February 1938
volume LVI
number 2
page 127-128

The Mandolin

By George C. Krick

ITALY THE LAND of sunshine and romance has given to the world this instrument, that has made friends and admirers of all those within its hearing. According to reliable records it was in 1879, when a group of about twenty musicians calling themselves "Figaro Spanish Students" under the leadership of Denis Granada arrived in America and created quite a furore wherever they appeared. The instrumentation of this orchestra consisted of twelve bandurrias, six guitars, one violin and one violoncello. Their triumphant success artistically and financially induced a prominent Italian violinist of New York city to gather together an orchestra of somewhat smaller dimensions, made up of players of Neapolitan mandolins; and, adopting the name of "Spanish Students" they toured the country quite successfully for several years. Later they disbanded and the leading mandolinists of this group settled in various cities. During these concert tours the Italian mandolin captured the heart of the American public and in a short space of time became the fashionable instrument of the day. At this period Italy had to supply all of the better grade of mandolins. Before long, however, American manufacturers caught up with the demand, and instruments of exquisite workmanship and superior tone quality appeared.

Credit for development of the mandolin into a high class concert instrument must be given to one Pasquale Vinaccia of Naples (1806-1882). Before his time the mandolin was smaller and strung with gut strings. This outstanding lutenist enlarged it, extended the fingerboard, gave it steel strings, improved the tone quality, and added to its carrying power. Since then the Italian mandolin makers have followed in his footsteps, until to-day the Neapolitan mandolin is a thing of beauty, and throughout the European countries this classic type of mandolin seems to have remained the favorite with the players. The American manufacturers some years ago cut loose from these classic traditions and began to experiment with a flat model instrument and again with one constructed similar to the violin, with carved top and back, requiring a higher bridge. This latter type has proved such a success that most mandolins now follow its lines.

Abundant Literature

TURNING TO THE MUSIC composed for the mandolin, we are compelled once more to go to Italy as its fountain head. Contrary to the belief of many, the system using the plectrum on the mandolin is quite different from that of the down and up bow on the violin. Many violinists, finding the left hand technic for the mandolin corresponding to that of the violin, have in the past applied the same rule for the right hand, which, to say the least, is a poor substitute. The mechanism of the plectrum is so intricate that several years of study are required to understand and to master it. Giuseppe Branzoli, of Rome, Italy, was one of the first to give, in his method many examples of attacking the strings in different ways to get certain effects. This method might be considered as containing the fundamental principles of the art. A number of books have been published since then, having to do primarily with the mechanism of the plectrum. Other Italian composers who have contributed to the advancement of original mandolin literature are, Pietrapertosa, Christofaro, Bellenghi Matini, Graziani-Walter, Arienzo, Marucelli, La Scala, Bertucci, and Mezzacapo. The man recognized as the greatest composer and virtuoso of that period, was Carlo Munier. Born in Naples in 1859 he died in Florence in 1911 and his passing was quite a loss to the mandolin fraternity. Munier's compositions number over three hundred, including a complete Method in two volumes, numerous etudes, duets, trios, mandolin solos with piano accompaniment, a "Mandolin Concerto in G Major," three plectrum quartets in the style of the classic string quartets, mandolin solos duo style unaccompanied, and so on. His music shows him to have been a highly gifted musician.

Another composer of great merit, who is still living in Naples, is Raffaele Calace, author of a beautiful "Concerto for Mandolin and Piano" of which the opus number is 113, showing that he is quite a prolific composer.

The Italian virtuoso Silvio Ramieri now residing in Brussels has to his credit a number of short compositions together with a "Concerto for Mandolin and Piano," in three movements. The writer had the pleasure, several years ago, of hearing it performed by the author, and it was an excellent performance of a beautiful work.

American Writers

WE HAVE ALREADY MENTIONED the conditions under which the mandolin made its appearance in this country. Since then many highly talented and cultured American musicians have realized the artistic value of the instrument and have devoted their lives to its advancement and its music. To THESE AMERICAN VIRTUOSOS and composers we are indebted for the development of one of the most characteristic features of mandolin technic, the duo, trio and quartette form—playing the melody and accompaniment at the same time. Eugene Page, Aubrey Stauffer, Samuel Siegel, Valentine Abt, proved themselves as virtuosos of high rank and fine composers as well.

The man who undoubtedly has contributed more than anyone else to the American literature of the mandolin, is Giuseppe Pettine. Coming to his adopted country in his 'teens, Pettine brought with him an all consuming love for his instrument and a highly developed musical culture. Well known as a band and orchestra leader, it is as a mandolin virtuoso and composer for this instrument that the name of Giuseppe Pettine is treasured amongst the serious mandolinists. His concert repertoire includes many of the great violin concertos and original compositions and his concert tours have taken him from Maine to California. Amongst his numerous compositions the "Concerto Patetico," for mandolin and piano, is his greatest contribution to mandolin literature. It is in three movements melodious, and it calls for all the characteristic resources of the instrument. The Fantasia Romantica and many other original works of smaller dimensions, arrangements in duo form, and a "Mandolin Method," in four volumes, are the fruits of a lifetime devoted to his favorite instrument.

This article would be incomplete without mentioning the names of a few of the great masters who showed interest in the mandolin. Mozart evidently appreciated its delicate and charming voice, and the Serenade with mandolin accompaniment in his immortal opera, "Don Giovanni," was the result. He also composed two songs, Come, dearest Mandolin, Come, and Contentment, with mandolin obbligato.

Beethoven wrote an adagio and a short "Sonatina for Mandolin and Cembalo," undoubtedly influenced by his intimate friend the mandolin virtuoso, Krumpholz. Nicola Spinelli, an Italian operatic composer, makes frequent use of the mandolin and guitar in his opera, "A Basso Porto," and preceding the last act, there occurs a beautiful intermezzo for mandolin and orchestra. In his opera, "The Jewels of the Madonna," Wolf-Ferrari introduces a Serenade for mandolin and guitar, which is quite effective.

On account of its fretted fingerboard the fundamental technic of the mandolin offers no particular difficulty to the average student, and for this reason it is often misjudged as to its artistic possibilities. Frequent recitals by capable concert mandolinists would soon convert the most skeptical. To be able to interpret the concertos and other high grade original compositions by the masters requires an intense study for a number of years. There is no lack of material, as to the student of to-day; numerous methods and other works are available that contain every phase of mandolin technic. To those with limited time, the plectrum quartette - first and second mandolin, mandola and mandocello - or the mandolin orchestra offers many opportunities for musical enjoyment.

Fretted Instrument Department

Questions and Answers

Q. After taking lessons on the guitar for a year I still have trouble in tuning the instrument. My mind seems to be more intent on tone quality than the right pitch. - W. K.

A. Every guitarist should strive to obtain a beautiful tone from his instrument. But, if the instrument is not tuned properly, you will not be able to produce correct melody or harmony. Get a good guitar tuner, having a corresponding note for each string, and keep at it until you can tune the instrument correctly.

Q. Could I get orchestrations for a group of twelve players, mandolins, Spanish and Hawaiian guitars, tenor banjos, and violins? - A. T.

A. Ask your music dealer for catalog. If he does not have what you want, write direct to the publishers. Most of them carry a large stock for fretted orchestra.