NAPLES, THAT BEAUTIFUL CITY in southern Italy has often been called "The Home of the Mandolin"; and it was here that her illustrious son, Carlo Munier, was born on July 15, 1859. While Italy can boast of a great number of outstanding artists of the mandolin, we feel that, without fear of contradiction, the name of Carlo Munier should top the list of all these distinguished virtuosos and composers. He was an inspired artist in every department of music, towering above the greatest, and his genius is justly recognized wherever the instrument is known.
If heredity is to be considered, it is no surprise that Munier devoted his whole life to the uplifting and advancement of the mandolin and its music. His ancestors and relatives were performers, teachers and mandolin makers. Munier's great uncle Pasquale Vinaccia (1806 - 1882) was famous throughout Europe as perfecter of the Neapolitan mandolin we know to-day, and Pasquale's two sons, Gennaro and Achille Vinaccia, continued his work after his death. Born in this environment, possessed of rare musical ability with an inborn and all consuming love for the mandolin, we can readily understand how Carlo Munier became in time universally recognized as the greatest musical authority on the instrument.
Young Munier began serious study of the mandolin under Carmine de Laurentiis, celebrated teacher of mandolin and guitar in Naples, and his progress was phenomenal. When fifteen years of age he began the study of piano under Galiero and Cosi and harmony and counterpoint with d'Arienzo.
A Genius Recognized
He was nineteen years of age when he left the conservatoire of S'Pietro d'Maiella, having won both the first prize for composition and the second prize for harmony. At this time he appeared in many concerts in Naples and published his first compositions, arrangements of "La Traviata" and "I Puritani" for quartet of two mandolins, mandola and piano, the second of these being dedicated to Her Majesty, the Queen of Italy.
In 1881 Munier moved to Florence, where he lived the greater part of his life, being actively engaged in concert work and in composing for mandolin and other instruments. Here also his genius was soon recognized, and he was a welcome guest in the most select musical circles of Florence. In 1890 Munier organized the first plectrum quartet, with Luigi Bianchi and Guido Bizzari, first and second mandolin; Riccardo Matini, mandola and himself, modern lute and director. This quartet, of which each member was a thorough musician and artist on his respective instrument, gave many successful concerts throughout Italy. In 1892 they obtained first prize in the international music contests in Denoa, when Munier was awarded the gold medal as mandolin virtuoso and composer.
On June 30, 1902, at a concert given by the "Royal Circolo Mandolinista" of which Munier was also a member, his quartet rendered several of his own compositions which were accorded an ovation. On October 6, 1909, the quartet appeared "by royal command" in the historic castle of Sommariva, Perno. Munier's solos were his Prelude in D major and his first Mazurka di Concerto. Upon the conclusion of the performance, His Majesty, Victor Emmanuel III rose to greet him and warmly congratulated him upon his marvelous performance, expressing his surprise at the beautiful effects of which the mandolin was capable.
Munier, as mandolin virtuoso, did not perform to any extent outside of his own country. He contributed many literary articles to the musical journals and frequently acted as adjudicator in musical contests both in Italy and other European countries. In the early days of 1911. Munier visited Antwerp and, on his return journey, spent a few days with his friend Fantauzzi, the mandolinist, residing in Marseilles. He was enthusiastic about plans for an imposing concert in Florence, which were never realized; for he died in his adopted city after a short illness on February 10, 1911 at the age of fifty two. His admirers from all parts of the world subscribed, through the medium of a Milanese music journal, to a bronze shield suitably inscribed which was erected to his memory.
Munier once wrote concerning his early studies on the mandolin. "At the beginning I confess I did not think the mandolin capable of such advancement, and I excluded from my repertoire a number of pieces that I believed impossible of execution; but I thought, studied and worked, then wrote my 'Method,' 'Studies,' solos, and other works, and I became so proficient that I could then execute with ease what I had previously thought impossible."
During his lifetime Carlo Munier published more than three hundred and fifty works, and others remained in manuscript. For the benefit of modern mandolin students, we bring to attention his most important compositions. First, there is his "Mandolin Method" in two volumes, containing over two hundred pages of study material with Italian, French and English text. This method is supplemented by "La Scioglidita", four books of progressive exercises covering all phases of mandolin technic; and "Opus 216", twenty studies for advanced students.
Next we find "Op. 115", lessons in the form of duets; "Op. 228", duets for two mandolins in first position; "Op. 220", duets in first to third position and "Op. 228", duets in all positions; also "Opus 230", a book of ten classic arrangements for three mandolins. For the serious mandolin student these works are indispensable.
Among his finest creations are the three string quartets: "Opus 767 in G-major"; "Op. 128, in D-major" and "Op. 203, in C-major', scored for two mandolins, mandola and lute or mandocello, with optional parts for guitar or piano. There is also quite a number of beautiful arrangements of operatic fantasies and other classic pieces scored for the so-called "Romantic Quartet", two mandolins, mandola and guitar.
His mandolin solos with piano accompaniment are veritable gems and show the mandolin at its best. Here we find the "First Concerto in G major", Capriccio Spagnolo, the "First and Second Mazurka Concertos", Valzer Concerto, Aria Variata, Rossiniana Fantasia, "Bizzaria-Capriccio Concerto", Scene de Ballet de Beriot and the mandolin duo, Canto d'Amore, for unaccompanied mandolins. The performance of any of these numbers by an artist cannot fail to open the eyes of the uninitiated to the true worth and beauty of this much abused and misunderstood instrument, the mandolin.