[This five part biography describes, with full and enthusiastic permission of the affected individual, a real life case of extreme physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Those who might be negatively impacted from reading are advised against doing so.]
Most Americans over the age of twenty probably have at least a hazy recollection of the video in question. For a clip less than seven minutes long, it isn’t one that fails to leave a lasting impression.
It opens with a landscape shot of a bright, unoccupied room, with a fast shadow of someone running out the door. There’s about twenty seconds of dead air prior to anything else happening, and in that time, the decor stands out. Some nice, upper-middle class interior design is on display, including a table with an ornate glass chess set and several excellent Dali reproductions hanging up in the immediate background. One fancy see-through cabinet out of many rests directly beneath a perfect replica of The Persistence of Memory, filled to the brim with fine porcelain dolls and figurines.
It’s a nice house.
In the background, after the initial pause, two voices are heard. Both are female, one older, one very young. Nothing is clear enough to be decipherable until they make their way into the room, but the older one dominates the conversation, the other only chiming in occasionally with short, muted replies. They are quick to enter after making themselves heard, and they sit on opposing plush armchairs, a young girl and her mother. The former is carrying something, and she wobbles a little as she walks and takes a seat, her gait uneven.
Both are blonde, and although the woman’s face is only seen briefly near the start of the video, the familial resemblance is very obvious. The mother is in her mid-forties. The girl, going by appearances, looks small enough to seem out of place in a first grade classroom.
The mother eventually stops talking, and the girl opens up the case that she had brought in with her, retrieving a violin. She tucks it under her neck and readies herself to start, her bow at the ready. Her posture, as a very fair share of commentators have pointed out over the years, is impeccable.
By this point, the majority of viewers are likely to have already noticed how low and perfectly-still the phone’s camera is, as if intentionally hidden on top of a table. Throughout the entirety of the video, neither of the pair ever acknowledges or seems to be aware of its presence. The reasons for this soon become obvious.
The mother clears her throat, speaking the first clear word we’ve yet to hear.
The girl closes her eyes and takes a breath. She looks serious. Before her hands start to move, her mother interrupts.
“No, I’ve changed my mind. Twenty-four.”
The girl does not nod or answer in the affirmative, but her hands transition to a separate starting position, signifying her understanding. Another short moment passes, and then she plays.
Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 is widely considered by many violinists to be one of the most difficult solo violin pieces in existence. It is the last composition in a set of twenty-four, most of which are said to require near-absolute mastery of the instrument in order to even reasonably think about attempting. Each piece explores and challenges those who wish to test themselves with an assault of highly advanced techniques, and all but the best of the best would shudder at the thought of being forced to play them. Depending on who one were to ask, No. 24 might be the hardest of the set.
Nicolò Paganini, the violinist who composed the piece, was so skilled of a player that he during his lifetime was frequently accused of having sold his soul to the devil. He started playing music at the age of five.
The girl in the video is four.
There is, it should be noted, a difference between simply playing a piece and playing it well. Not that the distinction mattered in this case. The girl’s interpretation of the piece is flawless, at least if those with any knowledge on the subject are to be trusted. When the video went viral in the late summer of 2024, hundreds of classical music aficionados took extra effort in explaining how remarkable this girl’s achievement was. “Perfect” was the word one might have found the most frequently in the LiveLeak comments section, and it was throughout the media circus that came to pass used to describe almost every possible aspect of her brief performance. Perfect posture, perfect pitch, perfect intonation. Perfect child.
“All with a level of soul I’d otherwise expect to hear only in the depths of the nicest concert halls on Earth,” famously tweeted one prominent conductor.
So skilled is the girl in the video that many initially accused it of being a hoax. These people weren’t maddened conspiracy theorists; as was explained by famed Julliard teacher Max Heintz years later in an interview, this was a very reasonable response.
“Statistically, it was far, far more likely to be a fraud. It wasn’t just wishful thinking on the part of people who wanted to pretend that a terrible thing didn’t happen. She was just that good. Something is always going to be lost in comparisons like these, but it’s close to the equivalent of an unknown fifth grader tying for the Olympic world record in the hundred meter dash. Honestly, if the circumstances surrounding it weren’t so terrible, I’d joke that she should take it as a compliment.”
She plays for about three and a half minutes, which takes her close to the end of the piece. Without warning, she stops and separates her head from the instrument, reflexively swatting at her left shoulder.
“Bug,” she explains.
Her mother’s back is to the camera, and her face cannot be seen. The girl looks at her for a few seconds, and nothing is said. Without having been given any direct orders, she briefly stretches out her hands, and prepares herself to start again. She plays.
It lasts all of twenty seconds, during all of which she demonstrates not the least amount of exhaustion from her first attempt, before her mother stands up and approaches her, taking long, fast strides. The music stops.
The girl quickly but gently places the violin and bow to the side of her chair, covering her face and stretching out her legs in front of her. She is wordless, noiseless. The mother picks up the bow and winds it back, and after taking a long, elaborate breath, slams the wooden side of it as hard as she can against the girl’s shins.
A clear attempt is made by the girl not to audibly respond, but a sound escapes. A second strike comes, this one much worse, on her kneecap. The camera’s microphone picks up both the little woosh the bow makes as she rushes it through the air and the crack that comes as it connects with bone. The girl doesn’t whimper again, but her efforts are not rewarded, and eleven consecutive strikes follow it, each one just slightly, slightly louder. She shakes in place.
It breaks on the last hit, right against her left ankle. There’s blood, although less than one might expect. The mother throws the half of the bow she’s still holding to the side before spitting on the floor and storming out. It bounces off one of the closest Dalis and falls on the ground.
The girl leans back in the chair and stares out, heaving. Less than thirty seconds later, another girl, this one around seven, dashes in. She takes a short look at her sister before running to the phone and grabbing it. The video ends.
Less than three days after the video is posted, at the age of four, Melly Williams becomes the most well known violinist of the 21st century.