Paganini and the Stars of Halloween

“In folklore, angels tickle harps and the Devil plays the violin. So it is hardly surprising that extraordinary musical ability in mere mortals has long been explained by way of heavenly blessings or, more frequently, dark pacts…” So begins the tale of “The Dark Fiddler ~ The Life and Legend of Nicolo Paganini”.

I recently took my stories of the stars to Davenport, Iowa, and while I was there, I visited the Figge Museum downtown, where there was a fabulous exhibit of the art of Gary Kelley, for his book on the notorious 18th century Italian violinist Paganini.

Stories abound about Paganini’s reputation and rare talent, including the legend that he had made a pact with the Devil to guide his bow hand. This last week of October marks the anniversary of his birth in 1782, so I thought I’d investigate further, to see if I could find a connection between this legend and the stars.

Here’s what I found: The constellation Lyra, which can be seen due west of overhead about an hour after sunset this week, is often described as the stringed instrument of Orpheus ~ usually a lyre or a harp. However, in Bohemia, Lyra was known as the fiddle in the sky, so more like a violin.

It was common practice among the ancients to assign one meaning to the stars as they were rising up in the season, and another once they passed their highest point and would begin to set.  This could explain the changing meaning with Lyra: When the constellation was ascending, Lyra was an instrument of the angels, like the harp; but when it was descending, it was regarded as the fiddle, an instrument preferred by the Devil.

And given that Paganini was born in this season of Halloween as the constellation Lyra is descending, it’s no wonder his contemporaries believed his marvelous skills were a result of his pact with the Devil.

The Dark Fiddler is a wonderful tale for this Halloween season, as Lyra descends through the evening sky.

You can find the Dark Fiddler at this link.

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An image from Gary Kelly’s “The Dark Fiddler ~ The Life and Legend of Nicolo Paganini”

You can hear The Storyteller’s Night Sky radio segment of this episode here.