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(Photo copyright Andrew O. Krastins)

Researcher Finds Wax Recordings of Paganini's Only Student in British Library

Andrew O. Krastins argues that the recordings are of Camillo Sivori, who studied with Paganini in the 1820s


Researcher Andrew O. Krastins has located sixteen wax-cylinder recordings of a violinist whom he believes to be Camillo Sivori (1815-1894) — the only known student of the virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini. The remarkable discovery creates a window into the sound world that composers as early as Beethoven would have been familiar with.

Sivori studied with Paganini in 1823 and 1824, and died in 1894. If these recordings are indeed his, he would be comfortably the earliest violinist we have on recording. Sivori was a full generation younger than nineteenth-century violinists such as Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) and Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), who made their recordings in 1903 and 1904.


The wax cylinders are held by the British Library, and a previous researcher had attributed them to the violinist August Wilhelmj, based on the time and place they were recorded. Krastins, however, has assembled wide-ranging evidence that suggests the recordings were made in Genoa in the 1890s, rather than London in the 1900s — which would rule Wilhelmj out.

Based on programs and letters, Krastins determined that all but one of the pieces recorded were not in Wilhelmj's repertoire (at least not for public concerts). The recordings also contain a lost work by Sivori himself, and it is unlikely that Wilhelmj would have had access to this.

In addition, there is an inscription on the Witches’ Dance cylinder box that notes the recordings are "as played by Paganini." Wilhelmj, and indeed any other violinist, had no claim to this caption, given that they did not study with Paganini as Sivori did.

Krastins has written a detailed essay about the discovery, which is available on the British Library's blog. You can also hear the recordings at the same link.

"Mr. Krastins’ discoveries are truly astonishing," said Jonathan Summers, the British Library's curator of classical music. "The attribution to Sivori makes these cylinders among the most important known to exist. Sivori began performing while Beethoven was still alive. This makes him the earliest-born classical musician known to have made recordings."

"To hear Paganini’s only pupil performing entire Paganini compositions is thrilling and haunting."

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