Poor Carulli! Peering back at us through history, between those fluffed lamb chop sideburns… Would he ask us why he so rarely enjoys the concert spotlight of say, a Sor or Giuliani, or even a Matiegka or Bobrowicz?
His currently available concert solos, replete with then fashionable programmatic effects and nationalistic fervor, usually don’t transcend the instrument into our hearts the way of our beloved warhorses. Beyond these, he is truly under-appreciated as one of the more effective composers of guitar chamber music. But more importantly here, he has for 200 years remained one of the most utilized composers of didactic music for guitar.
A Brief Background
After marrying a French national, the Neapolitan Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841) settled permanently in Paris in 1809 where he thrived for decades as the music capital’s leading guitar instructor.
The lucrative business of music teaching to the aristocracy and upper middle class in Paris was then, as now, a hard one to break into. Even the great Fernando Sor — who initially sought refuge in Paris from political exile in 1813 — failed to gain a foothold in the aristocratic salons and moved to the greener pastures of London just two years later (though he did ultimately return to Paris in his late years). Carulli’s personal magnetism, family connections and zeal for the guitar played a role in this success. Additionally, the pragmatic elegance of his Method, Op. 27 (1810) and other commercial works surely cemented this position.
Today, Carulli’s guitar music is a cornerstone of the mid-to-late beginner canon.
In my experience, even students totally unfamiliar with Viennese Classicism take an instant liking to the easy playability and stark positivity and/or cartoonish villainy of these studies. The pieces are helpfully formulaic as cliché motives and cadential figures recur frequently amongst them, giving students an encouraging sense of building transferable skills.
Andantino in G, Op. 241 No. 5
Perhaps the most cherished of these works is this tiny Andantino, a sixteen-measure study consisting of a single musical period which Carulli divided into a binary structure to include repeats. It is made up of four 4-bar phrases that hold the listeners’ interest by delaying the authentic cadence until the end.
The Andantino is usually taught as a student progresses from homophonic textured pieces with only open strings in the bass to some fingered notes in the bass. They are ready to change between a somewhat wider variety of techniques between phrases.
Andantino represents technical advancement, yet requires no bars or hinges, never calls for the 3 and 4 fingers to be simultaneously depressed, and, of course, an “Andantino” isn’t an “Allegro.”
For many students, it is generally the most harmonically colorful classical piece they will have learned. For the benefit of other teachers and older beginners, I would like to give my suggestions for teaching and interpreting it.
Measures 1 - 2: Blackbird quote
I always introduce Andantino to students by demonstrating the quote of the first two measures that (in diminution) begins Blackbird by the Beatles. This relatively rare brush with coolness in a classical guitar lesson never ceases to pique their interest.
Andantino begins with this famous progression in a three-part texture — bass and soprano in ascending parallel tenths with a G-drone in the middle. I encourage a moderately bright tone on the 2nd string since it is important to establish clarity of the melody as distinct from the G-drone. This should be achieved without brightening the accompaniment by playing the 2nd string with a flatter m nail than should be used for the accompaniment. I recommend building the phrase with a slight accelerando in the first few beats, maintaining a fairly consistent mp rather than a real crescendo which could threaten to overdramatize the phrase.
Measures 2 - 4: Descent to a weak cadence
Starting in m. 2 (beat 4) the melody steps up to an early climax then descends to a weak cadence. A slightly rounder and right-of-center nail on the 1st string will help match the tone from the previous measures. This climax and leading tone resolution into the following measure demand a perfect legato. This will probably require slow practice due to the fingered E in the bass. I would resist the temptation to do much of a decrescendo through to the cadence.
Measures 5 – 8: Conclusion of the A section
In m.5–8 the continuous melody needs to be conscientiously cultivated, as it will not simply come into relief as a result of good fingering. Perhaps begin by playing or singing the repeated C-note melody, then discuss the technique.
In m.5–6, the thirds must be played with i and m held together with perhaps a slight flatness of the m nail again to emphasize the 2nd string melody. The D-pedal should be greatly deemphasized, which may go against the natural tendency toward heaviness in p. Finally, the a finger is important on the 1st string to maintain RH vertical positioning.
From m.6 (beat 4) thru m.7, the top voice and bottom voice should both be strictly legato. This is definitely worth the effort even though the original notation suggests this is more trouble than Carulli intended.
This interpretation provides a direct application of the “spider” type LH finger independence exercises the student may soon encounter.
The LH 2 and 3 separation makes it particularly difficult to connect the F# to the E, but patience will be rewarded with musical consistency. Within this patch of imitative polyphony, the top voice should still maintain emphasis. With this, a charming and unexpected syncopation typical of the Viennese keyboard style emerges.
The surprising chromaticism into the half cadence in m.8 also invites a more considered articulation. Here, I slur from B to C — perhaps the first time the student attempts a 0–1 slur — and staccato the C# by preparing the next RH finger on the 2nd string early. This may be another first for the student using this very common and useful technique of style.
Measures 9 – 12: Start of the B section
Moving on to the B section, the exact repetition of m.9 -10 in m.11-12 begs interpretive contrast. An easy option is an mf to piano dynamic contrast, but a contrast of voicing is more interesting. I play m.9 -10 with a similar hierarchy of voicing as m.1–4. Then in m.11–12, I play with a very conspicuous separation of voices, playing very soft on all except the high F#’s, G’s, and D’s of the melody.
In m.10-12, LH fingers 3 and 4 must alternate to create a perfect legato without over-ringing between the 1st and 2nd strings. This is all challenging for students, especially backing off with p on the 3rd string, but well worth the time and effort.
Measures 13 – 16: Bringing it on home
Equality of voices and a nearly f dynamic are key to a satisfying culmination of the piece. The bass figures more melodically at m.13–15 (beat 2) than in any other part of the piece, and should be presented on equal footing with the soprano. Though the accelerated harmonic rhythm will probably delay memorization for the student, I have no other special instructions here.
At m.15 (beat 3) I add a slur from B to D — also probably the first time the student incorporates a 0-4 slur — as it both prepares the ear for the final cadence with a fresh articulation and mirrors the cadential slur from m.8.
The last measure calls for a total RH position shift — a finger on the 3rd string, m finger on the 4th and so on... This may cause some confusion if it is the first time the student has played a four-finger arpeggio not involving the 1st and 2nd strings.
Finally, while the playing of repeats should probably not affect the interpretation of the A section, it is important not to use rubato the first time through the B section but to use a fair amount connecting m.14 to m.15 the second time through. I discuss the psychological importance of not initially signaling the listener for a conclusion, then on the repeat smoothly landing the ship.
Depending on the student’s experience, Andantino should occupy perhaps 2 or 3 lessons.
Suzuki students who have thoroughly learned the material up to this point (mid-Book 3) should find the piece fairly diverting and undemanding as they have already handled fingered bass lines and even rapid parallel 3rds. Students who encounter it sooner, either through self-study, or through Noad or the Royal Conservatory Series, for example, may work at it a little longer.
Have fun and always take it slow — you wouldn’t want to disappoint Mssr. Carulli!