Easy. Caprice No. 24 in A minor: Tema con Variazioni (Quasi Presto) by Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840). It was the last caprice (written 1817), the grandest, the most demanding, unyielding. Go to any search engine now to find it… and listen, enthralled.
This work, one of a bundle of caprices flowing fast from the facile pen of a grand master admired by Bell, must be played at the speed of love “quasi presto” — “almost instantly” for nothing is more capricious than love…
… love can never be patient…. can never wait… is obsessive, thoughtless, bold, cruel and adamant. Love does not ask; it demands instant fulfillment. Love can never be rational, deliberate, cautious and sensible, and you cannot expect these from either Paganini — or Bell either.
They are after you… They are about love, audacious love, a love of boundless energy and daring. They know you want it… and they mean to give you what you want… at the cost of your cozy, predictable, sensible, orderly life. That is the price great lovers, great romantics mean to exact from you for fulfillment… and Joshua Bell is a such a lover, agile, impetuous, practiced seducer of even the most grounded and careful.
And it all started in Indiana.
Joshua Bell, for all he is the wunderkind of the greatest concert halls in the greatest cities on earth, is in fact a boy of the prairies. I know something about that; I am one myself. He was born 9 December, 1967 in Bloomington, Indiana. If you are not familiar with this place it is a major research university, the intellectual heart of the nation’s great heartland. It’s a place of God, country, solid living, of people you like and trust; a true pastoral idyl that could well lead to humming about the moonlight on the Wabash, when you, now elsewhere, dream of your Indiana home.
The Bells were the kind of people you were glad to have as neighbors, not least because Joshua and his two sisters were so friendly and normal. Joshua was a boy’s boy, handsome, smiling, polite, with a shock of hair falling over his forehead into his eyes, thereby causing local mothers, who could not help themselves to brush it back. Joshua was keen on video games… and sports. He once famously won fourth place in a national tennis competition without benefit of a single lesson.
But this was only part of the story… for there was genius in this family and genius will out, whether you like it or not. Fortunately Joshua’s genius was noted early and by his two educated parents, both psychologists who gave Joshua the time his special situation necessitated, without slighting his sisters, as could so easily have happened. That was deft indeed, and praiseworthy.
Bell began taking violin lessons at the age of four after his mother discovered her son had taken rubber bands from around the house and stretched them across the handles of his dresser drawer to pluck out music he had heard her play on the piano. His parents got a scaled-to-size violin for their then five-year-old son and started to give him lessons.
Soon Bell studied under Donna Bricht, widow of Indiana University faculty member Walter Bricht. His second teacher was Mimi Szeig. Later still, he switched to the violinist and pedagogue Josef Gingold after Bell’s parents assured Gingold they were not interested in pushing their son but wanted him to have the best teacher for his abilities. Wolfie Mozard’s father Leopold should have been as solicitous of his famous son’s human needs. Here again Joshua Bell was lucky. Satisfied that the boy was living a normal life, Gingold took Bell on as his student. By age 12 Joshua was truly serious about the violin, which even as an adolescent he used to deliver magic.
At the age of 14, Bell appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti. He studied the violin at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, while managing simultaneously to graduate from Bloomington High School North in 1984. In 1989, Bell received an Artist Diploma in Violin Performance from Indiana University.
Now he was ready to take his place on stage as one of the world’s notable sounds.
In 1985, age 18, Joshua Bell, carefully, thoughtfully tutored, was ready to face the world. His Carnegie Hall debut with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra was the result. The young man who had been given so much love by so many… was now ready to give love… to the multitudes who needed the healing balm he could so artfully coax from his instrument. This was his truest talent: turning music into solace, empathy, and always love. For such a man just one thing was needed, the proper instrument… and in due course the instrument appeared.
Stradivarious, the master who accompanies every great violinist.
To a violinist there is only one human being who made violins capable of touching the deepest part of every human heart and showcasing their talent. That person was Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737). It is thought that this master crafted 1100 instruments (violins, violas, cellos); of these some 600 remain, many bearing the names of one or more owners so immortalized. Bell was now amongst them; he owned the “Tom Tyler” Stradivarious… but he desired the 300-year-old instrument called the “Gibson ex Huberman”, made in 1713. It had been lent him, one memorable day, for a concert; thus Bell knew first hand how extraordinary it was, how desirable.
The owner who lent Bell this instrument jokingly told him the sale price, $4 million. But it was not for sale — yet, and when Bell found out it was, it had already been sold to a German collector. In what can only be described as an act of rare, even unique, generosity amongst owners of these instruments, the new German owner allowed himself to be persuaded to give up what he, too, ardently desired… and so for $4 million the Stradivarious was Bell’s… and the genius of Joshua Bell and Antonio Stradivarious were brought together, enriching lives worldwide from the mingled talents of two musical geniuses,a match truly made in heaven to create the richest and most poignant of sounds.
It was a sound that took the world by storm in films like Oscar-winning “The Red Violin” (1998), “Music of the Heart” (1999), and “Ladies in Lavender (2004). And in one recording after another, especially “Romance of the Violin” (under SONY Classical) which in 2003 sold more than 5 million copies and placed Joshua Bell, his boyish smile and colossal talent, among the true masters of his craft.
But amongst all his many honors, his wealth, and celebrity one gift especially touched the heart of the man for whom touching hearts was all in a day’s work. It was a rare silhouette of Paganini autographed by the master. It was now owned by Bell’s teacher Josef Gingold. Two days before he died, in 1995, this uncommon man of musical knowledge and common sense, called Bell to his bedside and gave it to the pupil he had not released to the world too soon, thereby helping to shape Bell into that most uncommon man of genius, well grounded and equitable, the better able to uplift mankind with his talent.
You can hear all this in Joshua Bell, above all the love that has formed from so many over so long and which now he pours out, strong and constant, to a world that so loves him.
Program note: End this article by searching for Joshua Bell’s rendition of Vincenzo Bellini’s “Casta diva” from”Norma” (1831). Keep a handkerchief at the ready…
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit,, providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone
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