All of the versions of Paganini’s Caprice # 24 that I listened to were extravagant and virtuosic. They were surging with energy. However, the energy affected me different ways.
I had a negative reaction to the original version played by Alexander Markov. I think it was because he was pushing the violin to its limits. The violin was not singing or even weeping, it was nearly screaming! I was curious about what was going on acoustically during the harsh passages. I loaded Markov’s version of Caprice #24 into my overtone analyzing software to take a look. It was so interesting that I made a little video about it — it is here:
I found piano adaptations on Paganini’s Caprice # 24 composed by Brahms and by Liszt. I had trouble following the Brahms — there was so much variation in the harmonization (choice of chords) that it was disorienting. I wasn’t sure if Brahms was still doing a variation on #24 or if he had gone off on another topic! It will be interesting to come back to this when I’ve had more music theory; maybe I’ll understand what he was “talking about” in those variations.
Liszt’s variations were on a level that I could understand. (The variations on Caprice # 24 start at the 20:22 mark.) The chord structure stayed similar to the original. I could tell what he was doing to the theme (breaking it up with arpeggios, doing a filigree around it, etc.). I kept a piece of scrap paper with a by-blow commentary of my reactions to this piece. There were relaxed, graceful arpeggios, light tripping staccato notes, low growling in the left hand that was like the rumbling of a truck. There was a section that was “stabby”, and another with anxious-sounding chromatic runs. One section had dark waves on the left hand and little sparkly phrases on the right. And there were several passages that were exhilarating, chord-pounding “headbanger” music. At the 22:53 mark it sounded like the piano was giggling! The finale included two measures that sounded like the pianist was winding up to throw a shot put, and then the last two measures were like the toss and then the thump of the landing. The entire experience was invigorating.
I found a version of Caprice # 24 that had been adapted for flute. The phrases I wrote down included — a leaf on the wind, leaping birds, spiraling vines, bubbling water. Several times the melody line reminded me of ice skating — I could feel the glide and the turns. She was pushing the flute to the limits (rough breathy passages that sounded physically exhausting) but unlike the strained parts of Markov’s violin version, I didn’t react with tension in my body. It was more like an athletic experience rather than an emotionally stressful one.
I found several other adaptations including one for midi keyboard, which shows the fingering patterns…
and for electric guitar!
What I came away with was how much the timbre and “behavior” of the instrument affects the variation. Even if a composer writes the same series of rapid-fire arpeggios, they are going to convey a different impression when performed on the violin, piano, or flute.