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
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.
Edited and Revised by Lenny Cavallaro
Copyright © Lenny A. Cavallaro 2011
All Rights Reserved
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.
it would be the final journey. Thirty‑one years, massive bribery, and the indignation of the rich
had at last infused justice with compassion.
pouted the Baroness Paola. Even
after bearing twelve children, she continued to remind her husband of an
good things come too late,” she philosophized. "Do we have to wear black?”
for a few hours. In the church and
at the graveside. Both
comical in black.”
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.
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
irreverent,” yawned the Baron, scratching.
then, what does it mean?”
that the decision of the Bishop of Nice -- promulgated in 1840 -- has been
revoked. We may now bury my father
in hallowed ground.”
was more than thirty years ago. I
wasn't even born.”
said Achilles, “I was born.”
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
his father to the family carriage. Then, noticing a rich black brougham parked nearby, he dashed toward it
across the watery pathway.
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
your grandfather, of course --”
many knew Niccolo, after a manner. That was so long ago.”
been dead thirty‑one years --”
not stand there like an idiot getting chilled to the bone!” scolded the old
woman. “Isn't someone waiting for
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.
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?”
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?”
didn't leave her name.”
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?”
age, it's impossible to tell. She
must have been a hundred.”
laughed. “That means upward of
she is much older than you.”
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 --”
nonsense!” declared his Baroness. “You are becoming mawkish and sentimental.”
negotiations with the Vatican broke down, and I had him removed to the villa
ladies, I suppose?”
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
these women, Father? Were there
none he truly loved?”
glanced at his son, a vague and distant look in his eyes. “My father had a mistress . . . but not
of flesh and blood.”
please, don't start!” snapped the Baroness, fussily arranging her skirts.
dear. We must give the Devil his
eyes nearly burst from his head. “Is that why the Bishop of Nice -- ?”
not tolerate these fabrications!” the Baroness insisted.
voices quarreling outside. With
his little hand, Riccardo wiped fog from the window and peered out into 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.
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.
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.
searched the windows of the waiting carriages. “We certainly don't need to open it here.”
agreed. “At the church,
then.” He climbed from the
carriage, opened his umbrella, and walked out to talk with the men. Attila followed him.
open the graves of all heretics, Father?”
grandfather was not a heretic.”
“I said his
--” The Baron stopped, looked at
his son. He could see the boy was
genuinely curious. “Wait here,
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.
fine one. It's time you heard the
truth about your grandfather. I've
a good long story to tell.”
* * *
cried the Baroness when she heard of their plans. “You cannot walk! It is too far -- and the rain!”
drizzle,” said the Baron, scanning the clouds.
pulled the door shut, but the Baroness threw open the window. “He might be getting mumps -- everyone
hereabouts has mumps!”
all right, Mother. I promise.”
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.
Baroness craned her head out the window. “Don't you listen to those stories of your father's!” she pleaded. “Nonsense! All nonsense!”
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.