August 1942
volume LX
number 8
page 567, 569

Marco Aurelio Zani de Ferranti

By George C. Krick

ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE personalities in guitar history was Marco Aurelio Zani de Ferranti, guitar virtuoso, composer and man of letters. He was born in Bologna, Italy, July 6, 1800, and died in Pisa, November 28, 1878. Descended from an ancient Venetian family, he came to Lucca in Tuscany, at the age of seven with his preceptor, Abbot Ronti, to receive his education, which was most thorough. Ferranti was gifted with very precocious intelligence and prodigious memory; his poetic talent manifested itself from early childhood, for when twelve years of age he had composed Latin poetry which was read throughout Italy. Attending a concert given by the violinist, Paganini, he was so profoundly impressed with the performance of this artist that music became his passion, and he at once began the study of the violin under Gerli, the celebrated teacher. His progress was phenomenal, and at the age of sixteen his extraordinary talent promised a violinist of the first order; but he subsequently abandoned this instrument for the guitar. His outstanding genius on the latter instrument made him famous in the musical world.

In 1820, he visited Paris where he spent most of his time experimenting with new methods of playing the guitar. Towards the end of the same year we find him in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was engaged as librarian to Senator Meitleff and later as private secretary to Prince Varishkin, cousin of the Emperor. The frequent periods of leisure, which these positions afforded, gave him ample opportunity to carry on his experiments with the innovations and improvements he had in mind in connection with guitar technic. In 1824, he appeared in Hamburg as guitar soloist, with much success. During the next three years he gave recitals in Brussels, Paris, and London. In 1827, after his second concert in Brussels, he was appointed professor of the guitar and Italian language at the Royal Conservatory of that city. These years of continuous study brought him his reward, by discovering a method of producing a sustained, singing tone on his instrument, obtaining all the extension of which it was susceptible. The results of his experiments were made public in two recitals given in Brussels in 1832, and subsequently honored by the appointment of guitarist to the King of the Belgians. It is said that the difficulties which Ferranti mastered with ease upon his instrument were unplayable by other guitarists and no one since has been able to discover his secret of prolonging and uniting his notes. His slurred chord passages, and melody with independent accompaniment were most marvelous and entrancing. After another concert tour through Holland, he visited London, and together with the violinist Sivori, came to America, where both artists were received with the greatest enthusiasm.

Returning to Brussels, in 1846, he again took up his duties as professor at the Royal Conservatory and was occupied as such till the end of 1854, when his restless spirit manifested itself again and he arranged an artistic tour through France, to his native land. After his farewell concerts in Brussels and The Hague, a critic writes in the Brussels Echo: "We have heard this artist many times and upon every occasion his playing was so brilliant and so varied, that he revealed to us some new wonder quite unexpected. What Paganini is on the violin, Thalberg on the piano, Servais on the violoncello, Ferranti is on the guitar. He is a discoverer. He has surpassed all his celebrated rivals in vanquishing the difficulties which this instrument in the hands of others offers. He has found new effects harmonious traits of extraordinary wealth and power. Add to all the secrets of his technic a clearness, a broadness and admirable equality of tone; add the rapidity, the vigour, the neatness of fingering and above all the inspiration, the rapture, the almost supernatural in the person, which evidences the true artist, and you will have but a faint idea of the talent of Ferranti. The pieces which he composes are charming, and if Ferranti was not a virtuoso of the first rank he would shine amongst composers."

In January, 1855, Ferranti arrived in Paris, where he was welcomed in the salon of the most eminent poets and musicians. After his first recital, Fetis wrote, "If the guitar has a Paganini it owes this glory to Ferranti." Paganini, who was also a guitarist of rare ability, after attending one of Ferranti's recitals wrote, "I heard you, sir, with such emotion that I have scarcely enough reason left to tell you that you are the most miraculous guitarist that I have ever met in my life." After a recital at the residence of the famous French poet, Alexander Dumas, M. Pleyel had this to say: "Ferranti charmed for three whole hours the most select and aesthetical audience. The guitar alone has been the attraction of this soiree, but the genius of Ferranti is so supple, so extended and so varied that one did not have a suspicion of monotony. Do not scorn the guitar any more, gentlemen. In the hands of Ferranti, the guitar becomes an orchestra, a military band."

From Paris, Ferranti traveled through France, to Italy, giving recitals in all important cities, includIng the fashionable resorts, Nice and Cannes, and finally settled in Pisa, where he gave frequent recitals. His last years were mostly occupied with literary work. As a composer, Ferranti deserves a place amongst the foremost writers of music for guitar. The rendition of his original works requires technic of the highest order as all of these were composed for use in his recitals. While some of these remained in manuscript the principal ones were published. The list includes: Op. 1, Fantasia Varie; Op, 2, Rondo de Fees; "Op. 8, Six Nocturnes;" Op. 4, Ma derniere Fantasie; Op. 5, Fantasia Varie Sur Le Carnival de Venice; Op. 6, Loin de toi Caprice; Op. 7, Fantasia Sur La Romance de Otello; Op. 8, Divertimento on Three favorite English Romances; Op. 9, Nocturne Sur La derniere Pensee de Weber; Op. 10 Fantasia Varie, O Cara Memoria.

The artistic career of this master, his early struggles, his determination to place the guitar and its music on a higher plane should serve as an example and provide inspiration to every guitarist of the present.