It was during the interval of a chamber concert in the delightful Adam-style ballroom at the Lion Hotel, Shrewsbury that I learned I was sitting in the same room where Paganini had performed 185 years earlier.
There on the wall in the hotel lobby is a poster addressed to the ‘nobility, gentry and public of Shrewsbury‘ that Signor Paganini would give a grand concert on 15 August 1833. This was ‘positively the only time he can possibly have the honour of performing before them previous to his departure to the Court of St Petersbourg‘. Three vocalists were also on the bill, but the star performer was evidently the great man himself, his featured pieces displayed in larger type with his name as composer and performer repeated on each occasion. Tickets cost 7s 6d.
Signor Paganini did not proceed directly to St Petersbourg, for the very next day he gave another concert in Coventry. A newspaper report of the evening may, no doubt, reflect a similar experience for the Shrewsbury audience:
‘Paganini is certainly by far the first player on the violin that has appeared within the last fifty years, and it may therefore be assumed that the world never before produced so admirable a performer. The feats with the instrument which he displays are altogether peculiar to himself … [that] with the fourth string is no doubt the most wonderful of the exhibitions of this most singular man; he produces a full richness of tone that never was equalled, and an effect the most powerful that was ever experienced from music.’
‘Whilst he is playing his attitudes are extravagant and grotesque, but certainly not ludicrous; and although his long, thin hair, cadaverous aspect, and ungraceful action give an idea of a being not altogether of this world, yet the feeling is ever predominant that the spectator has before him the possessor of a most powerful and marvellous genius.‘
Paganini had performed in Drury Lane, Stafford and Leamington Spa earlier in the month, and was to continue his tour to Sheffield, Nottingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
How exciting for the 19th century concert-goers in towns and cities across the country to see such a flamboyant performer, and how wonderful to hear 21st century musicians perform in the very room in Shrewsbury where he played.