Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.
PublishingThirsty BeachManifestoCreditsPast Issues


Ann Abelson

PAGANINI'S FIRE by Ann Abelson is the story of history’s most celebrated violinist and composer, Niccolo Paganini. His meteoric rise from favorite musician in the corrupt court of Napoleon’s sister to Europe’s first celebrity performer is punctuated by nocturnal trysts with a real or imagined Dark Mistress. His remarkable musical feats and bizarre appearance cause many to suspect that Paganini has entered into a satanic pact.

A notorious rake, reckless gambler and callous lover who father’s a child, Paganini achieves fame, glory and wealth even though scandal and imprisonment haunt his career. Defying the odds in life, Paganini returns triumphantly time and again to the stage, but in death, scandal plagues him to the grave and he is denied a Christian burial, the ultimate scandal of all.

Did his demonic mistress collect her due or is Paganini's love for his son the real answer to the lingering mystery of his true life and death?


“Nearly one hundred seventy years following his death at age fifty-seven from a throat ailment, the name of the Italian virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini, continues to conjure up a variety of associations: those of a gaunt, nearly spectral showman and breathless daredevil of the violin, an inveterate gambler, an incorrigible womanizer, and -- stated sotto voce -- the Devil’s collaborator…A ‘devilish’ master performing his wizardry only inches away from the powerful Christian symbols placed at the very heart of his majestic violin! This, indeed, is the stuff of legend and provides the perfect vehicle for PAGANINI'S FIRE.”
      - Stephanie Chase, Concert Violinist and Educator

Lenny Cavallaro

Reviews of Ann Abelson’s other books:

“…a highly interesting story.”
      - New York Times Book Review of The Little Conquerors.

“Miss Abelson has something to say and says it with individuality…”
      - New York Times review of Angels’ Metal.


Ann Abelson was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Grant for her writing. Her son, Lenny Cavallaro, edited and revised PAGANINI’S FIRE after her death.

For fans of grand, historic stories of intrigue, celebrity and romance, we have included the first chapter as a small sample of this book’s magnetic power.




Ann Abelson

Edited and Revised by Lenny Cavallaro

Copyright © Lenny A. Cavallaro 2011
All Rights Reserved



Upon receipt of the proper ecclesiastical documents, the Baron Achilles Paganini made hasty arrangements for still another journey of his father's bones. They were to be removed from the improvised graveyard on the family's estate in Parma to the Catholic cemetery several kilometers away.

He hoped it would be the final journey. Thirty‑one years, massive bribery, and the indignation of the rich had at last infused justice with compassion.

“Must we?” pouted the Baroness Paola. Even after bearing twelve children, she continued to remind her husband of an irrepressible duckling.

“I'm afraid so.”

Paganini's Fire

“Sometimes good things come too late,” she philosophized. "Do we have to wear black?”

"Only for a few hours. In the church and at the graveside. Both gravesides.”

“I look comical in black.”

“So you do.”

Andrea was in France pursuing a Russian lady twice his age; Niccolo, swollen with mumps; and Giovanni had fallen from a horse. Only Attila, at nineteen, seemed vaguely interested in the proceedings. His little brother, Riccardo, merely sulked and obeyed. It was difficult, apparently, to impress children, even with their own pedigree.

“Does this mean Grandfather was not a sinner?” Attila wanted to know. Half imp, half theologian, he had been offering only token resistance to his mother's decision that he need not become a Jesuit.

“Don't be irreverent,” yawned the Baron, scratching.

“Well, then, what does it mean?”

“It means that the decision of the Bishop of Nice -- promulgated in 1840 -- has been revoked. We may now bury my father in hallowed ground.”

“But that was more than thirty years ago. I wasn't even born.”

“Fortunately,” said Achilles, “I was born.”

The leather‑lined berlin rambled up the carriage road, its foggy windows muffling the swish of rain and wind. Paola told her husband that if the storm did not subside, she would under no circumstance step outside at the improvised graveyard on the grounds of the Villa Gaione. The Baron glanced at the bald and bespectacled priest, who shrugged obligingly. Achilles conceded there was no reason why she ought to.

The tomb lay in a grove of towering elm trees near the crumbling outer wall of the estate. Several carriages awaited them there, the occupants invisible. Accompanied by the priest, the Baron, Attila, and Riccardo stepped into the driving rain and huddled by the open grave during an abbreviated prayer of commitment. They did not linger, leaving the gravediggers to raise the coffin and the priest to conclude all decencies.

Attila led his father to the family carriage. Then, noticing a rich black brougham parked nearby, he dashed toward it across the watery pathway.

“I am Attila Paganini,” he shouted into the carriage, for the rain roared like surf. “Permit me to thank you in the name of my father, the Baron Achilles, for your kindness. Are we acquainted?”

A very ancient lady, heavily scented, looked down upon him. “A grandson?” she queried in a deep, melodic voice that cracked slightly.

“Yes, Signora.”

“I knew your grandfather, of course --”

“Your name, Signora?”

“But then, many knew Niccolo, after a manner. That was so long ago.”

“He has been dead thirty‑one years --”

“Well, do not stand there like an idiot getting chilled to the bone!” scolded the old woman. “Isn't someone waiting for you?”

In a single, imperious gesture, she waved him away and ordered the coachman to proceed, lurching forward as the carriage started, its wheels spattering mud over Attila's elegant mourning.

“You're filthy!” cried the Baroness when he rejoined them. She wiped her son's face with her lace shawl. “Oh, we'll never wring him dry! Who was that?”

“A very old woman.”

Baron Achilles nodded. “Of course. When the body lay in the pest‑house at Nice for two years -- neatly embalmed and covered with canvas, but without a resting place -- droves of women came to visit. They bribed the guards. . . . Which one?”

“She didn't leave her name.”

The Baron stared out at the gravesite. The bald priest stood beneath a black umbrella, mumbling prayers in Latin as the soaked gravediggers hauled on their ropes. “And at Cap Ferrat -- a small mound between rocks and ocean, unmarked -- they left flowers. Was she an Italian?”

“At that age, it's impossible to tell. She must have been a hundred.”

Paola laughed. “That means upward of forty.”

“No, no, she is much older than you.”

“And in Genoa,” continued Baron Achilles. “I was there when the little pirogue arrived, bearing his remains -- the Maria Magdalena. No fewer than a dozen ladies stood at the water's edge --”

“Oh, nonsense!” declared his Baroness. “You are becoming mawkish and sentimental.”

“And when negotiations with the Vatican broke down, and I had him removed to the villa --”

“More ladies, I suppose?”

“The Grand Duchess Marie Louise herself, may her soul rest in peace. . . . But it is no use talking to any of you. I have spent thirty years petitioning for a few feet of consecrated earth for my father's remains, and you -- and you --” Baron Achilles looked from one bland countenance to another; only Attila seemed attentive.

“Why all these women, Father? Were there none he truly loved?”

The Baron glanced at his son, a vague and distant look in his eyes. “My father had a mistress . . . but not of flesh and blood.”

“Oh please, don't start!” snapped the Baroness, fussily arranging her skirts.

“My dear. We must give the Devil his due.”

Attila's eyes nearly burst from his head. “Is that why the Bishop of Nice -- ?”

“I will not tolerate these fabrications!” the Baroness insisted.

They heard voices quarreling outside. With his little hand, Riccardo wiped fog from the window and peered out into the rain.

At the tomb, something appeared awry. The priest was arguing with a long-faced official while the three mud‑smeared gravediggers looked on, the disinterred coffin at their feet. “What is it?” the Baron inquired.

Attila jumped out of the carriage into the rain. His mother called after him, but to no avail. “That boy will be the death of me,” she lamented.

A moment later Attila returned, his eyes bright. “The authorities demand that the coffin be reopened. The magistrate must be called. It will be at least an hour, maybe two. There are some papers. . . .” His father frowned. Always the authorities. Health or taxes, or the church.

Paola searched the windows of the waiting carriages. “We certainly don't need to open it here.”

Achilles agreed. “At the church, then.” He climbed from the carriage, opened his umbrella, and walked out to talk with the men. Attila followed him.

“Do they open the graves of all heretics, Father?”

“Your grandfather was not a heretic.”

“But you said --”

“I said his --” The Baron stopped, looked at his son. He could see the boy was genuinely curious. “Wait here, Attila.”

He walked out to the men, exchanged some words with them. The official shrugged, showing open palms, and the priest, gruffly wiping the fog from his glasses, marched back toward the carriage. The Baron nodded to the gravediggers, then followed the priest, gesturing for Attila to join him.

“Come, my fine one. It's time you heard the truth about your grandfather. I've a good long story to tell.”


* * *


“Walk?” cried the Baroness when she heard of their plans. “You cannot walk! It is too far -- and the rain!”

“Merely a drizzle,” said the Baron, scanning the clouds.

The priest pulled the door shut, but the Baroness threw open the window. “He might be getting mumps -- everyone hereabouts has mumps!”

“I'll be all right, Mother. I promise.”

The Baron laid his hand on the shoulder of his son. “We'll see you at the cathedral,” he told his wife. His fluttering palm dismissed the carriage, which lurched up the road.

The Baroness craned her head out the window. “Don't you listen to those stories of your father's!” she pleaded. “Nonsense! All nonsense!”

The black berlin rolled off into the rain, and the two began their walk beneath the sheltering umbrella. Attila looked up at his father, waiting for him to start; he was dying to hear the tale that made his mother so afraid.


Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

© Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. 2006 - 2011
All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Contact | Site Map

Thirsty Home


Stay Thirsty Store