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ClassicsOnline Home » CARULLI, F.: Guitar and Piano Music, Vol. 1 (Franz and Debora Halasz)
Born in Naples, Ferdinando Carulli wrote the first complete classical guitar method, which continues to be used today. From among his more than 400 guitar pieces come several transcriptions with operatic associations, including those of Beethoven’s Variations on an aria by Mozart and several Rossini overtures. His son, Gustavo, also enjoyed a successful career as a guitarist and teacher. Franz and Débora Halász have been praised as “a young and exciting team…that persuasively combines piano and guitar” (American Record Guide).
By David Denton
Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841) and Gustavo Carulli (1801–1876)
Music for Guitar and Piano • 1
Of all the early nineteenth-century guitarist/composers, such as Sor, Giuliani, and Aguado, the music of Ferdinando Carulli has been the most neglected. Despite his huge output Carulli has come to be regarded as primarily a pedagogue rather than as a composer of concert works. This Italian maestro, originally from Naples, settled in Paris in 1808, where his comprehensive Guitar Method, Op. 27, was written and published with enormous success. His creative contribution to the guitar was underestimated until a thematic catalogue by the Italian scholar Mario Torta appeared in 1993, describing him as ‘a composer, virtuoso and successful teacher who played a decisive rôle in moulding the future of his instrument…There is a wealth of invention in his finest solo compositions and great instrumental variety and strength in his chamber music’. Carulli composed some four hundred works for the guitar, including solos, duos and trios, guitar ensembles, chamber music and concertos as well as many studies and exercises. On two of the pieces presented here, Op. 233 and Op. 134, the original editions acknowledged that Ferdinando’s son, Gustavo Carulli, guitarist, composer and singing teacher, shared in the composition.
Carulli’s reputation as a worthwhile composer was considerably enhanced in the twentieth century when recordings by Julian Bream and John Williams of his Duo in G, Op. 34, and Serenade in A, Op. 96, were issued in the early 1970s. Prior to that, Carulli’s most popular works had been his Guitar Concerto, Op. 14, and the Serenade in A, Op. 96 (recorded by the Presti/Lagoya guitar duo).
The present selection is dedicated to Carulli’s unique attentiveness to the guitar and piano repertoire, a combination of great appeal to Parisian salons and family gatherings. Although several other guitarists of his era were also attracted to this medium, particularly his compatriot, Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829), who worked with the virtuoso pianist, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Carulli’s prolific expertise in bringing together two apparently disparate instruments was widely appreciated by his contemporaries as the publication of more than twenty such works surely demonstrates.
Variations for guitar and piano, Op. 169, are Carulli’s re-working of Beethoven’s Twelve Variations on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ from The Magic Flute by Mozart, for pianoforte and cello, Op. 66. The main emendations are to change the cello part to textures and patterns appropriate to the guitar but also to alter the sequence of variations including two sections written by Carulli. (The piano part, except in the first half of Variations IV and VII,which is Carulli’s original, elsewhere follows Beethoven’s text.) Thus the sequence of variations is as follows:
The early nineteenth century maestros were deeply attracted to the music of Rossini (1792–1868) as a source for transcriptions. The great Italian guitarist Mauro Giuliani, for example, produced his six Rossinianes, Op. 119–124, selections of Rossini melodies introduced as part of an extended virtuosic solo as well as further arrangements from operas such as La Cenerentola (Cinderella) and Semiramide. Carulli’s Duo in A major on Themes of Rossini, Op. 233, brings in arias from La donna del lago, an opera in two acts after Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem, The Lady of the Lake. The melody, Oh! mattutini albori (Oh! morning dawn) comes from the beginning of Act I where the scene is set on the shores of Lake Katrine with the Ben Ledi mountains in the background. Four variations follow. The arias heard include Qual suono (What a sound) and Ahi! Qual colpo (Ah! what a blow), from La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie).
Grand Duo Concertant in A major, Op. 65, in three movements, first published in 1814, is one of Carulli’s most ambitious works for the guitar and piano, evoking striking and eloquent themes in the first movement, a sense of poignant drama in the slow movement and Mozartean lyricism in the concluding Allegretto. The intention throughout is to convey an almost orchestral splendour in a substantial work which illustrates the composer’s ingenuity and inventiveness at full stretch.
Dedicated to his pupil, Monsieur Abramowicz, Nocturne in G major, Op. 127 (first published 1819), is of course very different in structure and intention from Chopin’s famous later representations of the genre. The first section of the work, Largo, begins with pianissimo octaves and gentle dotted rhythms but soon gives way to a Moderato, where the guitar and piano take turns with the theme. This is followed by a Larghetto, a brief melody subjected to increasingly rapid variations. The final Moderato recapitulates the earlier movement in an exciting coda.
Duo in D major, Op. 134, first published in 1820, opens with a lyrical Larghetto, the pianoforte providing an introduction before the guitar’s entry after eight bars. This is a prime example of Carulli’s most expressive writing with ingenious combinations of plucked and keyboard sonorities. The Rondo is skittish and whimsical, requiring considerable dexterity from both players.
The final three items offer an elaborate panorama of the various themes deployed in Rossini’s Overtures to The Thieving Magpie, Armida and The Barber of Seville. These three overtures are part of a collection of twelve published by Carulli’s friend and favourite publisher, the Neapolitan Raffaele Carli, in Paris, around 1825. These overtures (without opus numbers) were also arranged for violin and guitar, flute and guitar and guitar duo. During Carulli’s era this kind of transcription was a convenient method of importing in miniature the glories of the opera into the intimacy of the home or salon. Nowadays the scaling down of such masterpieces may seem like viewing the orchestra through the wrong end of the telescope, sometimes with unexpectedly amusing moments. Yet the charm and integrity of Carulli’s imagination remain intact in this vital small corner of guitar history.
Acknowledgements are made for the kind assistance of Mario Torta in the compilation of these notes
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