The circumstances surrounding Niccolò Paganini’s death did little to quench the rumours of his devilish dealings. The virtuoso had been plagued by stories of deals with the devil and his ill-health – attributed to everything from tuberculosis, intestinal disorders, cholera, necrotising osteitis in his jaw, syphilis and the negative effects of the mercury taken to treat the syphilis – had lent his features a death-like cast. The waspish critic Heinrich Heine even described him as a “corpse risen from the grave, a vampire with a violin”.

“In reality, everyone had noticed and had guessed for a long time that Paganini and Satan were in the most intimate relationship,” wrote the mealy-mouthed French critic François-Joseph Fétis. “That is, provided they are not one and the same thing.”

Having fled Paris to live in Nice after a disastrously failed attempt to open a casino, he was also suffering from dysphonia – he could no longer speak. A few days before his death, Paganini’s devoted son Achille sent for a priest to administer the last rites, but the violinist dismissed him. When the Bishop of Nice heard of this he accused Paganini of impiety and forbade any religious funeral or interment in consecrated ground....

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