The Paganini-Galás Akoluthic
– researched & written by Ben Heaney (2011, revised 2017)
First published by Delta Violin Ltd. 13 April 2017
©2017, Delta Violin Ltd. All Rights Reserved
This article came about as a result of public invitation by Gorgon Magazine: to make a contribution towards a monograph celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Diamanda Galás’s published works, “The Litanies of Satan” and “Wild Women With Steak Knives”.
My immediate idea was to draw on the distinct parallel between Galás and the violinist Nicolo Paganini. To my mind contemporaneous accounts of their work, (given below in italics) reveal a startling exactness existing between the two artists.
The work of Paganini & Galás share a similar experience and is the same thing in that respect. For this reason, no significant or detailed appraisal of the many individual examples of quotes is given in the article. It is the language used in the quotes that is best compared as originally given.
Argued and generally accepted as the first critical review of a Paganini concert; Peter Lichtenthal’s record of the violinist’s performance in 1813 makes use of extreme words and ultimate statements:
“Everyone was really staggered. It fairly took one’s breath away. In a sense, he is the foremost and greatest violinist in the world. His playing is truly inexplicable… One can easily understand that Paganini creates a furore at his concerts for truly no one has ever heard anything to equal it.”
The use of extraordinary adjectives and metaphor is common in most writing about Paganini – his life, times and music. Chronological study of samples of text from biographies, reviews and articles; coupled with familiarity with audio and visual recordings, augmented by practical knowledge of the published scores; reveals steadfastly and overall that both Paganini and Galás share a record of the most extraordinary nature and correspondence.
“Agli Artisti” – Paganini
Paganini’s first work to reach print was the 24 Capricci for solo violin. Published when he was 38 years old, it is not known when he composed them, though thought to be from his early 20s. Through this publication, Paganini’s infamous set of fantasies reached a European-wide audience, for to many he was already being described in the most remarkable manner. First editions of this work today are valued at the price of works of art. Within a decade of the published Caprices, credible and serious attempts were being made to annotate and explain what this violinist was doing.
Carl Guhr’s “Paganini’s Art of Violin Playing” published in 1829, opens with a jolt, words describing the unexpected, deviance and the wonders of Orpheus.
“Schwerlich würde ich je daran gedacht haben, die Zahl der Violinschule zu vermehren, wenn nicht Paganini nach Deutschland gekommen wäre und durch sein ausserordentliches, von allem bischer Gehörten ganz abweichendes Spiel die Wunder des Orpheus erneurt hätte.
When Paganini appeared in Paris for the first time in 1831, he received vivid reviews. An English violinist, teacher and author felt “induced” to attempt a translation of an unknown French journalist who was present at this ground-breaking concert:
“You anticipate the rupture of all its strings! On the contrary, the lightest, the finest, the most delicate of sounds comes forth to win your surprise. He continues for some moments to sport with your pre-conceptions, to look askance at you; to irritate you; and every whim that occurs to him, is employed to draw you out from your supposed indifference… in his way; extracts unknown sounds; searches, with easy success, for difficulties and tricks of skill; exhausts, within the space of a few bars, the whole range of chords and sounds possible upon the instrument – discourses, sings, bewails, ejaculates, describes! ‘Tis suddenly a murmur of waves, a whistling in the air, a warbling of birds; a something undefinably musical, in the most acute as well as the lowest tones – an unrestricted impulse of caprices, and contrasts, without guide or measure! ‘Tis, in a word, a perfect union of incoherence and nameless clatter, beyond which, the world-worn and vitiated beings around, the worshippers of singularity, can see nothing, imagine nothing, desire nothing!
The great Artist has, nevertheless, resources other than those of phantasy, by which to captivate the public…”
Paganini went directly to the heart of the Western European Classical tradition of Violin playing, but was found to be unique:
“To inscribe in this work the name of Paganini, is for us a duty and an honour independent of the pleasure we feel in rendering him justice. His manner of playing the violin was generally his own, and had but very little resemblance to that of any other virtuoso. Guhr has recently published a book in which we find most of the technical feats used by Paganini; this instructive work gives the most detailed explanation of the principal passages and the effects that make his playing so individual. It should not in any way be considered as a continuation of the Conservatoire Method, which is built on a totally different system.” – Baillot (1835)
This trend describing his talent as incomparable continued throughout Paganini’s lifetime and has continued without abate since his death aged 58, in 1840. In his immediate wake; writers, living with personal memory of hearing and seeing this master held Paganini in this field of his own. Despite increased understanding giving rise to warnings that not all in print should be believed about Paganini, writers still resort to using amazing words, as the following quotes from eight works covering a time span of over a century illustrate:
“Who, that boasts of an ear, has not heard Paganini himself?
Tongues and pens have vied with each other in celebrating his name; and ‘Ercles’ vein has been drawn upon in his behalf, till its exhausted stream could go no further! A miracle of man… The success of Paganini gave new currency to the tales of crime and diablerie – captain of banditti – Carbonaro – dungeon-détenu – a deadly duellist – a four-mistress man – a friend of Beelzebub – a bowl-and-dagger administrator – these are some of the characters that were freely assigned to him.” – George Dubourg (1853)
“Genius – talent, whatever its extent – cannot always count upon popularity. Susceptibility of the highest conceptions of the most sublime creations, frequently fails in securing the attention of the multitude. How is this most coveted point to be attained? Let the happy darings of Paganini be studied, and it will be found that something is gained.” – F.J.Fétis (1876)
“The name of Paganini at once calls up a picture of weird, uncanny, demoniacal; and excites the imagination in a manner altogether unique, although to many serious and worthy folk it is mere clap-trap stuff… From the day of Paganini, not only was the violin transformed into a new instrument, not only were its capabilities, previously undreamt of, newly revealed, but also in other branches of musical art, in orchestral music especially, a fresh field was opened up before the composer. We do not desire to see another Paganini, so complete a slave to his instrument, albeit its master; we do not desire to see another such life, with bodily health and moral vigour sacrificed to so absorbing a devotion to one single end. We would fain believe that Paganini did not live in vain, that like a real artist he had and fulfilled his mission, that the evil he did died with him and that the good lives on to benefit the world.” – Stephen S. Stratton (1907)
“The position occupied by Paganini as a violinist and composer for his instrument should be defined clearly enough by contemporary opinions – and no amount of fresh research can increase our knowledge in this respect. No one has the right to say that this or that technical effect is artistic or inartistic; but [some] will look on them as ‘tricks’, just as some of Paganini’s contemporaries did… It was extending the range of his instrument, in demonstrating what surprising results could be obtained by a combination of natural talent and hard work – in short, in showing new paths for the development of instrumental virtuosity, that Paganini’s greatest merit lay… No one has ever produced the emotional effects attributed to Paganini by writers whose word we are compelled to accept. He will be imitated only when a personality like his appears, endowed with his physical, mental and spiritual attributes.
Paganini said, ‘Bisogna forte sentire per far sentire’, and in that is summed up the secret of his supernatural power over all who heard him. The instrument, the composition, and even his stupendous technical achievements – all fade into the background, leaving behind them just a man; to impart his human message by means of his own intense feeling.” – Jeffrey Pulver (1936)
“Paganini was unique, and even today, a century after his bright flame was extinguished, its light still flickers the whole violin world over. His playing had the effect of a love potion, making even the proudest beauty his prey. The newspapers had been printing stories about this wonder violinist for several years. Was this really the music of a violin? Had anyone ever really heard a violin played before this moment?
The audience almost stopped breathing. All this gave the impression of a jet of flame pouring out over the entire concert hall, outshining by far anything ever heard from any virtuoso’s violin.” – Franz Farga (1950)
“Paganini’s mode of expression – a force which directs a man’s whole nature. Like a thunderstorm, it was both visible and audible.
I have endeavoured to review the flames, the clouds, popularly supposed to have had their origin either in heaven or hell, which surrounded the figure of the maestro and perhaps nurtured his genius.” – Renee de Saussine (1953)
“Critics were at a loss to describe intelligibly his playing and the delirious enthusiasm of the audience. They tapped the deepest sources of their eloquence, only to admit that “what they heard was simply indescribable in words”. To form any idea of the disturbing emotional atmosphere he had generated in the hall, one must (they said) have experienced it personally… He was on the threshold of coronation – and crucifixion – a chronicle of triumphs and an intensity of suffering, spiritual and physical, that finds no counterpart in the entire history of music.” – G.I.C. de Courcy (1957)
“The violin technique of Paganini holds a unique position in the history of violin playing; it is completely unconventional, and is still not really understood.” – Dr.Frederick F.Polnauer and Dr.Morton Marks (1964)
As the studies of Paganini continued, in 1975, Diamanda Galás begun developing a limitless musical vocal technique, presenting it in her own particular way. As Paganini was supposed to have done.
“Paganini, destined by the innate force of genius to push himself to the very limits of self-discipline in the most difficult of arts… threw aside the pedantic bonds of convention and completely liberated his art from the stifling traditions of the past. Meet the Paganini of the Concert Hall – the Romantic Virtuoso – the Legendary Figure – the gaunt mysterious wanderer of our musical history books. With the advent of Paganini, the entire concept of violin playing took another path and reached a technical climax.
Paganini devoted himself to the mastery of his technical weaknesses, as he saw them, and practised endless hours to overcome the difficulties he found in his own compositions. He mastered the violin as completely as was humanely possible, and if legend is to be believed, discovered the secret of playing without practising. Paganini is considered the world’s greatest violinist” – Leslie Sheppard & Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod (1979)
In Nadir Studios, London, England, 1981, Galás made two recordings that were released the following year. Notice of Galás’s work appeared in an international professional journal with an accompanying explanation and short essay, written by Galás:
“This music is concerned with tendencies towards excessive behaviour… In 1975, I decided upon the creation of a new vocal music which employs an unmatrixed production of vocal sound as the most immediate representation of thought. A kind of bloodless and unmerciful brain surgery, a kinaesthetic representation of the mind diffracted into an infinity of crystals…
About virtuosity – This is certainly not a new idea, but the absolute accuracy, the absolute detail I am referring to requires a virtuosity, a versatility with the instrument that has not been yet approached.”
Galás’s career was launched and a steadily increasing volume of Paganini-type descriptions rapidly accumulated. Replace the name and gender in the following two quotes and they read typical of writing about Galás over the past four decades.
“Professional musicians were amazed at his technical skill… even if today rational explanations can be found for it. The ability to inspire opened a door on a whole area not known before, or at best simply dreamed of… Paganini’s art did not apply to any kind of music whatsoever. It was a very special art, of which he alone was the interpreter.” – Alan Kendall (1982)
“Dazzling technique, great intensity of expression – these were the essential characteristics of Paganini’s career… Paganini was an original figure who created new attitudes and new expectations.” – Harvey Sachs (1982)
From the accompanying notes printed on the sleeve of the first edition of Galás’s “Litanies of Satan”, there is immediate and obvious correlation with Paganini that is beyond subject matter rooted in the Romantic or execution being highly virtuosic.
“Nothing can compare with this. The strongest musical emotional experience in years. Diamanda jack knives at the waist. She screams. An anguished babble. It’s a new language. Electrifying, terrifying, mesmerizing… the voice gasps and heaves and she moves with it, possessed. Blood she shouts, something about blood. My blood feels like it’s curdling. A final roar, angry and insane and the silence. Total silence” – Steve Lake
“Diamanda Galás’ sound is devoid of influences, it is pure style and emotion as modern as the indefinite future and as primordial as the language of birds and the first gutteral mutterings of our humanoid ancestors. Galás takes wordless singing four or five steps beyond any previous jazz, rock, or new music vocalist; she has boundless imagination and astonishing strength.” – Vancouver Free Press
Galás is for voice what Paganini was to violin, by effect.
“It is now possible to evaluate the true musicianship of this remarkable performer and to gauge his influence on the world of music. Many violinists since have brought their own individual style to the instrument, but none has brought the violin to a new peak of excellence equal to Paganini’s; his achievement is unique and perhaps will remain so.” – John Sugden (1986)
“To say she chased after difference for its own sake would be a distortion. It is evident from her first records that she was driven to sing, her voices responding to imperatives, frequently bypassing speech in their compulsion to directly articulate the taut singing of her stretched nerves. She has sought to deploy her multi-octaved voice in contorted configurations that reach into the very heart of the subject and render up its emotional content raw, pure and unmediated, raising her own Babel choir of whispering, cackling, bubbling, wailing and soaring… Shaken by her elemental power, buffeted by the blood-red blacknesses of her music’s interrogations of the human spirit under siege, the casual listener inevitably comes back to the word hysteria to describe the surfeit of emotions she arouses” – Biba Kopf (1988)
“A quick listen to one of Galás’s records is useless. There’s just too much going on in her work that doesn’t go on anywhere else for you to be able to figure it out (at all) in the course of a few spins. One of the most astoundingly forceful chunks of moistly projected terror that’s ever been recorded. From cracker-ass blues-blur, through the novelty-esque jibber of speed-gospel, to flat-out trance-walls of white-sheet-noise” – Jimmy & Byron (1989)
“A towering inexhaustible masterpiece… a new musical dimension and new expressive resources. Brilliant. An extreme virtuosity, driven to the utmost limits of the possible… they also reveal a completely new artistic perfection.” – Renato de Barbieri, Alberto Cantu, Ernst Herttrich (1990)
“More rumors surround Diamanda Galás than any other figure in (new) music. Rumours that she is in league with the devil. Rumours that she has been approached about singing conventional opera (rumours that she has started all these rumours). The facts are these: Galás’s stage presence is riveting. Her music with its shrills and shrieks, whispers and whistles, often amplified and sometimes electronically processed, can be genuinely terrifying. Galás a prodigiously talented vocalist needs to be seen as well as heard” – John Schaefer (1990)
“She promises that none of the force is of satanic provenance, despite what some of her more excitable critics have said. But it is fuelled by all too earthly events. Unquestionably one of the greatest singers America has ever produced” – Programme notes (1992)
“Diamanda Galás is a Romantic. She sings from someplace very near the heart. That’s how her music works. It releases torrents in astonishingly small compass, but it also makes a healing or palliative intervention. Her music consciously adopts extreme means to objectify and vent extreme states of consciousness and feeling – above all, the numb terror and atrophy that unite the two modern plagues… She sings of the final corruption of the human spirit with an honest confrontation and from a tradition that doesn’t parade its innocence. She sings like Lilith, a demonic healer rather than a sweet betrayer.” – Brian Morton Ed. Richard Cook (1992)
In 1996, Galás’s words from works and performances were published in a book, “The Shit Of God”. The accompanying text in the form of cover notes and introduction add to the fabulous use of adjective and metaphors already heaped on Galás:
“The incomparable voice of our time, Diamanda Galás has stunned audiences worldwide in performances that are as moving as they are terrifying. A one woman sonic event, she uses her impeccably disciplined, quicksilver vocal technique to evoke the profound”
Diamanda Galás is, without question, an extraordinary artist. There is a purity of intent and execution in her creations which lends them an intensity which leaves the listener breathless, rapturous, and perhaps entirely intimidated. These are the works made by an artist who risks, perhaps even invites, horror and repugnance in the process of making her mark on our hearts.
“The landscape she conjures is not one most artists would even attempt to map. Let’s be grateful, then, that Diamanda’s hunger for unexplored spaces, and her courage in the face of their desolation, has given us these unique records of those wastelands. And perhaps made it possible for the rest of us, more timid souls, to follow.” – Clive Barker
“All angle and shadow, she casts rescue beams everywhere she steps – a witch whom the neighbourhood secretly adores. Her voice’s character ranges from the Ray Charles-in-hell pimp roll, to eerie crater sc[r]ape. She can be an unnervingly ‘natural’ singer, but also one whose innovative use of electronics and delay and Revox places her on the perimeter of what the voice can do.” – Ian Penman Ed.Tony Herrington (2000)
In 2001, Galás performed to a capacity house at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Numerous reviews appeared in the National Press. All with the same high-octane pitch:
“Galás doesn’t so much blur the boundaries between jazz, blues, folk, country and western, rock and experimental music as trample all over them. Galás’s songs are raw material in every sense of the words, the basis for wild passionate excursions, in which the relationship between the singer and her accompaniment is utterly symbiotic. The music is garnered from all quarters. The voice, which always seems to be aspiring for something transcendentally extreme” – Andrew Clements
“Performing at the Sydney Opera House, Galás had taken the audience’s breath away, then thrown it back at them, her voice inhabiting the atmosphere. She sang with such power and shape-shifting virtuosity as to defy belief. She sang ear-piercingly high, she sang chest-boomingly low; she sang in English, German, French, Arabic… she miaowed like a cat, she howled and cackled like a witch. Bride of Satan and Diva of Disease” – Anna Murphy
“You might call Galás a singer, but that’d be a paltry account of it. She’s the one they call the Beacon of Bleak, the Dark Diva of Doom ‘n’ Disease, all that triviualizing stuff. The sneeringly stately, black-haired, wild-eyed, the ferocious vocal range and the blood-freezing stage presence… The monstrously mighty vocal virtuoso… To have any performer deal articulately with topical monstrosities is rare; to have such a badass musician saying it is a gift from God. Galás reigns as the queen of extended vocal technique, a voice that has only gained in power and versatility over the years.
She’s someone from whom anyone looking for new inspired music can derive maximum thrills. Chances are, however, that he won’t remain unscathed after hearing it.” – John Payne
“Watching Galás in concert is a bit like observing the Old Testament come to life in rabid Technicolor. Indeed, not for nothing has Galás been dubbed the Diva of the Dispossessed. Like a cross between a medieval requiem, a wolf howling, and a horror movie exorcism. Galás twists and turns, dips and soars, rasps, trills and booms, back-tracks, inverts, reels, undulates and spasms through her songs. The lyrics get flattened through mangles, stretched like toffee, and pounded like dough, to the point of near-intelligibility. Galás is quite unlike any other artiste you could ever encounter. A beguiling, challenging mix of passion, information, culture, history and humour.” – Barbara Ellen
“From profound melancholy to the high keys of hysteria, never once faltering, always controlled, no matter how raw, an ululating sound, like a spine-chilling call to prayer, a stiletto-heel-stomping climax, the audience was transfixed. Her performance then began to take off… all uvular fricatives and Gauloise growl. From haunting blues to blood-curdling screeches, throaty incantation to her very highest trills, she has a unique sound, which she orchestrates with a religious fervour.” – Kathleen Wyatt
Approaching the end of a second century since Paganini’s monumental achievements; in 2004, The Strad Magazine (“Essential Reading for the String Music World”) dedicated a whole issue, “in pursuit of Paganini”:
“There’s always been an air of mystery surrounding the world’s most famous violin virtuoso. His legendary skills, which revolutionised technique, his plethora of fantastically difficult compositions, which continue to tangle the fingers of our finest players… I don’t think this explains why so many myths have been perpetuated about him, including that infamous pact with the devil.
In his own time he was viewed as some kind of weird magician of the instrument, devilish even. In truth he was a great performer, who totally renewed the technique of the violin. The 24 Caprices are works of demonic difficulty, and he stuffed them with just about every technical trap that he could conceive” – Ed.Naomi Sadler
In the same year, in a compendium of the Great Violinists, Paganini finds no diminished status as being of complete and fundamental importance, ‘The Catalyst’:
“This legendary figure was the quintessence of eccentric genius, thought by some to be in possession of satanic powers… Allied to playing powers without parallel among his contemporaries, could not fail to make him both famous and notorious. His 24 Caprices for solo violin remain today some of the most brilliant virtuoso music ever written for the instrument. They are the work of a genius. The twentieth century added nothing that is not already embodied in these caprices.” – Margaret Campbell
At a time, when roughly the same age, Paganini was succumbing to terrible and terminal afflictions; Galás’s global presence is growing and her concert performances continue. The originality of The Litanies, and Wild Women still stands; and Galás’s “new vocal music” has continued to be heard for four decades. There are numerous press reviews, interviews and articles to be found since 2008. She has reached a point in time when Paganini’s life came to an end but Galás’s most recent recordings and performances are still proving:
“she’s capable of pinning you like a butterfly and mauling you like a bear, all in one breath.” – Petra Davis (2008)
And in 2017 the song remains the same.
These two musicians, whose startling disturbances to the musical world share a body of work, although different in many respects nevertheless manage to generate an almost identical effect in the reaction of those who have tried then to write about either one of them.
Barbieri/ Cantů/ Herttrich, Renato de/Alberto/Ernst, Paganini’s 24 Capricci für Violine solo (G.Henle Verlag, Opus 1 – Edited 1990)
Campbell, Margaret, The Great Violinists (Robson Books, First published by Paul Elek Ltd, Granada Publishing 1980, Chapter 6 The Catalyst,2004
Courcy, G.I.C. de, Paganini the Genoese (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2 Vols. LCCN 57-5953, 1957)
Davis, Petra, Judge, jury and executioner (Plan B, issue 33, may, 32-35, 2008)
Day, Lillian, Paganini (Hyperion Press, Illustrated by Dugo, 1946)
Dubourg, George, The Violin (Robert Cocks & Co., 4th Ed. Chpt.3, 1853)
Ellen, Barbara, Whatever it was Galás was singing, it was full of beguiling passion and humour (The Observer, Royal Festival Hall, 23 September, 2001)
Farga, Franz, Violins & Violinists (Rockliff Publishing Corporation Ltd, Chpt 17, 1950)
Fetis, F.J., Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini (Schott & Co., 2nd Edition (1880?), 1876)
Galás, Intravenal Song (Perspectives in New Music, xx, 59, 1981)
Galás, The Litanies of Satan (Intravenal Sound Operations/Mute Records Ltd., ISO1, 1982)
Galás, Litanies of Satan (Target Video/Intravenal Sound Operations, BETAMAX, 1986)
Galás, Judgment Day (Voice Over/Speakout/shinkansen, Friday 15 may, Royal Festival Hall. Programme notes, 1992)
Galás, Judgement Day (BMG Video/Mute Film, VHS, 1993)
Galás, The Shit of God (High Risk Books/Serpent’s Tail, Introduction by Clive
Barker, ISBN 1-85242-432-X, 1996)
Guhr, Carl, Paganini’s Kunst die Violine zu spielen (Edition Schott 659, Preface written Frankfurt, November, 1829)
Kendall, Alan, Paganini – A Biography (Chappell & Company Limited, ISBN 0-241-10845-4, 1982)
Kopf, Biba, Diamanda Galás (Nada Ltd, Essay notes with “Mask of the Red Death” box set, 1988)
Lichtenthal, Peter, [Scala Concert, October 29] (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, According to De Courcy (I, 125), the first critical review of Paganini in concert, 1813)
Morton, Brian, The howling & the healing (The Wire, Issue 97 March. Title of article in Contents Satan Doll, article Lady Shrieks the Blues, 1992)
Paganini, 24 Capricci Per Violino solo (G. Ricordi, Op.1 [PN]403, Milano, 1820)
Paganini, 12 Sonatas for Violin and Guitar (G. Ricordi, Op.2 & 3, 1820)
Paganini, 6 Quartets for violin, viola, guitar and violoncello (G. Ricordi, Op.4 & 5, 1820)
Payne, John, The Deep End (LA Weekly, Nov-23, 2001)
Penman, Ian, A Plague on all your houses (The Wire, 190/191, article Matters of life & death, 2000)
Polnauer and Marks, Dr.Frederick F. & Dr.Morton, Senso-Motor study and its application to violin playing (American String Teachers Association, Part II.A.III Historical Survey of the Violin Technique – The Violin Technique of N.Paganini, 1964)
Pulver, Jeffrey, Paganini, The Romantic Virtuoso (Herbert Joseph Limited, 1936)
Sadler, Ed. Naomi, In Pursuit of Paganini (The Strad, Paganini Issue – Volume 115 Number 1374, 2004)
Saussine, Renee de, Paganini (Hutchinson, Preface by Thibaud, translated by Laurie, 1953)
Schaefer, John, New Sounds (Virgin, Chapter 10: The Oldest and Newest Instruments – extending the voice – discography, 235, 1990)
Sheppard &Axelrod, Leslie & Dr. Herbert R., Paganini (Paganiniana Publications, ISBN 0-87666-618-7, 1979)
Stratton, Stephen S., Nicolo Paganini: His Life and Work (The Strad Library, No. XVII, 1907)
Wyatt, Kathleen, World Music – Diamanda Galás, Festival Hall (The Times, Monday 24 September, 2001)