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Works for Mandolin and Guitar
Duo Zigiotti Merlante
rec. 2015, Teatro Alice Zeppilli, Pieve di Cento, Italy
TACTUS TC860003 [65:32]

This enjoyable and well-played disc provides a sampling of Italian music for mandolin and guitar written in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. The spine, as it were, of the album is provided by the works of Carlo Munier who was said by Philip J. Bone, in his 1914 reference work The Guitar & Mandolin: Biographies of Celebrated Players and Composers for These Instruments, to stand “at the head of all composers, performers, and writers for the mandolin of any period” and to be one “whose genius is justly recognized wherever the instrument is played or known” (both quotations are taken from page 218 of Bone’s book).

The mandolin has a long history as an urban ‘folk’ instrument, generally looked down on by ‘educated’ musicians, not least in the ‘Italian’ states, where it was a popular instrument amongst the less well-educated. However, with the developing unification of Italy in the second half of the 1800s, the mandolin began to be regarded more favourably – to be seen, by some at least, as a truly, and specifically, Italian instrument, as something authentically representative of the newly emergent country - a small, but significant emblem of the unified country. It began, as a result, to be taken more seriously, to be seen as more than just the instrument of street musicians and café entertainers.

Carlo Munier was an important – indeed, it could be argued, a central – figure in this revival and enhancement of the mandolin, alongside the political changes of the time. In a striking way, the circumstances of his birth and upbringing prepared him perfectly to play such a role.

Munier was born in Naples, the traditional stronghold of the mandolin. However, both his parents died when he was very young (some accounts say when he was only one year old). He was brought up by the family of his mother, Rosa Vinaccia. Various members of this family had been making musical instruments in Naples for over a century. One such was the distinguished luthier Pasquale Vinaccia (1806-c.1882); it was presumably no coincidence that young Carlo’s middle name was Pasquale. Munier grew up surrounded by musical instruments, especially guitars and mandolins, both completed and in construction. His musical abilities were soon evident and he studied the mandolin with Carmine de Laurentiis, one of the city’s most highly regarded mandolinists and teachers; he later studied the guitar too, and at the age of 15 he entered the Conservatoire in Naples. The mandolin was, in the 1870s, an instrument not deemed suitable for study in the Conservatoire, so Munier studied piano, harmony and counterpoint. At the end of his years at the Conservatoire he was awarded prizes in both composition and harmony. He then chose to devote himself to the mandolin and to the improvement of its standing and repertoire. Fortunately, the collective musical mind of the new ‘Italy’ largely shared his desires.

Soon Munier was an admired mandolist and a popular advocate of the instrument. It was an indication of the mandolin’s growing status that when, in 1892, the city of Genoa held trade and cultural events in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, one event was a huge ‘Concorso nazionale mandolinistico’, the first of its kind. Munier was awarded a gold medal as a soloist at this event. He was increasingly in demand both within and beyond Italy as interest in the mandolin spread. When acting as a judge at a mandolin competition held in Monaco in 1906, he made a speech in which he said, “it is not the case that the mandolin has to remain a simple instrument for serenades. I can affirm that the art of the mandolin, both in construction and music, has made great progress over the years. Today one can no longer say that the mandolin is the little, incomplete instrument that it was in centuries past, the folly of dilletantes and street players”. It had now, insisted Munier, “a serious artistic future” (translation quoted from Paul Sparks, The Classical Mandolin, 2005, p. 58).

Munier himself wrote music for one or more mandolin in forms with which it had not previously been associated – such as his three ‘String Quartets’ (Op. 128, 203 and 767), scored for two mandolins, a mandola (tenor mandolin) and a lute or mandocello, and a Trio for piano, mandolin and cello (Op. 156). On the present CD, we hear only music in less ‘grand forms’. Capriccio Spagnuolo, which closes the album is, for me, the most attractive of Munier’s works on this album (and it is definitely one of his most frequently played pieces). I suppose that if one considers works like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol (written at much the same time as Munier’s duet), even this title constitutes a kind of claim for the ‘seriousness’ of the mandolin. Certainly, Capriccio Spagnuolo is a work in which ‘Italianate’ melodies and Spanish rhythms complement one another very engagingly. Very different is Preghiera, a quiet, religious piece, soaked in one dimension of the Neapolitan religious sensibility, being sweetness itself. Elsewhere, in the ‘Menuet’, ‘Gavotte’, ‘Gigue’, ‘Valse’ and ‘Mazurka’ which make up the five charming Dances Bijoux and in Valzer-Concerto, Munier offers another, different example of the mandolin’s capacity to absorb and re-present a pan-European range of dance forms.

Fourteen years younger than Munier, Enrico Marucelli was born in Florence. He studied composition and harmony at the Liceo Musicale Luigi Cherubini in the city of his birth. He later taught double bass at the same institution, though he was increasingly best known as a mandolinist and as a composer of music for that instrument. Given that Munier left Naples and settled in Florence in 1881, basing himself there for the rest of his life, it was inevitable that Munier and the younger Marucelli should know one another. Both, for example, were involved with the Regio Circola Mandolinistico ‘Regina Margherita’, which had the first Queen Consort of Italy as its patron – a large guitar and mandolin orchestra founded, surely not coincidentally, in the very year that Munier arrived in Florence, by a group of Florentine music-lovers who, “believing the mandolin to be the national instrument of Italy wanted to promote it” (see Paul Sparks, ‘Clara Ross, Mabel Downing and ladies’ guitar and mandolin bands in late Victorian Britain’, Early Music, 41(4), 2013, pp. 621-632). In 1898 Marucelli moved to London, where he taught, gave concerts and conducted The Ladies’ Mandolin and Guitar Band (see the article by Paul Sparks cited immediately above). Sadly, Marucelli contracted pneumonia in London and, after a very difficult journey back to Italy, he died in Florence in November 1901. On the whole Marucelli’s music is less ambitious than Munier’s (though, in saying that we should bear in mind the fact that he died in his late twenties). This CD contains five compositions by Marucelli. It is significant that two of them are serenades – the Sérénade des Amoureux and the Serenatella Spagnola – the serenade being one of the traditional forms played by mandolinists, which, as we have seen, Munier wanted to leave behind if the mandolin was not to “remain a simple instrument for serenades”. The two serenades recorded here are lightweight, albeit pleasant, pieces. Nor does Marucello’s Moto Perpetuo do very much to enhance Marucelli’s reputation as a composer. Rather more interesting are his Polonese di Concerto and Capriccio Zingaresca in which the ‘exotic’ rhythms take him beyond the Italian idioms he clearly finds all too easy.

Of the third composer represented in this anthology (albeit by a single piece), Luigi Mozzani, I knew almost nothing before reading the booklet essay by Merlante and Zigiotti. From that essay I have learned that he was initially self-taught as a musician, initially on clarinet, then guitar and oboe, and that at the age of 20 he enrolled to study the oboe at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. He then set out to pursue a career as an oboist. However - and here I quote Merlante and Zigiotti - “after a disastrous, unsuccessful tour in America as an oboist, he joined a trio of banjo players and began a new career as a guitar performer and teacher”. He developed an interest in the making of guitars and after first living in Bologna, he settled in Cento di Ferrara, working as a luthier, while also teaching and occasionally performing. As a luthier he began to make something like the whole range of plectrum instruments. His success was such that in 1933 Segovia chose to use one of his instruments. Composing was never, it seems, the centre of his musical life. His Au Crépuscule – Rêverie is an affable piece of mood music, but one could claim little more for it. Some of his pieces for solo guitar, as recorded by Giulio Tampalini on Brilliant Classics 95230, strike me as far more sophisticated and far more suited to the instrument for which they were written.

The Duo Zigiotti Merlante - Sergio Zigiotti (mandolin), Fabiano Merlante (guitar) - are impressive and persuasive throughout, playing with a good sense of instrumental balance; there is nothing to complain of with regard to the recorded sound. Though there is no discussion of the individual pieces played, the booklet essay by the two performers is valuable for its biographical information and for the details of the historical instruments played. The front cover of the booklet reproduces a painting of 1837 by Thomas Cole, a cityscape of Florence viewed from San Miniato. The back cover of the booklet carries photographs of the seven instruments played.

So, the quality here is to be found in the works by Carlo Munier and, in part, those by Enrico Maraculli. There is enough here to attract those particularly fond of the mandolin and, I think enough to please those who, though they may love the lute and guitar repertoires are still suspicious of it. I very much hope that some such people will give this album a try.

Glyn Pursglove

Carlo MUNIER (1859-1911)
Valzer-Concerto, Op. 241 [6:02]
Enrico MARUCELLI (1873-1801)
Sérénade des Amoureux [3:47]
Bizzarria – Capriccio di Concerto, Op. 101 [5:17]
Serenatella Spagnola [3:25]
Rossiniana – Fantasia di Concerto, Op.131 [7:46]
Polonese di Concerto [4:08]
Luigi MOZZANI (1869-1943)
Au Crépuscule – Rêverie [2:29]
Capriccio Zingaresca [5:06]
Preghiera, Op. 251 [3:58]
Moto Perpetuo [1:52]
Dances Bijoux, Op. 229
I Menuet de Cendrillon [2:04]
II Hélène-Gavotte [1:17]
III Giga [1:02]
IV Valse lente [3:53]
V Mazurka des Hirondelles [2:33]
3 Gavotta [3:06]
Capriccio Spagnole, Op. 276 [6:33]

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