February 9, 2010

Ferdinando Carulli: A True Guitar Hero

Ferdinando Carulli
By Giovanni di Napoli

Ferdinando Carulli (b. Naples 1770 - d. Paris 1841) was perhaps the most significant composer and instructor for the guitar in the Nineteenth Century.  Highly prolific, many of the virtuoso's works, including his "Harmony Applied to the Guitar," continue to be used today to train students the classical guitar.

According to most sources he was born on February 9th, others claim the 10th.  His father, Michele Carulli, was originally from Bari and a distinguished statesman in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; his mother, Patrizia Federici, is believed to be Neapolitan, but more information about her is lost.  He was raised on the Via Nardones near the Palazzo Reale in Naples.

Carulli learned the basics of music from a priest, which was not unusual at that time.  The Cello was his first instrument, but at twenty he discovered the guitar and made it his life's passion.  Because no suitable instructors were available at the time, the Neapolitan was principally self-taught and formulated his own guitar technique.

In Naples his concerts were very popular.  Word quickly spread of his exceptional skill so eventually he toured Europe to meet the demand.  In 1801, while in Tuscany, he married a French woman named Marie-Josephine Boyer, and together they had a son, Gustavo.  After a very successful tour in Paris, then considered the "music capital" of the world, Carulli settled there with his family for the remainder of his life.

His work and reputation as a teacher inspired guitarists from all over Europe, especially Italy, and many travelled to Paris to learn from the master.  Counted among his students were members of the Parisian nobility and upper classes.  His methods became the standard for teaching classical guitar.

Many of Carulli's greatest pieces were not published because of their complexity; the publishing houses believing that they were too difficult to become popular enough to invest in.  Unfortunately, much of his advanced work was lost due to the shortsightedness of these businessmen, who deemed his instructional works more profitable.

Among his hundreds of extant works are concertos, quartets, solos, duos, trios, variations, and fantasias, including the popular "Trio, Op. 12," for flute, violin and guitar and "Concerto Op. 8" for guitar and orchestra; and for the musically challenged among us, his "Duo in G Op.34" was the theme music for the British cult 1980s sci-fi/TV game show The Adventure Game.

Carulli died in Paris at the age of 71 on February 17, 1841.