While Niccolò Paganini did not give this piece its nickname, “The Devil’s Chuckle” it indicates the doggedness with which virtuoso was linked with the demonic. The fiendishly difficult descending chromatic thirds, sounding rather like a chuckle, may have garnered the piece its nickname.
Of course, the “caprice” or “capriccio” genre had been closely tied to the idea of humor since it first appeared in the Renaissance. The term usually identifies a piece that is whimsical, tricky, and short.
Of Paganini’s twenty-four caprices, only a few clock in at more than a few minutes. On the other hand, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, written for Paganini, is long, weighty, and compositionally dense. Paganini eventually chose not to perform Harold, probably on account of the work’s lack of virtuosic demands.