Mauro Giuliani

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Mauro Giuliani

Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829) was the most important guitarist and composer of guitar music of his time. Perhaps more than any other musician, he is responsible for the acceptance of the guitar as a solo instrument. Before Giuliani came along, the guitar was considered only appropriate for accompanying a vocalist or a soloist on another instrument, such as violin. Over the course of his composing career, Giuliani wrote more than 200 pieces for guitar. He also invented a notation system for guitar that is still used today. So influential was Giuliani in subsequent generations of guitar enthusiasts that one of the earliest journals devoted to guitar music was named after him.

According to most sources, Giuliani was born on July 27, 1781, in the Italian province of Bari, probably in the town of Barletta. His father was Michele Giuliani. Music historians have not yet figured out who his mother was. Giuliani biographer Thomas Heck suggests that Michele Giuliani probably sent two sons, Mauro and Nicholas, to Bologna at early ages to study counterpoint and other musical topics, since Bari offered few opportunities for music education. Nicholas, somewhat fitting given his name, eventually moved to Russia, where he spent most of his life as a composer and vocal instructor. Somewhere along the line, Mauro got married, and his son Michele was born in Barletta in 1801.

Joined Northward Exodus of Guitarists

Mauro Giuliani studied cello for a while early on, but quickly settled on the six–string guitar as his instrument of choice. Italy at that time had little interest in music other than opera, so like many Italian guitarists of his time, Giuliani was eager to depart for other countries to the north. There were several reasons for this northward exodus of Italian guitar slingers interested in using their instrument more ambitiously than was required to do background plinking for singers. For one thing their craft was better appreciated elsewhere. And because there was so little work for guitarists, the competition for the limited supply of gigs was fierce. Moreover, Italy was at that time reeling socially and economically from the effects of Napoleon's invasion, making the patronage of the wealthy classes harder to come by. There was additional pressure to leave for those interested in seeing their compositions published, since Italy lacked competent publishing houses.

Giuliani settled in Vienna in 1806, and made an instant impression on sophisticated Viennese audiences. In Vienna, Giuliani hung out with an arty crowd, bouncing from one residence to another, and was something of a Casanova. Unfortunately, his mobility and apparent desire to avoid contact with officials and bureaucracies has made it difficult for historians to adequately cover this period of his life. One thing that is known for certain is that in 1807 he fathered an illegitimate daughter, Maria Willmuth. Other facts about Giuliani's stay in Vienna come from reviews of his performances, many of which have survived. By 1808 he had established himself as Vienna's unrivaled master of the guitar, though even in Vienna some critics refused to accept the six–string guitar as a showcase instrument, even while simultaneously lavishing praise on Giuliani's virtuosity. He also published several original compositions during this period and his success as a socialite was reflected in the dedications of these works to such luminaries as Princess Caroline de Kinsky and Countess Josephine Morzkowska. He kept company with, and was regarded on a part with, such giants of the Vienna music scene as Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Hummel.

In April of 1808 Giuliani gave the premier performance of his first guitar concerto with full orchestral accompaniment, op. 30, and received rave reviews for his skills as both a composer and instrumentalist. A guitar movement, sometimes even referred to as a "cult" was emerging in Vienna, and Giuliani, on the strength of such performances, was clearly its guru. His compositions for guitar used a new and inventive notation system that used the direction of note stems and rests to distinguish between the different parts of the music, such as melody, internal harmonies, and bass.

Appointed to Court of Empress

Culture in Vienna was slowed substantially by the siege and subsequent occupation of the city by Napoleon's forces in 1809, but Giuliani continued to compose and publish prolifically. He moved back to Italy temporarily in about 1811 to be with his wife, whose identity remains unknown to scholars, as does the date of their marriage. The couple both returned to Vienna the following year, and in 1813 their daughter Emilia was born. In December of that year, Giuliani gave a rare performance on cello, playing in the premiere of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

In about 1814 Giuliani was appointed to be a court musician by Empress Marie Louise, Napoleon's second wife. In addition to his work as a performer and composer, Giuliani by this time had succeeded in training a generation of guitarists, reinforcing Vienna's reputation as a key center of guitar culture. In 1817 Giuliani became a member of what biographer Heck called a "frivolous secret society," which included not only many of Vienna's prominent musicians and artists, but also scholars and businessmen. Membership in the group, known as Ludlams–Gesellschaft, seemed to require only a freewheeling, devil–may–care attitude.

In spite of his ongoing success, Giuliani somehow—music historians are still at a loss as to precisely how it happened—found himself deeply in debt. His financial struggles led him to leave Vienna in 1819, never to return. After visiting his aging parents in Trieste, Giuliani turned up in Rome in 1820. Originally he intended to stay in Rome only temporarily, but he ended up remaining there for about three years. There is not much of a record of Giuliani's activities during this period, though it is known that he enrolled his daughter Emilia in the private Roman convent school for girls in 1821. During his stay in Rome, he continued to compose and arrange music for guitar, including arrangements of the works of Giachino Rossini, with whom he probably had contact in Rome during this period.

Spent Final Years in Naples

In the fall of 1823, Giuliani moved to Naples. On reason for the move was probably the presence of more wealthy patrons and nobility to support musicians. Another may have been his health. There is some evidence that Giuliani had taken ill around this time, and his southward move to Naples may have been related to a desire to resettle in a place with a more favorable climate. Whatever the combination of reasons for his move to Naples, Giuliani found upon his arrival no serious competition among local guitarists. There were no others there remotely approaching his caliber. For a good portion of 1824, Giuliani's patroness, Marie–Louise, made a prolonged visit to Naples, and it is likely that the guitarist was kept as part of her entourage during her stay. During his time in Naples, Giuliani was also patronized by the nobility at the court of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which encompassed both the island of Sicily itself and much of southern Italy, including Naples.

In this late stage of his career, Giuliani became renowned for his performances on the lyre guitar—a variation on the ancient lyre, but with six strings and a fingerboard similar to that of a guitar—which was enjoying a revival in parts of Europe at the time. Giuliani passed his talent along to both Michele and Emilia. An 1828 concert Giuliani gave together with the 12–year–old Emilia met with excellent reviews from the Naples press. Heck quotes a review that gushed, "The guitar pieces executed by him and by one of his daughters named Emilia, aged 12, pleased so much, that he and this young lady, for whom we have great hopes, were repeatedly applauded, and ultimately 'chiamati fuori' [called forth, given a curtain call] by the public." Emilia did go on to forge a brilliant career of her own as a guitar virtuoso, and she composed a set of preludes for guitar that remains well known today. Michele became a prominent professeur de chant, or singing instructor, at the esteemed Paris Conservatory.

Giuliani's health probably began to deteriorate shortly after this collaborative performance. When Emilia gave a concert in Naples later that year, he did not join her on stage for even a token duet, but was apparently not in attendance at all. He died n May 8, 1829. The Giornale delle Due Sicilie (Journal of the Two Sicilies) announcement of his death included these words: "The guitar was transformed in his hands into an instrument similar to the harp, sweetly soothing men's hearts. He is succeeded by a daughter of tender age, who shows herself to be the inheritor of his uncommon ability—a circumstance which along can assuage the sadness of this loss." Even in the hyperbolic language of obituaries, this would seem to be a modest assessment indeed of Giuliani's importance in the evolution of guitar performance and composition.

Perhaps a better acknowledgement of his contribution is contained in events that took place after his death. Over the next few years, the guitar craze had swept through many of Europe's cultural capitals, including Paris and London. In 1833 a group of Giuliani's former colleagues and students from Vienna launched The Giulianiad, a guitarist's magazine that was the precursor to such modern publications as Guitar Player. While other magazines for guitarists already existed prior to the appearance of The Giulianiad, those publications were strictly music, with no text. The Giulianiad also included articles. The text included testimonials about the greatness of Giuliani; in fact, the debut issue of the magazine contained an entire eulogy, which was reprinted in 1955 in the Guitar Review, number 18. It read in part:

"In his hands, the guitar became gifted with a power of expression at once pure, thrilling, and exquisite. . . . In a word, he made the instrument sing. It may be easily supposed that with this singular faculty of giving expression to melody, Giuliani gave to the guitar a character which, it was thought before, was totally alien to its nature. . . . About twelve months ago, Giuliani paid the debt of nature. In him the little world of guitar players has lost their idol; but the compositions he has left behind will, we have no doubt, pay every homage of respect and admiration."

The authors of this eulogy may have gotten their timing wrong; Giuliani had actually died nearly four years earlier. But their sentiment was warranted. Giuliani's role in the history of the guitar cannot be exaggerated.


Burrows, Terry, editor, Complete Encyclopedia of the Guitar, Schirmer, 1998.

Heck, Thomas, The Birth of the Classic Guitar and Its Cultivation in Vienna, Reflected in the Career and Compositions of Mauro Giuliani, Yale University Ph.D. dissertation, 1970.

Sadie, Stanley, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., vol. 9.


Jeffery, Brian, "Mauro Giuliani," Tecla Editions ( (December 27, 2004).

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Giuliani, Mauro (b Bisceglie, 1781; d Naples, 1829). It. guitar virtuoso and cellist. Lived in Vienna 1806–19, during which time he knew Beethoven (and played in vc. section at f.p. of 7th Sym., 1813). Toured Russ. and Eng. before settling in Naples. Comp. over 200 works for gui.