ClassicsOnline Home » GIULIANI: Variations
By Allan Clive Jones
Classical Guitar Magazine
"Ricardo Gallén, who is an excellent musician, plays all this music idiomatically, and as though it posed absolutely no difficulties for him."
Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)
Guitar Music, Volume 1
Mauro Giuliani was the greatest guitar virtuoso of his generation and one of the finest composers for the instrument. The details of his musical training are not clear, but he was born in Puglia, a province of the old Kingdom of Naples, and he settled in Vienna in 1806. There he established himself as the best guitarist in the city, where the instrument was already popular, and he befriended many of the city’s musical luminaries, including Beethoven, Schubert, Mayseder, Moscheles and Diabelli, among others. An important innovator, Giuliani composed what may have been the first virtuoso guitar concerto (both his and that of Ferdinando Carulli in Paris were first performed at about the same time, in 1808) and dozens of other works, many of them requiring prodigious technique on the instrument. When the Archduchess Marie-Louise returned to Vienna, after the fall of Napoleon, Giuliani became her instructor and was named a chamber virtuoso of the Imperial court. Giuliani returned to Italy in 1819, perhaps to escape debtors, and spent his last years in Rome (until about 1823) and Naples. During these years he met Rossini, who had always been a great influence on his music, and also Paganini, with whom he was frequently compared. Giuliani’s works continued to be published after his death in 1829, a fact which confused many of his early biographers into believing he had lived until 1840 or later, but the
‘M. Giuliani’ who enjoyed a musical career in the 1830s was in fact Mauro’s son Michele. The works presented here provide a cross-section of Mauro Giuliani’s career, from early works in Vienna which reflect his Neapolitan background (Op. 4) to works from his Viennese period and from his Italian years. All but one are in the theme-and-variations form which was at the peak of its popularity. The airs which Giuliani chose also reflect his own eclectic taste and the diverse musical culture of the age.
The Florentine composer Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) was well-established in Paris before the outbreak of the French Revolution, and his theatrical style appealed to the revolutionary audiences as much as it had the crowds of the Ancien Régime. His opera
Les deux journées was first given in Paris in 1800, a few months after the overthrow of the Directoire; it was a critical success but not a political one. Its tale of persecuted aristocrats sheltered by a peasant family seemed to many to be a political statement in favour of post-revolutionary social reconciliation, but unlike the painter David, who had made a similar statement a few years earlier with his painting The Sabine Women, Cherubini failed to capture the fancy of the new First Consul Bonaparte, whose taste in music was not among his notable attributes. The composer sought his fortune elsewhere, in Vienna; although no friendship is recorded, Cherubini and Giuliani were both Italian expatriate musicians in the city for several years, and an acquaintance seems likely. In 1809, after the treaty of Schönbrunn, Cherubini accepted Napoleon’s invitation to return to Paris and compose for his Imperial court.
It is not clear exactly when Giuliani composed his Marcia di Cherubini variata, Op. 110 (Variations on the March from Les Deux journées), but the music would probably have been considered too pro-French for the Habsburg court in the years around 1815; the piece was first published by the venerable Italian firm of Ricordi in 1823, after Giuliani had returned to Italy.
Gioachino Antonio Rossini’s status as an international superstar in the early nineteenth century made him an idol to many Italian musicians and Giuliani appears to have been no exception. Long before he met the legendary composer, Giuliani wrote variations on his themes, sang elaborated versions of his arias, and even arranged several of his overtures for guitar solo or duet. Among these works were the Sei Variazioni brillanti … su la cavatina favorita ‘Di tanti palpiti’ dell’opera Tancredi, Op. 87, published in Vienna in 1817 (the opera had had its first performance in 1813), and also an arrangement of the same theme for voice and guitar or piano (Op. 79). In Rome in the early 1820s the two finally met; one account even tells of impromptu performances by Rossini, Giuliani, and Paganini during the Roman carnevale. Giuliani was apparently given access to Rossini’s scores, and an important portion of the guitarist’s later work reveals the influence of this association, including six large pot-pourris of themes from the Maestro’s operas (the Rossiniane, Opp. 119-124), and many arrangements for guitar of themes from the opera Semiramide.
The folies d’Espagne or folias was not so much a theme as a chord progression, probably of Iberian origin, and dating at least to the sixteenth century. It became a standard in the repertory of the Baroque guitarists and lutenists and found its way into the music of the masters such as Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi, and Boccherini. Guitarists from the seventeenth century onwards seem to have favoured the chord progression to teach arpeggio patterns and as the basis for improvisations, and so the ‘theme’ became firmly rooted in guitar culture. While easy variations on the Folias were well known throughout Europe, Giuliani’s Six Variations … sur les Folies d’Espagne, Op. 45, (Vienna: Artaria, 1814) was perhaps the most ambitious and virtuosic elaboration for the guitar to that date (Fernando Sor’s famous variations, Op. 15, date to the early 1820s).
Baroque composers such as Handel may have been no longer fashionable in Giuliani’s Vienna, but their music was not unknown. Revivals of the music of Bach and his contemporaries became common with the spread of Romanticism; the guitarist Simon Molitor was one of the leaders in this movement. In Giuliani’s day Baroque music was, after all, little more than a half century old, no further removed from him than the music of Gershwin is removed from our own age. Printed editions were too valuable to be thrown away, and a good tune, such as the Air from Handel’s Suite No. 5 for harpsichord, never goes out of fashion. Nor was Giuliani alone in appreciating the theme; his biographer Thomas Heck has observed that the composer Ignaz Moscheles had also varied the theme for the pianoforte at about the same time. Giuliani and Moscheles were friends who occasionally performed and even composed together. In any case, the publication of Op. 107 did not occur until 1827 (also by Ricordi), long after Giuliani had left Vienna and only two years before his death. The name ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’ was not applied to this theme in Handel’s day, nor even in Giuliani’s; it was apparently based on a charming but unverified anecdote first related about a century after Handel’s death by Richard Clark, a Victorian musician and Handel enthusiast.
The Neapolitan Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) has been called [by Donald Jay Grout] "perhaps the most important figure in eighteenth-century opera buffa next to Mozart himself". In fact, Paisiello probably exercised a considerable influence on Mozart. Paisiello’s greatest success was his charming little comic opera La Molinara, and its fame was, in turn, largely based on the continuing popularity of the duet ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ from Act II. Arguably the most popular tune of the first two decades of the nineteenth century, it inspired variations by Beethoven, Diabelli, Dussek, and Steibelt (for piano), Böhm and Wanhal (flute), Paganini (violin), and celebrated vocal improvisations by the prima donna Angelica Catalani. The melody also appeared under other names, or with other lyrics; in England, for example, the tune achieved fame as Mme Mara’s aria ‘Hope told a flattering tale’, inserted into Arne’s Artaxerxes. Among guitarists, the widespread celebrity of the tune is evidenced by the sets of variations by Fernando Sor, Luigi Castellacci, Luigi Legnani, Federico Moretti, J. Meissonnier, Filippo Gragnani, Seegner, Lemoine, Borghesi, Laurent Rhein, and many others. Ferdinando Carulli varied the theme at least three times (in his Op. 5, Op. 68, and Op. 107) as did Giuliani in his Six Variations sur l’air de la Molinara, Op. 4, for guitar solo, published in Vienna in 1810; Op. 65 (for guitar and string quartet); and a later solo without opus number which was inspired by Catalani’s performances.
Giuliani’s Pot-Pourri nazionale romano, Opus 108, a medley of Roman folk-tunes interspersed with flamboyant guitar riffs, was first published by Ricordi in 1823. The folk-tunes are ‘La Gnora Luna qual’è figliola di Sior Calò’, ‘Amai na Danna bella e cù cù’, ‘Gioventù garbata e bella ciò na nova tarantella’, ‘Portaci una bottiglia con due bicchieri in mano’, ‘Partirò, partirò, partir bisogna’, and ‘Sor Capitano mio, sentite la ragione’. Among his later works, from his Italian period, are also a series of Neapolitan songs varied for solo guitar. Taken collectively, these suggest in Giuliani a musical nationalism similar to that which spread throughout Europe in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, they may simply indicate an attempt to stimulate sheet music sales by appealing to local markets.
In Giuliani’s lifetime the Prussian composer Friedrich Heinrich Himmel (1765-1814) was one of the celebrated figures in the music world. Fate has been unkind to his reputation, partly because Vienna so totally eclipsed Berlin as a musical centre during this period, and also because Himmel’s large-scale German operas never achieved the popularity of his lighter works such as the Singspiel Fanchon: das Leyermädchen (1804), with its infectious, almost Neapolitan melodies. Fanchon, Heck has pointed out, was revived in Vienna in 1817, and so it was probably this revival which inspired Giuliani’s Grandes Variations sur la romance favorite de l’opéra Fanchon, Op. 88, published by Cappi the same year.
Heck, Thomas, Mauro Giuliani: Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer (Columbus, Ohio: Editions Orphée, 1995).
Riboni, Marco, Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829): Profilo biografico-critico ed analisi delle trascrizioni per chitarra (Tesi di laurea, Università degli studi di Milano, 1990-91).
Torta, Mario, Le edizioni napoletane di Mauro Giuliani, il ‘Fronimo’, 87 (1994).