The Tricksters


Niccoló Paganini was the most famous violinist in Europe. He was also more versatile than anyone would have guessed–at work and play. And he loved a practical joke.

Gioacchini Rossini was at his wits’ end. The conductor of his new opera Mametto the Second had died suddenly, and in the entire city of Rome there was no suitable substitute to be found. Paganini offered his services, and conducted the rehearsal and the first two performances with such panache that the performers were dazzled. And that wasn’t all. A horn player with a particularly difficult solo had taken ill at the last minute. Paganini played his part on the viola while continuing to lead the orchestra.

Shortly afterward, toward the end of carnival season, Paganini postponed one of his own concerts for one day. The only explanation–“extraordinary circumstances.” The circumstances being that Paganini wanted to take the night off to have a little fun. He and Rossini and two singer friends dressed up in the costumes of blind street musicians. The rotund Rossini wrapped himself in such thick folds of material that he looked positively elephantine. Paganini on the other hand was thin and ghostlike, and he squeezed into clinging feminine clothing that made him downright otherworldly.

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The foursome, presumably armed with a fiddle and a guitar, made their way along palace-lined thoroughfares bedecked in flowers and brocade, clowning and singing. Several times they were invited to sing in upper crust homes, and apparently no one of their highborn hosts knew that their entertainment was coming from the greatest violinist and the greatest opera composer in Europe.

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