Allegro vivace a movimento perpetuo

Niccolò Paganini

Allegro vivace a movimento perpetuo in C major

MS72, Op. 11

About this work

The degree to which Niccolò Paganini's skills on the violin boggled the minds of early to mid-nineteenth century audiences can hardly be appreciated today, when all of his much-guarded technical secrets have long since been revealed and the world's concert violinists are expected to duplicate his finesse -- if perhaps not his profound expression -- on a daily basis. It helps to remember that it was not for several generations after his death that European violinists were willing to make a go at playing much of his music.

The history of Paganini's now-famous Allegro vivace a movimento perpetuo (usually simply called "Moto Perpetuo") in C Major, Op. 11 for violin and orchestra, bears witness to this lengthy absorption. Originally composed during April of 1835, the Moto Perpetuo remained unpublished at the time of Paganini's death in 1840, and was among those pieces of his first put to print in 1851 by publishers in both Paris and Mainz. Aside from the occasional odd performance or two, however, the piece did not really enter the standard repertory until 1932, when Fritz Kreisler made and published a new transcription of the work for violin and piano; other violinists were quick to follow Kreisler's lead, and by mid century, the piece had become a staple of virtually every virtuoso's encore list.

The Moto Perpetuo in C (there is another, posthumous, in A) is four minutes of sheer physical delight for the worthy performer, five or six minutes of absolute terror for the underdeveloped. The machine-gun sixteenth notes never once stop through 187 measures of music -- measures 188 and 189, mercifully, are simple cadential chords! A basic sonata principle governs the music, though the usual idea of contrasting themes is omitted. Those who label Paganini as a thoughtless notespinner would do well to take a look at the apparently ordinary, but in fact ingeniously devised, way that he brings about the reprise of the opening passage in the Moto Perpetuo.

At a tempo that does service to Paganini's intentions, the piece is among the most fiendish the composer penned (it is perhaps not so difficult as the perpetual motion of the Caprice No. 5, but it is far longer), and anyone wishing to tackle the work at such a tempo would do well to familiarize himself with famed violinist Henryk Wieniawski's personal motto: "Il faut risquer" (I must risk it). Of course, Wieniawski never had to play the piece.