous developments. The deeds of
Paganini and Liszt were followed by the press from Mexico to New Zealand, from Finland to India.
The culture of celebrity was thus detached from the actual movements of musicians on the
European continent. In the nineteenth-century press, it was common to reuse texts that had already
been printed in other newspapers. There was no copyright legislation or control mechanism that
would have restricted the viral nature of press coverage. Often newspapers in South America and
Asia published details and anecdotes of Paganini’s and Liszt’s lives, or just echoed their success.
The Dutch newspapers in Curaçao, Indonesia and Surinam reported on Paganini’s triumphs in
London and Paris.39 The Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register published in 1836 a short
notice arguing that Paganini had ‘died at Genoa of Cholera which disease is said to be raging there
with unusual violence’. The paper even stated that Paganini died after two hours of extreme
suffering, but this was of course not the case, since he died only four years later.40 In turn, the
Brazilian Diário do Rio de Janeiro wrote in 1837 that Paganini was ‘immortal’.41 Likewise, Franz
Liszt was known everywhere. In New Zealand, The Wellington Independent gossiped in October
1847 that Liszt had just been married in Prague to ‘the daughter of a wealthy jeweller’.42 In Brazil,
Diario Novo noted in February 1848 that the renowned Hungarian pianist had performed at a soirée
in Constantinople.43
To conceive the spread of the virtuosos’ fame and its infectious nature, I have made a rough
quantitative analysis of digitised newspaper collections in different geographical regions with the
timeframe 1820 to 1860. This timeframe would cover both Paganini’s and Liszt’s most successful
years as travelling musicians. When the same databases are used, the results are likely to reveal
differences and similarities. Digital, searchable newspaper archives are especially comprehensive in
Austria, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain and can be consulted through an
open access portal. Additionally, my analysis draws on the databases America’s Historical
Newspapers and 19th Century British Library Newspapers, which have a wide coverage of
newspapers in the US and the United Kingdom. It must be noted that in the case of Dutch
newspapers, this includes also those Dutch-languages dailies that were published outside Europe,
especially in Asia and South America. Austrian newspaper archives include in addition to German
dailies also Czech-, Hungarian- and Italian-language papers from the areas of the former Austria-
Hungary. My survey was based on character strings “Paganini” and “Liszt”, acknowledging the fact
that there is a possibility of misinterpretation either on the basis of poor optical character
recognition (OCR) or due to the contamination by people with similar names. In the case of “Liszt”
this is especially problematic since it can easily be misread, for example, as “Licht”. In the Liszt
search, the results from America’s Historical Newspapers had to be excluded because of the poor
quality of OCR. With spot checking, it was possible to verify that the results are reliable enough to
give an overall picture. If the spread of the fame of Paganini and Liszt is studied, all meanings
attached to them can be illuminating. For example, in some cases the virtuosos were a point of
comparison; sometimes it was the question of their compositions, not their personae. In the
Australian results, it must be noted that there seems to have existed a successful race horse called
Paganini in the 1850s!
The results of Paganini’s and Liszt’s press coverage have been presented in Figures 3 and 4.
FIGURE 3
Figure 3 shows the absolute number of press hits of the character string “Paganini in the databases
under consultation. It shows clearly that Paganini’s name was not really known outside Italy before
his breakthrough in Austria, although he was already a famous virtuoso in Italy. His reputation
became visible in the press before, and especially after, his concert in Vienna in 1828. Between the
years 1828–1829 his name appeared 128 times in the Austrian-Hungarian press.44 At the same time,
there is clearly an emerging interest also in the American, British and Dutch press, but the number
of press hits exploded in 1830. The highest peak in British press is 1831, obviously due to
Paganini’s extensive touring in England, Scotland and Ireland. Still, 712 hits in 1831 is
exceptionally high. It can be argued however that these absolute figures are not comparable since
the volume of the press varied regionally. Still, absolute figures suggest that Paganini was
increasingly popular everywhere. Even in Australia his name was mentioned 34 times in 1833, in
Finland 22 times in 1834. His death in 1840 does not seem to have had an impact on his popularity
as a point of reference in the press.
FIGURE 4
Figure 4 represents the presence of the character string “Liszt” in the same databases as in Figure 3,
with the only exclusion being America’s Historical Newspapers. The result is rather different from
the case of Paganini. It is obvious that Liszt’s early career as a child prodigy was noted in the
Austrian and British press and in passing also in Finland and the Netherlands in 1824 and 1825. In
the case of Liszt, the real rise started in Austria in 1837 and the highest number of hits, 249, can be
found from the end of the Glanzperiode in 1846. In the British press, Liszt’s name started to appear
frequently in 1838 and culminated in 1840 with 324 occurrences. Considering that the volume of
the British press must have been higher in 1840 than when Paganini had his success in 1831, it
seems that Paganini’s breakthrough created a sudden fever of celebrity culture that not even Liszt
could surpass. At the same time, it is apparent that Liszt’s fame reached wider territories than
Paganini’s, but on the other hand, in absolute numbers, Paganini was mentioned in the press 1820–
1860 much more often than Liszt. Of course, it has to be remembered that Liszt’s career continued
until his death in 1886.
This rough survey of databases gives a clue to the viral nature of celebrity culture in the early
nineteenth century. It is evident that Paganini and Liszt were carefully followed in areas where they
toured but, simultaneously and almost instantly their deeds were reiterated by the press in other
areas in Europe. Through the English, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish newspapers the seeds, or
viruses, of this culture spread at the global level. As has been already noted, Paganini and Liszt
were regularly mentioned around the globe in the 1830s and 1840s. For this research, it was not
possible to study how Liszt’s fame spread in the United States, but Paganini’s case suggests that
this must have been abundant. According to this survey, 16 percent of all press hits on Paganini in
1820–1860 occurred in the US where he never performed but his fame became deeply established.
On a global level, it seems that the geographical distance was not always the decisive feature. For
example, in Finland there were 153 references to Liszt, in Norway 57, but in Australia 115. At the
time, Finnish newspapers often translated news items from the newspapers of Stockholm and St.
Petersburg, which could be described as gravitation fields of musical life. Also London, Paris and
Vienna were power fields, from which news items spread to every direction.
If early celebrity culture is interpreted as a contagion, it seems that the peak of Paganini infection in
the 1830s was so strong that it has a global coverage, irrespective of the power centres or relay
station that moved Paganini pathogens forward. Within the timeframe 1820–1860, Paganini was
discussed much more in the Australian press than Liszt, even then when the contamination by other
actors than the virtuoso are removed. A quick examination of the Mexican national digital archive
yields a similar result: Hermoteca Nacional Digital de México gives 93 hits to Paganini and only 22
to Liszt. It is clear too that after 1860 the balance changed since Liszt’s career flourished until the
1880s.
The viral nature of newspaper publicity is best exemplified by looking more closely at how the
news spread, although this is not possible qualitatively in a comprehensive way. As already referred
to, Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register published on 12 March 1836 the death of
Paganini from cholera. The rumours about his condition had already started in August and
September 1835.45 It seems that the ‘cholera virus’ had been advanced via Paris and London. In
Austria, Klagenfurter Zeitung referred on 16 September 1835 to Allgemeine Zeitung according to
which Parisian dailies had received a letter, dated in Genoa 26 August, with the statement that
Paganini had died of cholera.46 The next day Vereinigte Ofner-Pester Zeitung confirmed the same.47
Two days later Wiener Zeitung reported that the news came from London, where a letter from
Genoa had been received on 6 September.48 Indeed, The Morning Post wrote on 7 September that ‘a
letter was yesterday received in London conveying the mournful intelligence of the death of this
celebrated violinist at Genoa’.49 As contradictory as it may sound, on the same day the Milanese
L’Eco informed its readers that Paganini had now moved to Milan – and was thus doing very well.50
By some unknown routes, this piece of information by L’Eco was published almost three months
later on the other side of the globe, in Surinam in South America, translated from Italian into Dutch
in Surinaamsche courant.51
At the same time, the story about the death of Paganini kept on spreading. On 24 September 1835
Grazer Zeitung in Austria published the news, and on 26 September 1835 Helsingfors Tidningar in
Finland, although the latter noted that any information on Paganini needs to be critically received.52
In New York, Commercial Advertiser confirmed the death on 12 October 1835 by writing: ‘Great
alarm prevailed throughout Italy on the subject of the cholera. At Genoa the ravages of the malady
had been severe. Eight physicians of that city and the celebrated Paganini had been among its
victims.’53
After a few days, the opposite started to take over. The Madrid-based La Revista española told on 1
November that the news had been completely wrong.54 The British daily The Examiner stated on 29
November 1835: ‘It is now certain that the great Paganini is not dead. It is his brother, Doctor
Paganini, whose death was recently announced.’55
One of the first newspapers to refute the untimely death of Paganini was the Swedish Post- och
inrikes tidningar, which argued this as early as 30 September 1835. In the same text, the newspaper
refers to a Swedish traveller, who had visited Italy and heard that Paganini will come to St.
Petersburg at Christmas time and promised to visit Stockholm during the winter season.56 This
never happened, but the news spurred another Paganini virus. The Dutch paper Journal de La Haye,
based on The Hague, wrote on 14 October 1835 as a fact that Paganini was coming to Stockholm.57
All this news was not a coherent process but merely a rhizomatic assemblage or a chain reaction
that developed into unexpected directions. The death of Paganini remained a resilient virus that
went further although it was several times noted to be untrue. In Australia, The Sydney Herald
declared the death of the famous virtuoso on 21 January 1836 with the same certainty as Singapore
Chronicle and Commercial Register would later do on 12 March for its readers.58
Conclusion
This chapter has focussed on the early nineteenth-century culture of celebrity, by emphasising the
trajectories of Niccolò Paganini and Franz Liszt. They were travelling virtuosos, who created and
transformed their praxis through the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s. Their biggest success came between
the Paris revolutions of 1830 and 1848. This period was favourable for transnational
communication and exchange. Hence, it not only marked the rise of celebrities but it was also
important for economic changes, gradual industrialisation and increasing stock exchange activity, as
well as for the spread of steamboat and railway connections. Musical life was also in flux with its
new arenas and stages, with its commodification of music and the increasing role of performativity.
Paganini and Liszt did not follow previous itineraries since everything seemed to be in constant
flux. It can be argued that there was no territory for celebrity culture before them, or if there was, it
was not the same. They produced cultural space through their accomplishment. The sites of their
routes have been described in Figures 1 and 2, but these territories cannot actually be captured with
two-dimensional maps. If maps were understood according to the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Félix
Guattari, they should be interpreted merely as diagrams of power. There were forces that moulded
those spatial forms that Paganini’s and Liszt’s tours assumed. London, Paris and Vienna were
gravitational fields that drew musical circles together. The process of change was noticed by
contemporaries too. The Swedish comment on Paganini in Post- och inrikes tidningar on 30
September 1835 is revealing since it brings the culture of celebrity together with the topical issue of
modernity. The virtuosos were something new that had not yet arrived in Scandinavia. There
seemed to be different rhythms in modern culture and an implicit idea that what simultaneously
happened elsewhere was an epitome of what might, or should, happen in the future. This idea is
temporal but at the same time it has spatial ramifications. It stresses culture as a timescape.
Contemporaries often stressed newspapers as reflections of modern culture. In the 1840s, the
politician and author Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton argued that the newspaper is ‘the chronicle of
civilisation, the common reservoir into which every stream pours its living waters, and at which
every man may come and drink’.59 In turn, the evidence of this chapter seems to refer to a more
heterogeneous process that recalls Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion on rhizomes. The ways in
which Paganini’s and Liszt’s global fame evolved and the spatial ramifications it assumed have the
characteristics of a rhizomatic assemblage: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything,
and it is not amenable into any one structural model.60 Paganini’s and Liszt’s fame spread in an
epidemic manner, and stories about the great virtuosos comprised non-linear networks that are often
difficult to follow. These rhizomes established connections between semiotic chains, organisations
of power and circumstances within musical life and publicity.61 To conclude, in the case of Niccolò
Paganini and Franz Liszt, the new forms of celebrity implied a particular notion of culture that did
not stress education or social capital as a core, neither did it emphasise particular sites of
civilisation. Instead, it opened a vista into an expanding field of cultural flow that transgressed
borders, geographical, national and often social ones. It also suggested that culture is not ready-
made but something that is always in the process of becoming.
Bibliography:
Ballstaedt, Andreas and Tobias Widmaier, Salonmusik: Zur Geschichte und Funktion einer
bürgerlichen Musikpraxis. Stuttgart: Steiner, 1989.
Chanan, Michael, Musica Practica: The Social Practice of Western from Gregorian Chant to
Postmodernism. London: Verso, 1994.
De Landa, Manuel, Deleuze: History and Science. New York and Dresden: Atropos Press, 2010.
Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II,
translation and foreword by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Gooley, Dana, The Virtuoso Liszt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Jik Cha, Sung, Railroads in 19th Century Europe: Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia,
http://www.zum.de/whkmla/sp/0910/csj/csj1.html, accessed 13 February 2015.
Kaplan, Fred, ‘“The Mesmeric Mania”: The Early Victorians and Animal Magnetism’, Journal of
the History of Ideas 4 (1974): 691–702.
King, Ed, ‘British Newspapers 1800–1860’, 19th Century British Newspapers. Detroit: Gale
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Metzner, Paul, Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the
Age of Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
Prod’homme, J. G., Nicolo Paganini. New York: Fischer, 1911.
Rueger, Christopher, Franz Liszt: Des Lebens Widerspruch. Munich: Langen Müller, 1997.
Saffle, Michael, Liszt in Germany 1840–1845: A Study in Sources, Documents, and the History of
Reception, Franz Liszt Studies Series No. 2. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 1994.
Salmi, Hannu, Nineteenth-Century Europe: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008.
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Provinces: Reception, Enthusiasm, Cult. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2005.
Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the
Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2014.
Walker, Alan, Franz Liszt, Vol. 1: The Virtuoso Years 1811–1847, revised edition. Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1987.
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Cornell University Press, 1993.
Watson, Derek, Liszt. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1989.
1 Michael Saffle, Liszt in Germany 1840–1845: A Study in Sources, Documents, and the History of
Reception, Franz Liszt Studies Series No. 2 (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 1994), 123.
2 Derek Watson, Liszt (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1989), 49.
3 On Franz Liszt’s magnetism, see ‘Liszt in Mailand’, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (9 May
1838). On Paganini’s diablerie, see ‘Paganini’, The Gentleman’s Magazine 1 (1837): 68.
4 ‘Heinrich Heine’s Musical Feuilletons’, The Musical Quarterly 8 (July 1922), 458–59; Dana
Gooley, The Virtuoso Liszt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 203.
5 Arnhemsche courant (6 March 1824); Finlands Allmänna Tidning (10 July 1824).
6 Crónica científica y literaria (16 April 1819).
7 In Liszt’s case this was accompanied by technological changes in piano construction. In the 1820s,
the so-called repetition lever was introduced to enable clear articulation and rapid playing of notes
which was particularly important for Liszt. For further details, see Michael Chanan, Musica
Practica: The Social Practice of Western from Gregorian Chant to Postmodernism (London: Verso,
1994), 204.
8 English translation in J. G. Prod’homme, Nicolo Paganini (New York: Fischer, 1911), 15. These
words have been addressed to Paganini’s biographer Julius Max Schottky who quoted them in his
1830 book Paganini (Prag: Taussig & Taussig, 1830). The quotation was however copied from
Neues Archiv für Geschichte, Staatenkunde, Literatur und Kunst (5 January 1829), from the report
of Sedlatzek, dated on 4 December 1828.
9 Paul Metzner, Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the
Age of Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 125.
10 Metzner, Crescendo of the Virtuoso, 125–26. Paganini’s pact with the devil was discussed widely
in Europe during the forthcoming decades. About the Spanish reception, see for example ‘Redivivo
Paganini’, in La España (22 November 1849).
11 Heinrich Heine, Florentine Nights, trans. Kirke Boyle Fitz-Gerald (Boston: The Christopher
Publishing House, 1929), 40.
12 For further details, see Metzner, Crescendo of the Virtuoso, 326.
13 Mechanics’ Magazine (1 October 1831), 16.
14 The Medico-Chirurgical Review (1 July 1832), 177–78.
15 Ibid., 178.
16 John Timbs, Stories of Inventors and Discoveres in Science and the Useful Arts (London: Kent
and Co., 1860), 49.
17 Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (25 May 1871).
18 Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, Vol. 1: The Virtuoso Years 1811–1847, revised edition (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1987), 173.
19 Walker, Franz Liszt, 371–72.
20 Liszt in Mailand, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (9 May 1838).
21 Manuel De Landa, Deleuze: History and Science (New York and Dresden: Atropos Press, 2010),
10–13.
22 On animal magnetism, see Fred Kaplan, ‘“The Mesmeric Mania”: The Early Victorians and
Animal Magnetism’, Journal of the History of Ideas 4 (1974): 691–702.
23 ’Heinrich Heine’s Musical Feuilletons’, The Musical Quarterly 3 (1922): 458.
24 Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the
Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2014), xxiii.
25 On the changes in transport, see Hannu Salmi, Nineteenth-Century Europe: A Cultural History
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008), 33–36; Hannu Salmi, Wagner and Wagnerism in Nineteenth-
Century Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic Provinces: Reception, Enthusiasm, Cult (Rochester, NY:
University of Rochester Press, 2005), 33–34.
26 Richard Wagner, My Life, trans. Andrew Gray (New York: Da Capo Press, 1992), 139, 164.
27 Christopher Rueger, Franz Liszt: Des Lebens Widerspruch (Munich: Langen Müller, 1997), 100.
28 Sung Jik Cha, Railroads in 19th Century Europe: Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia,
http://www.zum.de/whkmla/sp/0910/csj/csj1.html, accessed 13 February 2015.
29 Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, Vol. 2: The Weimar Years 1848–1861, revised edition (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1993), 6.
30 Metzner, Crescendo of the Virtuoso, 220.
31 Quoted in ‘Correspondence of Niccolò Paganini’, Fraser’s Magazine 25 (1882): 476.
32 Paganini’s performativity but also his business-mindedness have been noted by Heinrich Heine in
his Florentine Nights. Cf. Heine, Florentine Nights, 42–44.
33 See, for example, ‘L’Agent de Paganini’, Le Figaro (5 December 1833).
34 Andreas Ballstaedt and Tobias Widmaier, Salonmusik: Zur Geschichte und Funktion einer
bürgerlichen Musikpraxis (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1989), 34–38, 60–78. See also Salmi, Wagner and
Wagnerism, 34–35.
35 ’Heinrich Heine’s Musical Feuilletons’, The Musical Quarterly 3 (1922): 458.
36 Laibacher Zeitung (24 July 1828).
37 Cartas españolas (July 1831), 35.
38 Marsall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of a Typographic Man (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1962).
39 See, for example, De Curaçaosche courant (17 September 1831), Surinaamsche courant (11
September 1834).
40 Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register (12 March 1836).
41 Diário do Rio de Janeiro (11 October 1837).
42 Wellington Independent (30 October 1847).
43 Diario Novo (1 February 1848).
44 Since Northern Italian cities belonged to Austria at the time, I have gone through all the press hits
to avoid the confusion of Dr Paganini with Niccolò Paganini.
45 Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register (12 March 1836).
46 Klagenfurter Zeitung (16 September 1835).
47 Vereinigte Ofner-Pester Zeitung (17 September 1835).
48 Wiener Zeitung (19 September 1835).
49 The Morning Post (7 September 1835).
50 L’Eco (7 September 1835).
51 Surinaamsche courant (29 November 1835).
52 Grazer Zeitung (24 September 1835); Helsingfors Tidningar (26 September 1835).
53 Commercial Advertiser (12 October 1835).
54 La Revista española (1 November 1835).
55 The Examiner (29 November 1835).
56 Post- och inrikes tidningar (30 September 1835).
57 Journal de La Haye (14 October 1835).
58 The Sydney Herald (21 January 1836); Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register (12 March
1836).
59 Quoted by Ed King, ‘British Newspapers 1800–1860’, 19th Century British Newspapers (Detroit:
Gale Cengage Learning, 2007).
60 Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II,
translation and foreword by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 7,
12.
61 Cf. Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 242.
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