March 1942
volume LX
number 3
page 207, 211

Ferdinando Carulli, 1770-1841

By George C. Krick

THE EARLY PART of the nineteenth century has often been referred to as the "golden era" of the guitar. Among the talented musicians who helped make guitar history at that time, none contributed more to the development and advancement of the technical resources of this instrument than Ferdinando Carulli, rightly called the father of modern guitar technic.

Born in Naples, February 10, 1770, Carulli as a youth received his first musical instruction from a priest, devoting several years to the study of the violoncello. Becoming acquainted with the guitar, he began to experiment with it, and its delicate beauty of tone and harmonic possibilities appealed to him so strongly that he decided then and there to devote all his time and energies to this instrument. At this period, the guitar was quite popular in Italy, but mostly used to accompany the songs and serenades heard in the city streets. Capable teachers were non-existent and very little printed music was available, so Carulli was dependent on his own resources and was compelled to invent a course of studies and exercises for his own personal advancement. Carulli was a musical genius, his powers of concentration enormous, and his persistence resulted in his being looked upon as the greatest exponent of guitar playing while still in his early twenties.

A Career Begins

In 1796, he left his native city, and we find him established in Leghorn where he soon became known as a master teacher and virtuoso. A few years later he began his triumphant concert tours throughout Europe. In 1808, he appeared in Paris, where he gave many guitar concerts, achieving his usual brilliant successes. Here he remained as teacher and composer until his death at the age of seventy-one. It is said that "Carulli's command over his instrument was so extraordinary that he was never for an instant checked in the execution of the most difficult passages. He gave no indication of the slightest labor in executing with wonderful rapidity and perfect intonation passages in double stops and chords extending over the entire compass of the instrument. His rapid scales in single notes throughout three octaves supplemented by another octave by the use of harmonics, were a delight to the ear. No sound other than musical, ever issued from the guitar under the skillful touch of Carulli.

Always seeking new ways to improve his instrument, Carulli spent considerable time with the celebrated guitar maker Lacote, who constructed several models according to his ideas, one of which was provided with four additional bass strings and called the "Decacorde." Another guitar much used by Carulli, was made about 1752, by the lutenist Claude Boivin, and this beautifully made instrument is preserved in the Museum of the National Conservatory of Music in Paris.

Also a Voice Teacher

Aside from his activities as teacher of guitar and composition, Carulli enjoyed great popularity as vocal teacher and was a professor in the National Conservatory, where his vocal method and studies were adopted.

Among Carulli's pupils, who later proved themselves artists of rare ability, were the two guitarists, Filippo Gragnani and Victor Magnien, both of whom became quite famous. Another prominent pupil was his son, Gustave, who later distinguished himself as a composer and teacher of voice and composition. According to Romulo Ferrari of Modena, the celebrated organist, Alexander Guilmant, was a pupil of Gustave Carulli, although several other historians claim that this honor should go to the elder Carulli. Guilmant, by the way, often evinced his interest in the guitar and mandolin and was elected President of the International Mandolin Contests, held at Boulogne in 1909, and his presidential address was an inspiration to all players of these instruments

It is a well known fact that a great virtuoso as a rule is not necessarily a great teacher, but we can safely say that Carulli must have been an exception to this rule. His "Method" in two volumes, and his books of exercises and etudes, show that he fully understood the needs of his pupils. They are carefully compiled, admirably graded, and display profound care and appreciation of the difficulties usually encountered by the beginner. The "Method," upon his publication in 1810, became so popular that it rapidly passed five editions and not long after another edition, much enlarged, made its appearance.

Carulli's compositions number about four hundred and include pieces of great variety. Among his guitar solos, we find many descriptive pieces and sonatas which have a very exceptional degree of merit showing the ability and ingenuity of the author in displaying the various resources of the instrument. He was a most prolific writer of duets for two guitars, characterized by richness of harmony, elegance of form, variety in the effects of instrumentation and individuality of style. His concertos for guitar with accompaniment of string quartet or other orchestral instruments, in which the guitar is the most important factor in their rendition, could only emanate from an artist fertile in musical resource and musical science.

His "Improvisations Musicales, Opus 265," consists of fifty-four brilliant preludes in various keys; several trios for guitar, flute and violin, Op. 103, 119,123,149, and 255; and the trios for three guitars Op. 92, 131, 251, and 255, all of which give evidence of his great talent.

Studying the career of Carulli should provide inspiration to every guitarist of the present day. Lacking the guidance of a capable teacher, having no authentic study material to help him along the way, he was entirely self-taught, and in spite of all the difficulties usually encountered by pioneers in any line of endeavor, he managed to reach an enviable position among the great guitarists of his time.