Old folk at lunch

Monday, March 23, 2015

Was Paganini a psychopath?


Paganini was a brilliant violinist in the 19th century but what else do we know about him?

Franz Lehar wrote an operetta about him called, unsurprisingly, Paganini.  And the operetta seems to be pretty historically accurate as far as I can see.  Paganini is portrayed as a compulsive womanizer and gambler, which he was.  Even his gambling away his violin is historically accurate.  So the operetta would seem to be an insightful recreation of the man.

And, given my psychology background I can say with confidence that what Lehar portrays is a psychopath, and a pretty reprehensible one at that.  Psychopathy was one of my research interests during my academic career and I have had a couple of research articles on the subject published in the academic literature. See here and here.  I have also written about it more recently here

Psychopaths very often have a magnetic appeal to women -- mainly because the psychopath tells the woman whatever she wants to hear  -- whether it is true or not.  And Paganini's approach to women is also just that.  But psychopaths tend to become unglued when their lies become evident.  And Paganini did. And the way the Princess sticks to him despite great disappointments is also very typical.  Women are reluctant to abandon the wonderful illusion that the psychopath has created and think they can make it come true if they try hard enough. So if anyone would like to see how psychopaths do it, Lehar's operetta would be a good start.

In the circumstances the ending of the operetta has to be low key by operetta standards.  The parties simply go their different ways.  At least the death and damnation of an opera ending is not seen.

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