Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840) was known primarily as the world’s premier violin virtuoso during his lifetime, but was also an accomplished guitarist. As impressive as his compositions lead us to believe his technique was, many musicians criticize the lack of true polyphony in most of his works. Polyphony happens when several independent lines of music are heard simultaneously. As a composer who did not compose at the piano, but at the violin or with guitar in hand, it makes sense that he would compose monophonic pieces, like the 24th caprice for violin, or the duo-sonatas for violin and guitar.
Several composers have paid homage to Paganini by composing fantasias or variations based on his themes. Brahms composed his Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35, in 1863 and Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, in 1934. Both works are based on Paganini’s 24th caprice for violin solo in A minor – often played on guitar!
I took a few moments to totally nerd out and diagram the three most common textures in western classical music for you!