Check out STRAD TO STRAT for information and audio samples of a contemporary take on Paganini's Concerto No. 1, Caprice No. 5 and Perpetual Motion.


by Hugh McGinnis Ferguson (

(Originally published by The Phi Beta Kappa Society in _The American Scholar,_ Winter, 1994)

Nicolo Paganini, the greatest violinist who ever lived, was so big and powerful that he used a custom-made, over-sized bow.

My first violin teacher told me that. I was eleven years old. Right then, Paganini became my hero.

I had real need of such a hero. I had taken up the violin thoughtlessly, only because I loved the sound of it, never considering the price I would have to pay in the schoolyard. Things had been tough enough there anyway, thanks to the short pants and long curly hair that so pleased my mother. The violin-case just complicated what were already tricky circumstances. The image of a powerful, manly violinist steadied me when I had to run the gauntlet.

Years later I learned that Paganini was of only average height and positively scrawny. By that time I was in long pants and a crew cut, and had given up any serious idea about becoming a violinist. But I still thought of him in heroic terms. Partly, perhaps, because he had been there when I needed him. Mostly, though, because he was the greatest violin virtuoso who had ever lived.

The greatest who ever lived. The older I got, the more that impressed me. What soldier, statesman, painter, actor, doctor, scientist, athlete could that be said of? The list is very short.

Eventually I found time to start reading about Paganini. I wanted to add substance to my sketchy knowledge of him. But certainty proved elusive. The countless contradictions I found in the first few biographies and articles I read left me bewildered. No wonder my violin teacher thought his bow was long! I read that it was long, and that it wasn't; that his hand was large, small, and medium; that he never practiced, and that he practiced unremittingly; that his parents were poor, that they raised him in a large, airy apartment in Genoa, and that they had a four-story house in the country!

I noted with satisfaction, however, that no one was denying his position as the greatest violin virtuoso who ever lived.

As I continued to read, hoping to separate the specious versions from the valid, I began taking notes; started a bibliography; began questioning the trustworthiness of each new source. Soon, the methodology of research took on its own fascination. Good thing! At times I accomplished little beyond the formation of tentative opinions about the reliability of a source or two.

Years passed, and disparate accounts began sorting themselves out along the lines of relative credibility. I grew confident that his hand was medium-sized but very flexible; that he himself was of average height, but apallingly thin; that he grew up in a comfortably middle-class home; and that he practiced prodigiously in his early years, and thereafter sporadically, although intensely. I even learned that he himself once told of using a long bow (at a concert during his 'teens) but that in later life he reverted to bows of normal length.

Accounts that contradicted these conclusions were everywhere, but I grew to recognize them as apocryphal. They formed a basis, I saw, for another Paganini, the Paganini of legend. A colorful fellow, to be sure, but not the one I was after.

There was one episode in (the real) Paganini's life that remained murky even though every source said essentially the same thing about it: the affair of the Casino Paganini. The elements of the story were always the same, and the form was, often, right down to the very words used. It made for singularly unconvincing reading. It was like reading carbon copies. I had no clearer picture of the Casino after the twentieth version than after the first.

I probably wouldn't have spent much time puzzling over it except for what it seemed to imply about Paganini. It made him look weak. The story declared that the Casino was conceived as a gambling hall. The prevailing deduction was that Paganini's involvement in it revealed his chronic weakness for gambling. I couldn't accept that. I had come to perceive Paganini's psyche as stalwart -- as fully so as I had once perceived his physique to be.

One day it struck me that the Casino Paganini affair might constitute the biggest contradiction of all.

The Casino Paganini, as you probably know, opened fleetingly in Paris near the end of 1837, three years before Paganini's death. Almost any reference will tell you that it was a gambling house which failed when the government refused it a license, and that Paganini, a major stockholder, lost heavily when it went under.

Some accounts don't even mention the music. The latest Britannica, for instance, after pointing out that Paganini had "indulged excessively in gambling" as a youth, dismisses the entire subject with: "Following the failure of the Casino Paganini, a gambling house in which he had invested, he went to Marseille in 1839...."

When mentioned at all, the music is often characterized as merely a front. Alan Kendall, whose biography was published in 1982, writes, "The publicity material stated that there would be facilities for all sorts of amusements and recreations, including music and dancing.... In fact the financial basis of the place was to be its gambling rooms, as befitted a true Casino...."

Kendall is simply echoing Jeffrey Pulver, whose widely respected Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, was published fifty years earlier. "The prospectus," wrote Pulver, "provided for amusements and recreations of every kind: Music, dancing, the fine arts, conversation, lectures, reading; but the main object, though kept in the background at the outset, was to provide a locale for gambling."

Rene de Saussine's description puts an even more furtive cast on it. "It was whispered," she wrote in the biography she published two decades after Pulver's, "that the Casino, to take the most favourable view of it, was only a gambling hall in disguise."

The following year, 1957, Geraldine de Courcy's two-volume, 800-page, heavily documented Paganini, the Genoese appeared. In the The New Yorker's review of it, the Casino got a lively play. "Paganini was a gambler and an investor in dubious securities and financial schemes," wrote the reviewer. "His last large-scale venture in finance was a big gambling Casino in Paris, where he proposed to play the violin while his customers played roulette and baccarat." In the book itself, the description was far less vivid, Miss de Courcy contenting herself with vague references to the arrangements for gambling. Clearly, though, she disapproved of Paganini's involvement in the enterprise, deriding it (and him, by implication) as "an irresistible bait for his cupidity, if only as a 'sure fire' speculation".

By the time I had absorbed these and similar accounts, I had serious doubts that there had ever been plans for gambling at the Casino Paganini.

Why, for instance, would the gambling have been "kept in the background at the outset" if it was the "main object"? Why not advertise it energetically from the very beginning?

And why was every authority so stingy with details? No one had offered a single particular about the rooms where the gambling was to have taken place, or the equipment to have been used, or (except for the New Yorker review) the games to have been played. No one even mentioned the date that the gambling license was denied -- surely a pivotal moment in the Casino's history. Was it months before the opening? Days? Was it after the opening? On what grounds was it denied? Was the decision appealed? To whom?

Finally, why was there a universal absence of attribution? No one had cited a single source for the assertion that the Casino was planned as a gambling hall.

I had learned, meanwhile, that the name "casino", though it suggested the possibility of gambling, did not then, as it does today, mean "gambling hall". In Italian, casino is the diminutive of casa, or "house." To the Italians of that day it meant a house or apartment dedicated to socializing and parties. And gambling, though often a part of Italian social life, was not central to it.

But if the story was untrue, who or what had started it? I wanted to look for its origins, but thanks to the code of silence among its perpetrators, I didn't know where to start. All I could do was study every reference to the Casino that I could find. And that, as it turned out, was all it took. A clue eventually emerged from the material itself: a pattern in the way the story was told. Once I recognized it, I just kept my eye out for its earliest appearance.

"At the end of 1836 some speculators asked the baron [Paganini] to lend the support of his name and his prestige to the establishment of a Casino in Paris where, under the pretext of having a flowering of the musical arts, gambling would form the principal entertainment." Fin dal 1836 alcuni speculatori richiesero il Barone di un appoggio nel suo nome, e nella sua fama ad obbietto di stabilire un Casino in Parigi, ove sotto pretesto che avrebbevi fiorito l'arte musica, voleasi da loro, che il giuoco poi vi formasse il precipuo trattenimento."/ (my translation)

-- Conestabile, Gian Carlo, Vita di Niccol" Paganini, Nuova edizione con aggiunte e note di Federico Mompellio, Milano, Genova, Roma, Napoli, 1936.

"... a large and fashionable club -- ostensibly with the view of giving concerts, but in reality for gambling purposes.... but the gambling license was refused..."

-- "Paganini, Nicolo," in Grove, George, D.C.L. A Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. II London: Macmillan and Company, 1880:

"... a Casino, for which music was the pretext, but of which the real object was gambling... but the government did not grant the hoped-for authority to make it a gaming-house....

"Paganini", by G.F.G., in Vol 7 (New Series) of Hoggs Instructor, Edinburgh, ULS & DLC as /*Titan,*/ AP4.T62 PAG/

"En 1836 des spculateurs l'engag rent  leur donner l'appui de son nom et de son talent pour la fondation d'un Casino dont la musique tait le prtexte, et dont le jeu tait l'objet rel... mais le gouvernement n'accorda pas l'autorisation qu'on avait espre pour en faire une maison de jeu, et les spculateurs furent rduits au produit des concerts qui n'gal rent pas le dpenses...

--Ftis, F. J., Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, Bruxelles, Tome Septieme, MDCCCXLI.. e321'85 PAG [126.1.6]/


Even with my rusty French, I felt confident that I had arrived at the fountainhead. Ftis had published this only a year after Paganini's death and only four after the Casino's opening. He, like his successors, gave no source for his information, but since, as I learned, he was founder and editor of the Revue Musicale of Paris, and had been personally acquainted with Paganini, he could have been writing from first-hand knowledge. And he had impressive credentials. Just a glance at his entry in the New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians was enough to persuade me that he was a formidable figure in the history of musicology.

Then why was I still not convinced? For me to doubt his veracity seemed the height of impudence. But doubt it I did. I simply couldn't accept the shadow that this brief passage -- I came to think of it as the Ftis Doctrine -- seemed to cast on Paganini's judgement, if not his character. Ftis didn't directly slander Paganini. But since Paganini had admittedly gambled recklessly in his youth, Ftis, simply by labeling the music of the Casino a "pretext" for running a gambling hall, created an innuendo that prepared the way for the slurs that were to follow.

And follow they did.

Consider what John Sugden wrote in his 1980 biography. Describing how the idea for the Casino was first proposed to Paganini by an old friend, Lazzaro Rebizzo, he claims that Rebizzo was "well aware of his friend's weakness for gambling. What more appropriate establishment in which to persuade him to invest some of his huge fortune?".

A more sensational case for Paganini's weakness was made by Sacheverell Sitwell, who, in his biography of Franz Liszt, wrote: "Even the image of his clothes has a little of horror left in it, more especially about his black, bone-shaped trousers. They are the trousers of someone who has slept in them when too ill or too drugged to bother about it, and who has passed the entire night gambling with curious partners against sinister adversaries. Paganini was, in very truth, an inveterate gambler, [who] had, before now, been forced to pawn his violin in order to pay his debts. Later on, he was to nearly ruin himself with the Casino Paganini, a gambling hell (sic) for which he was refused a licence." And in a later section: "In 1836 his old mania for gambling, or for the associations of gambling, returned to him, and he left Parma for Paris, where the Casino Paganini had recently been opened at his instigation and with his financial support."

Several years later, in his highly acclaimed Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years, Alan Walker gave an even more vivid portrayal:

"Paganini was addicted to the gaming tables and would often gamble the night away in darkened, smoke-filled rooms with bizarre characters from the underworld as his opponents, making and losing whole fortunes on the spin of a wheel or the turn of a card. He would emerge from these hell-holes blinking in the morning sunlight, half drugged from alcohol and datura cigars, the only oral palliatives strong enough to dull the pain in his rotting jawbone, and go straight to the concert hall in the crumpled, stale-smelling evening suit he had worn all night. His violin was pawned several times in order to tide him over to his next concert receipts. The outcome of his passion for gambling was the Casino Paganini, a magnificent building in the Rue de la Chaussie d'Antin which he and two other speculators bought from the Duke of Padua. Paganini lived there in a spacious suite of apartments with luxurious flannel-lined walls (to deaden the sound of his violin against eavesdroppers), surrounded by roulette wheels, dice tables, and various other games of chance. His paradise turned into purgatory when the French government refused to grant him a license to operate the place, and he lost 100,000 francs."

Although neither Walker nor Sitwell cited any sources for the material in their sketches, they drew on more than the Fitis doctrine, of course. Their Paganini was, in fact, one whom I had encountered often in my years of reading: intemperate, impulsive, undisciplined, dissipated, self-indulgent, indolent, yet still able to drive audiences into a frenzy with his exquisite music. It was a Paganini compiled out of apocrypha. The Paganini, in other words, of legend. By placing this colorful fellow in the Casino Paganini, they validated his role in their non-fiction narrative. Having formed their creature out of the most vivid elements of this legend, they placed him in the Casino Paganini as a means of bringing him down to earth and validating his role in their non-fiction narrative.; And the Casino was the perfect portal of entry. That it existed is irrefutable; that it was conceived as a gambling hall has never been denied.

When I encountered these two sketches I saw them as relatively harmless examples of what happens when a lively imagination is called upon to maximize the yield of indifferent research. (I didn't really blame the two authors. They must have had their hands full getting the facts straight about Liszt, so research about Paganini must have had to be cursory.) I was surprised, though, that two such sophisticated and knowledgeable writers -- no matter how cursory their research -- would have invoked a Paganini of such full-blown profligacy!

The Paganini legend has exerted a strong influence on most of Paganini's biographers, even the most conservative of whom have tended to depict him as a man buffeted by passions, and the Casino episode as an illustration of his surrender to one. Yet the Paganini who was emerging from my study was slave to no passion -- none, that is, but his stupendous ambition. This man would not have risked large sums to indulge a foible. Especially would he not have invested in a gambling hall.

Gambling, far from being an enticement for Paganini, was probably an anathema. George Harrys, Paganini's secretary and assistant during a tour of Germany in the summer of 1830, had convinced me of that. Harrys quotes Paganini as admitting that gambling had been one of his "greatest passions" as a young man and then declaring, "I later perceived indeed that a gambler is the most contemptible person on earth. In this spirit I renounced years ago the pernicious passion of gambling." His next sentence is ironic, in light of what was to come: "I know very well that I will still be everywhere proclaimed a gambler, though no one in your country, through which I have been traveling for several years, has found me at the gaming table." ;

That was confirmed by Harrys' own observations: "If he came near a gaming table he scarcely looked at it, almost as though he wished to get away from the cards." ; As for myself, although I had seen many vague, generalized references to his gambling, I had never come across a single witness to it.

Paganini, it seemed clear, had survived an admittedly impetuous youth to become a deeply committed man with extraordinary fixity of purpose. In the development of his transcendental artistry, in the management of his career, in the building of his personal fortune, in the husbanding of his physical powers throughout heartrending afflictions, he evinced astonishing self-possession. Paganini was a man of strengths, not weaknesses. That's the way I saw him.

Always had.

I had to find a way to refute the Fitis doctrine.

I decided to seek out contemporary Paris newspapers, and browse through them for clues. In time I found many articles, ads, squibs, and "feuilletons" (as the French journalists liked to call their columns of commentary) about the Casino, all published in Paris newspapers of the day. Dozens of the articles dealt with the lawsuit against Paganini, which dragged on through 1840, the year of his death. I couldn't really read French -- despite the "B" I had received in a six-week summer school course thirty-five years earlier -- and I found little time to study it further, because I was busy studying Italian. But I scanned what I had collected, constructed a crude index, and deciphered the most promising sections. It was slow going, but, encouraged by what I had heard of the Colorado River's success with the Grand Canyon, I pressed on. It was worth it.

One of the greatest rewards came in the form of an ad that appeared a couple of weeks before the opening. It appeared in several newspapers including La Charte de 1830, Journal du soir; for November 15, 1837, and Le Sihcle for the 18th. Under the banner "CASINO-PAGANINI" stretched across the entire page, it announced: "This establishment, which still lacks capital, (my emphasis; qui manquait encore ` la capitale in the original) will open in the very near future. Besides the 'Concerts extraordinaires,' there will be musical matinees, balls, daily concerts for subscribers, literary siances, lessons in music and painting, a library of select volumes, a periodicals reading room, conversation rooms, cafi-restaurant, gardens, etc." [===Cet itablissement, OUVRIRA TRhS INCESSAMENT. Independamment les Concerts extraordinaires, spirituels ou autres, des Matinies musicales et Bals, les abonnis jouiront des Concerts journaliers, Siances littiraires, Lecons de musique et de peinture, Bibliothique choisie, Lecture de journaux, Salons de conversation, Cafi-Restaurant, Jardins, etc. ===] It then told where one could go to buy stock, get a prospectus, and become a subscriber. No hint of gambling, here, but a strong hint of undercapitalization -- the perfect formula, in my estimation, for sudden financial death.; I was by now becoming quite unwilling to entertain the possibility that gambling had ever even been considered for the Casino, so it dismayed me to see the phrase, "les salles de jeu" in a write-up of its November 25 inauguration. "There, on the first storey," I deciphered from the front page of the November 26 Gazette des Theatres, "will be the club with the literary salons, the gaming rooms ..." [les salons littiraires, les salles de jeu..."] ( ...on arrive ` l'httel par une longue allie d'arbres: l`, au premier itage, sera le cercle avec les salons littiraires, les salles de jeu, la salle ` manger, les salons d'habillement et de toilette ` l'instar des clubs anglais, etc., etc.) I was shocked, but reminded myself that "jeu" meant any kind of play, not just gambling, so this could refer to billiards, for instance, which I had seen mentioned in another context. Besides, it was couched in the future tense, which meant that, whatever it was, it wasn't there yet. So I dismissed the reference as inconsequential and irrelevant.

I found no further mention of gambling, nor of any gambling license being refused, among my clippings. There were several items, though, indicating that the fledgling enterprise was having its share of troubles. Le Sihcle and Psychi, in articles describing the opening concert, told of how the Paris bureaucracy was severely and perhaps arbitrarily limiting the choice of music the orchestra was allowed to play.+

"Le Casino Paganini a donni samedi dernier une brillant siance d'inauguration, ` laquelle assistait l'ilite de la sociiti parisienne," Psychi told its readers on November 30. ...

"Le concert, qui, par suite de difficultis faites par l'autoriti, n'itait plus qu'une ripitition ginirale, a iti satisfaisant [satisfactory].[p380] Le Sihcle confirmed and expanded upon this a few days later, on December 2: "Le Casino-Paganini a regu samedi dernier une assemblie nombreuse, invitie a venir juger d'avance ce fashionable itablissement, qui ne sera definitivement ouvert au public que la semaine prochaine. Quelques difficultis se sont ilevies, dit-on, au sujet de la musique qui doit htre exhcutie au Casino. La commission de l'Opera s'oppose a ce que le Casino chante. Ce bruit es sans doute mal fondi.... Le Figaro described the conductor as "M. Pugni, an Italian composer, still quite young" -- thus revealing a disadvantage for the Casino, which was entering a field dominated by conductors who were famous: not only Musard and Jullien, but a Viennese who had been in town only a couple of weeks and was drawing in crowds regularly: Johann Strauss.

The unexciting musical selections were led, moreover, by a young and apparently undistinguished conductor: "L'orchestre est dirigi par M. Pugni," wrote Le Figaro on November 28. "M. Pugni est un composer italien, fort jeune encore." And although compliments were paid to his directing and his compositions, [3.1.7:] Another *** referred to Pugni as young and inexperienced (apparently without past OR future, since I have not been able to find his name anywhere else in musical history reference works). This must have been a major competitive disadvantage for the Casino, which was a johnny-come-lately in a field known for its high-profile, charismatic conductors. Not only were Musard and Jullien competing for the same public, there was a new boy in town: Johann Strauss, who had made his Paris debut within weeks of the Casino's opening, and was continuing to draw crowds. ;

And as if that weren't enough, the acoutics were bad. "Not even the most ordinary of acoustical rules have been observed," La France Musicale complained on January 7. "The sounds which ought to penetrate throughout cannot get out of the brilliant and slender cupola" -- an architectural feature which had drawn great praise for its beauty -- "which wreathes the heads of the artists. The voices of too small a number of the brass instruments barely penetrate through the massive columns. The harmony is smothered and the vibrations are destroyed by the depth of the vault."

"Les rhgles les plus ordinaires de l'acoustique n'ont pas mjme iti observies; le sons qui devraient pinitrer partout ne peuvent sortir de la coupole iclatante et ilancie qui couronne les tjtes des artistes. C'est ` peine si les voix, en trop petit nombre, des instrumens ` cuivre percent ` travers les colonnes massives. L'harmonie est itouffie et les vibrations sont anianties par l'ipaisseur de la vo{te.... ; collection of Paris newspaper clippings grew to include a couple of dozen dealing with the litigation that ran through the years 1838-40. I have not yet read them thoroughly, but I browsed through them looking for terms that would connote gambling, and found nothing. With my rudimentary French, I learned many details about the Casino. I learned that its fine orchestra gave concerts there regularly, but the acoustics were bad, and the conductor -- competing head-on with Musard, Jullien and Johann Strauss! -- was a young Italian named Pugni, of whom no one had ever heard, nor has, so far as I can tell, since. I even learned that there was a controversy over which agency -- the Commission of the Opera, the Ministry of the Interior, or the Prefecture of Police -- would have final veto power over the selection of musical compositions to be performed!

I found no mention of gambling at the Casino, either actual or planned, nor of any gambling license, applied for or refused.

But I found plenty about gambling elsewhere in Paris. In fact in the January 2, 1838 issue of Galignani's Messenger, (an English language Paris daily founded by an Italian!) I stumbled upon an item about gambling more valuable to me than anything I had found about the Casino itself.

"At 12 o'clock on Sunday night," the item began, "all the legalized gaming-houses in Paris were finally closed. Notices were posted up, informing the players that not a single chance could be had after the clock had struck the appointed hour." The Salon, or Cercle des Etrangers, the most aristocratic of all these establishments, which generally commenced at 11, and did not shut till three or four in the morning, opened at nine. Every gaming-house was filled to overflowing, and more particulalry those at No. 154, in the Palais Royal, and Frascati's. Several curious scenes occurred. It was said, but we have not any precise information on this fact, that a journeyman killed himself on comong out of NO. 113; and two young men, who lost very large sums there, have not since returned to their apartments. One person is said to have played for the last 48 hours, and to have lost 200,000fr.--A wll-dressed man having played with ill luck at No. 154, at last put down at Trente-un his last note of 1,000fr., and lost it; but before the tailleur could rake it in the player snatched it up, and made off. He was, however, caught at the outer door, and brought back to the room; but finding escape impossible, he rolled up the note into a ball and swallowed it, opening his mouth to its fullest extent, to convince all around that it was irretrivably gone. He was at last suffered to depart. During the whole evening the saloons at Frascati's were so crowded that it was impossible to move, and the tables were constantly loaded with money. At 10 o'clock it became absolutely necessary to close the doors, and then an immense mass of people collected in the street. When the gamblers came forth after midnight they were hailed with various cries from the assembled multitude, and some of the epithets and expressions were not of the most courteous nature. The ladies who have habitually attended at Frascati's did not escape, and were obliged to be escorted by the Sergens-de-ville, [3] whose protection of many extended so far as to enter a coach with them, and escort them home. These scenes continued till one in the morning. Several persons, we understand, were taken into custody. ; And it went on to describe the final frenzied hours of legal gambling in Paris.

It was a stunning discovery. I sensed the Fitis doctrine starting to disintegrate, like the face of a mummy exposed to air. If legalized gaming-houses had ceased to exist at midnight on December 31, 1837, some decree must have been issued well before that date; some public announcement of it must have been made; and Paganini and his partners must have heard about it. They could not by any stretch of the imagination have planned to launch a gambling hall in the face of an impending prohibition against gambling halls!;

I had to find out when the decree was enacted, and how widely it was publicized!

I don't know how I would have ever tracked it down if I had not, years earlier, met a vivacious young Parisienne over lunch in a student mensa in Perugia, Italy, where we were both studying Italian. Jeannine Sandrini, then, she was now Jeannine Sandrini-Cooke, living in Manhattan with her husband, and one night over supper I told her about my search for the decree, and she told me how to find it: Write to M. Denis Tallon, professor of law at the Universiti de Droit D'Economie et de Sciences Sociales De Paris. She had taken a course under him. He was a very nice man; she knew he could, and would, help me; and I should use her name.

I wrote him, explaining in detail my attempt to disprove that there had ever been gambling plans for the Casino Paganini. His answer came almost by return mail. Dear Mr. Ferguson,

I have found quite easily what you were looking for...

The statute prohibiting public games is the Loi des 18-22 juillet 1836 portant fixation du budget des dipenses sur l'exercice 1837, article 10: "Le bail des jeux pourra jtre prorogi pour une annie. A dater du ler janvier 1838, les jeux publics sont prohibis". (Duvergier, Collection des lois, vol. 36, 1836, p.304).

This was under the reign of Louis-Philippe, a very moral man and the figurehead of the "bourgeoisie". Public gambling houses could be licensed under a "bail", i.e. a lease. This system was prorogated till the end of 1837. Afterwards, public games were prohibited in all the kingdom, and not only in Paris. It appears that Paganini either did not know of this statute or deliberately disregarded it, this being the more likely explanation.


With all my best wishes for your work, Sincerely, Denis Tallon 8 bd Jourdan 75014 Paris ;

Jeannine was right. M. Tallon was indeed a very nice man. But I was as startled by his opinion of Paganini as I was grateful for his information about the "Loi des 18-22 juillet."

Why did he believe Paganini would deliberately disregard a law prohibiting gambling? M. Tallon was espousing the very belief that I had asked him to help me disprove!

Why did he, even in the very act of helping me disprove this belief, feel moved to express his espousal of it? @

Why did he feel moved to reaffirm the very belief that he had undertaken to help me disprove?; It could only be, I reasoned, because of the power of the Paganini legend.

I was gaining great respect for the power of the Paganini legend.

With M. Talon's letter serving as both guide and goad, I set out in search of a copy of volume 36 of Duvergier. When I found it, I learned from a footnote on page 304 that the Chamber of Deputies had debated the statute on June 17, 1836, and voted on it the same day.

Now all I had to do was grab a couple of Paris newspapers from June 18 or 19, and look for the story!

There is a law as unalterable as Murphy's or Parkinson's, though it is yet, so far as I know, without a name. It states that the issues you are interested in are missing from the libraries accessible to you. True, I was able to find the June 19 Gazette de France, but the gaps in the files of every other Paris newspaper within my reach followed the above cited law to the letter. The Gazette did, indeed, carry a 2200-word summary of the debate, but that was not enough to make a case for widespread publicity.

Enter yet another coincidence. My son Sean, who had often helped me with library chores in the past, was at that time in the Midwest, planning to head East. Yes, he said graciously, he would be glad to swing by the University of Michigan, which I had discovered had Le National and Le Moniteur Universel on microfilm. There he obtained, bless his heart, photocopies of a 2000-word account of the debate in Le National, and one of 9500 words in Le Moniteur.

Now we're cooking! True, I had located only three of the more than twenty dailies that I had learned were being published in Paris in 1836, but at least two of these appeared to have enjoyed particular distinction: La Gazette de France, according to an article I found in the October, 1836 issue of London's Foreign Quarterly Review, had, at 9,800, the highest circulation in Paris; and Le Moniteur, although its sales were only 1,900, was, according to a critique I found in another London magazine -- Fraser's Magazine of January, 1838 -- "the official journal of all French governments." Although clearly not the most exciting paper of its day ("The Moniteur is always published by the same everlasting old lady, in a quarter of Paris quite unknown to song; and is edited, if editing it may be called, by M. Sauvo") it was "made up, during the session of parliament, of a series of supplements, containing at full length the speeches of all the speakers," and was for this reason "taken at all public libraries, reading-rooms, large cafis, restaurants, public institutions, and by literary circles, as an indispensable document."

Besides the prominence enjoyed by the ;Moniteur; and the Gazette, I was cheered by the fact that all three of the newspapers I had found had considered the subject newsworthy. It suggested that other Paris dailies had given it space as well.

I was satisfied, therefore, that the law's passage had received wide publicity and was common knowledge well over a year before the Casino's opening. ;

I was satisfied, therefore, that the law's passage had received wide publicity. True, I had located only a small sampling of the city's newspapers, but since all three had given space to the story, it seemed likely that most of the other papers had, as well. The impending prohibition of gambling, I felt sure, had been common knowledge for well over a year before the Casino's opening. It would have been impossible for Paganini, his partners, the architect, the suppliers of furnishings and equipment, etc., to be unaware of it.

But could Paganini still have "deliberately disregarded it," as M. Tallon suggests? It's hard to see how, for the same reason that it's hard to see how the refusal of hoped for; authorization ("le gouvernement n'accorda pas l'autorisation qu'on avait espirie pour en faire une maison de jeu") could have been the cause of the Casino's collapse. Not only could authorization not have been hoped for, it could not even have been applied for!

Fitis was wrong. His doctrine was dust.

And yet -- how could Fitis have been so wrong? Publisher of the most influential musical journal in Paris, personally acquainted with Paganini, author not only of the article in his Biographie Universelle, but also of a monograph a few years later which was translated into English and is still in print today, he is quoted in almost every serious study of Paganini. How, then, could he have been so wrong about the Casino?

I stumbled across the beginning of the answer to this question while browsing through William Atwood's lively and readable biography of Chopin. "His enormous debts," Atwood wrote of Fitis, "forced him to live outside Paris since a warrant for his arrest had been issued there." The year was 1832. "This meant he had to slip in and out of the city secretly in order to fulfill his duties..." That would make it tough for a fellow to check his facts! When, if ever, I wondered, did he move back to Paris? Atwood didn't say. I looked again at New Grove's and found that Fitis settled in Brussels in 1833. Scanning ahead to see whether he ever moved back to Paris (he didn't), I was stopped short by one of the most stunning sentences I have ever read:

"The Biographie universelle des musiciens ... is plagued by careless errors ... and must therefore be consulted with discretion."

Fitis is fallible!

A welcome bit of news, but painfully skimpy. I craved elaboration, so, knowing that an old encyclopedia will often contain more information on historical subjects than its successor, I tracked down an earlier edition of Grove's -- the fifth, published in 1954 -- where I was rewarded with: "As an historian he was... impatient of contradiction.... The first edition of the 'Biographie'... is especially defective.... The second edition ... should still be consulted with discretion; its dates are often wrong, and there are mistakes ... which are almost ludicrous...."

Thus ended the mystery of the faulty facts of Fitis. Excessively error-prone, impatient of contradiction, and removed from the scene several years before any of the events had taken place, he was simply wrong about the Casino.

And wrong, too, is the entire river of derivative accounts that flowed from his original statement. No gambling had been planned for the Casino, and those who had used that false postulate to denigrate the strength of Paganini's character would henceforth have to seek their rationalization elsewhere!

As for me, I could rest, warmed by the illusion that by solving the mystery I had, in a way, repaid an old debt.

Hugh M. Ferguson

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