In contemporary society we have electrifying and animated rock stars such as Ozzy Osbourne. Celebrated rock stars appeal to audiences with highly exciting and vigorous styles that showcase them as powerful individuals. In the19th century, a variety of virtuosi captured audiences throughout the Western world in the same manner. The significance of the large presence of virtuosos during this time can be directly related to the geopolitical timeline of events. The French Revolution directly impacted the ideals of the Romantic Era. The praise of the individual, and more specifically the common man, was centric in the development of individualism in art. While Romantic composers were proponents of individualism in western music, virtuosos offered an additional element to Romantic ideals. Virtuosos illustrated the heroic persona of individuals showcasing the strength of independence and showmanship in a live performance.
The first of the three virtuosi previously mentioned to emerge as a public figure was the Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini. Paganini established the popular view of the “Artist as a Hero” of the Romantic Era. His music and artistic style became popular due the combination of his wildly emotional playing and the showy violin playing techniques that were difficult to execute and not widely recognized beforehand. In addition to his actual playing style were other factors that made him a sensational figure. For example, rumors began to circulate that he made a deal with the devil in exchange for his musical and artistic abilities. Other rumors contributed to his legendary reputation that he was a murderer and that while in jail he played on a violin with only one string which was overheard by the guard. All of these contributed to his success that his art lone could not have provided. With the reputation as a man who made a pact with the devil, his physical appearance in public and on the stage helped solidify his reputation by not fashioning himself in a manner that most classical musicians of the day followed. He had a harrowing appearance with long hair and a long black coat. In addition his demeanor while performing was unorthodox and widely considered wild in nature. Indeed, it was stated that he played like an animal. Paganini’s performance style and his physical appearance were discussed as equally as the music he produced on stage.
Liszt was another superstar had every quality that was desired of a virtuoso celebrity. He generated a musical persona that greatly appealed to the musical elite and the spectacle-desiring public. Liszt had covered all musical grounds of a virtuoso. After incessant practicing, Liszt emerged with technically difficult repertoire that showcased a new level of piano technique full of flashy pyrotechnics. With these newfound skills, Liszt was able to dazzle audiences and work up a crowd. Liszt was dashing and also had the reputation as a womanizer. The most scandalous event in his life occurred when he eloped with Countess Marie d’Agoult and that made his a prime topic for celebrity gossip. Indeed, these virtuoso musicians were Van Halens of their day.
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