Ferdinando Maria Meinrado Francesco Pascale Rosario Carulli (Naples, 9 February 1770 – Paris, 17 February 1841) was an Italian composer for classical guitar and the author of the first complete classical guitar method, which continues to be used today. He wrote a variety of works for classical guitar, including concertos and chamber works. He was an extremely prolific writer for guitar, composing over 400 works for the instrument in the space of 12 years.
Carulli was born in Naples, then part of the Kingdom of Naples. His father, Michele, was a distinguished literator, secretary to the delegate of the Neapolitan Jurisdiction. Like many of his contemporaries, he was taught musical theory by a priest, who was also an amateur musician. Carulli's first instrument was the cello, but when he was twenty he discovered the guitar and devoted his life to the study and advancement of the guitar. As there were no professional guitar teachers in Naples at the time, Carulli developed his own style of playing.
Carulli was a gifted performer. His concerts in Naples were so popular that he soon began touring Europe. Around 1801 Carulli married a French woman, Marie-Josephine Boyer, and had a son with her. A few years later Carulli started to compose in Milan, where he contributed to local publications. After a highly successful Paris tour, Carulli moved there. At the time the city was known as the 'music-capital' of the world, and he stayed there for the rest of his life.
In Paris Carulli became a very successful musician and teacher. He fulfilled his intention of making the guitar popular and fashionable among the upper classes and Paris musicians. It was also in Paris that he published most of his works, eventually becoming a publisher himself and printing the works of other prominent guitarists including Filippo Gragnani whom he befriended and who later dedicated three guitar duets to Carulli.
In the 1830s, many European guitarists followed Carulli to Paris, apparently "attracted by his personality". With so many other guitarists in Paris, Carulli worked harder at his teaching, and soon had counted members of the Parisian nobility among his students.
Many of the pieces now regarded as Carulli's greatest were initially turned down by the publishers as being too hard for the average player, and it is likely that many masterpieces were lost this way. Undeterred, Carulli started publishing his pieces himself. However, the great majority of Carulli's surviving works are those that were considered 'safe' enough to be accepted by other publishers, mainly for the teaching of certain techniques or for beginners. Although he had many students and supporters, Carulli began to believe he didn't deserve his impressive reputation because most of the great works he had composed were never published.
Confined to mainly simple pieces, Carulli wrote his world-famous method of classical guitar, "Harmony Applied to the Guitar", a collection of pieces that are still used today in tuition. At the time of publishing, the method was very popular and had many editions published.
Later in life, Carulli began to experiment with changes in guitar construction. With Lacote, a French guitar maker, he made some significant changes for improving the sound of the guitar.
Carulli died in Paris on February 17, 1841, aged 71.
Carulli was among the most prolific composers of his time. He wrote more than four hundred works for the guitar, and countless others for various instrumental combinations, always including the guitar. His most influential work of all was his "Method, op. 27", published in 1810, and still used widely today in training students of the classical guitar. Carulli also composed some pieces for guitar and piano with his son Gustavo. He wrote works for chamber orchestra and other ensembles.
Classical guitarists have recorded many of his works. Arguably his most famous work is a duet for guitar and flute, which was recorded by Alexander Lagoya and Jean-Pierre Rampal, although his Duo in G Op.34 achieved a measure of indirect fame in Britain as the theme tune of cult 1980s science fiction/television game show The Adventure Game. The Duo in G has been recorded several times, most famously by Julian Bream and John Williams.
Instruments used by Carulli
Among the guitars used by Carulli, one finds
- Guitar around 1810 (photos)
According to Philip James Bone's book The guitar and mandolin : biographies of celebrated players and composers for these instruments (p. 70, 71), this instrument was presented by Ferdinando Carulli to his son Gustave Carulli. The initials GC can be seen on the instrument, at either side of the bridge.
- Pierre Rene Lacote, Guitar called Décacorde
Carulli worked together with Lacote to create the 10-string Décacorde. There exists a patent for this instrument. It is speculated that the original "invention" and patent was aimed at amateur guitarists: in the patent configuration only the 5 lower strings are fretted. On the other hand, there also exist other configurations, where 6 or 7 strings are fretted, and it is speculated that these Décacordes were played professionally.
Images of Carulli