Wednesday 13 December 2017

How Giuliani became the world's first great guitar legend

George Hamilton

'Welcome to the world's music capital!" They don't like to beat around the bush in Vienna. And with some justification. Their proud boast is that more famous composers have lived there than in any other city.

In its time, it was very much the place to be. From Haydn and Mozart to Beethoven and Brahms, not one of them originally from the Austrian capital, all made it their base. Schubert and the family Strauss were genuine Viennese. And those who didn't settle made sure their music had exposure there.

Mauro Giuliani belongs in this company. Giuliani was the man who brought the guitar into the mainstream.

Born in Bisceglie in Italy's deep south in 1781 – which made him a contemporary of Hummel, Paganini, Spohr and John Field – Giuliani had developed as a multi-instrumentalist by his mid-20s. He also had a wife and son.

He left them behind and headed for Vienna. They just loved his guitar. He soared into the first division of popular performers; the name Giuliani was right up there with the heavyweights of the day.

What Paganini would become with the violin, Giuliani was with his six strings, single-handedly giving the guitar exposure and recognition.

Beethoven was a huge fan and a regular at Giuliani's concerts. The fact that Beethoven had him on the cello for the premiere of his 7th Symphony speaks volumes about his regard for the Italian's musicianship.

Giuliani topped the bill at the musical entertainment for the Congress of Vienna, the international peace conference that followed Napoleon's defeat.

By now, and despite the presence of an illegitimate daughter, he'd been reunited with his wife and son, and a second daughter – Emilia – was born.

This was as good as it got for Giuliani, for not long after he lost control of his financial affairs and was driven out of Austria by debt. He went back to Italy and based himself in Rome, but the appetite for his kind of music just wasn't there.

He moved on to Naples where things were better. Emilia turned out to be a prodigy. Father and daughter would put on concerts together.

He still didn't scale the heights of his popularity in Vienna, but at least he had an audience.

Giuliani didn't live to see the extent of his influence. He died in 1829 at the age of 47. But Emilia would become a prominent performer and composer, and Michele, his son, made his mark as a singing teacher at the Paris Conservatory.

Giuliani wrote prolifically for the guitar, right across the range from chamber music to concerti, but it was on the concert stage that he had his greatest success.

His fame died with him, and for more than 200 years his output lay largely ignored. Thanks, though, to artists like John Williams and Julian Bream there is a wealth of the music of Mauro Giuliani still to be enjoyed.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday.

Irish Independent

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