Special Report: Celebrating Italy’s Guitar Heroes

April is celebrated around the world as International Guitar Month. Originally established as a marketing program designed to entice new players to purchase and learn to play guitar, IGM abandoned its retail initiative several years ago, but the correlation between April and guitars has remained. Music stores host clinics and classes on how to purchase and care for guitars. It’s the month to check out a local shop for free guitar demonstrations, displays and deals on guitar lessons and educational materials.

The guitar is one of the most recognized musical instruments. The modern guitar had its beginnings with the ancient stringed instruments of Central Asia, India and China. The guitar is defined as a chordophone, with a long, fretted neck for fingering, a flat wooden soundboard or body, ribbed interior design, a flat back and curved sides. The oldest known depiction of a guitar is a stone carving of a Hittite musician playing an instrument with strings, a neck with frets and a soundboard. The carving is over 3,300 years old.

The most common guitars are acoustic and electric instruments, but during the 20th century, Andres Segovia nearly single handedly revived the classical guitar genre. Segovia was learning to play guitar at a time when very few musicians were playing the instrument, much less writing music for it, in his homeland of Spain. Segovia searched outside Spain, mainly to Italy, to find centuries old classical guitar pieces by the virtuosos of a bygone guitar era to incorporate into his musical repertoire.

Master Giuliani

One of Segovia’s most powerful musical influences was Italian guitarist and composer Mauro Giuliani. Giuliani was born in 1781 in Bisceglie, Italy, but moved with his brother to Barletta, which would become his musical home, when he was one year old. Giuliani’s first instrument was cello, which he never really abandoned, even when he became a master guitarist. He also studied violin, but it was the guitar which captured his special attention. Giuliani become proficient quickly and devoted himself to guitar study, performance and composition.

It was composition that Giuliani is most remembered. His one hundred and fifty pieces written for guitar comprise the bulk of the nineteenth-century guitar repertory. His challenging compositions for solo classical guitar, duos with flute and violin and orchestral arrangements are still played today.

As a touring artist, Giuliani became a musical celebrity, acclaimed for his performance style and guitar mastery. When he died in May of 1829, he was considered one of the premier classical guitar virtuosos of the early 19th century.

Giovanni Battista Granata

Granata was a consummate and thoughtful musician. Realizing his artistic endeavors as a guitarist would perhaps not support him, he became educated as a barber-surgeon.  Born in Turin, Italy, in 1621, Granata’s contributions to classical guitar were mainly in the publishing field. He wrote seven guitar tablature (tab) books. His later books would include compositions for guitar and violin. He is regarded as one of the most prolific guitarists of the 17th century.

Fernando Carulli

Born in 1770 in Naples, Italy, Carulli’s first instrument, like that of Giuliani’s, was the cello. As was common in in the late 18th century, Carulli’s introduction to music was part of his formal education, provided by a priest, who was also an amateur musician.

When he was twenty, Carulli discovered the guitar and was instantly enchanted. He devoted himself to life-long study and advancement of the instrument. Naples had no guitar teachers at the time, so Carulli taught himself to play. He was a gifted performer, teacher and author and penned many of the classical guitar pieces found in today’s educational guitar books. Before his death in 1841, Carulli had partnered with an Italian luthier to create a custom instrument, much the way modern guitarist partner with companies to create a signature guitar.

April is a perfect month to discover guitar. Check out events, concerts, special classes and clinics at music stores and schools. In a recent study at the University of Kansas, knowing how to play an instrument was credited with improved cognition, coordination and enhanced academic abilities. Virtuoso or not, learning to play guitar, or any instrument, is good for you- body, soul and mind!