John McCormick


In this, the 5th incarnation of "Songs with Guitar from The Age of Napoleon", I have made a few changes and have added a considerable number of songs and collection locations to the "catalogue" of composers and libraries. The changes I have made are as follows: I have shortened the commentary section to a considerable degree, sticking mainly to "factual" material and omitting as many of my editorial comments as I could without gritting my teeth.

I have put the library and collection listing (catalogue) that you will find at the very end in better order, namely, alphabetically by library sigla, thus, in effect, grouping them by country. I have also added a biography or two. Finally, I have made some more corrections, and there are numerous additions in my listings. It should be observed that the song composer and collection listings are still far from complete, since such a vast number of songs with guitar were composed during this period. However, as further discoveries are made, they will be added to the lists.


The approximate time-period in which I am interested encompasses the latter part of the 18th century and extends through the beginnings of the 19th century. This era is variously known as The Age of Reason, The Rossini Period, The Age of Napoleon, the beginning of the romantic period, the end of the classical period, the classic-romantic period, and by any one of a countless number of other labels that have been attached to this tumultuous, creative era. Whichever is used depends entirely on the vantage point from which one views this remarkable time.

During this time, profound changes in virtually all aspects of society swept across Europe in an amazingly short time. They affected every aspect of the social, economic, cultural and political environment. Of all the possibilities that present themselves as ways of identifying this period, which in certain contexts does not even span what we would normally regard as one generation, The Age of Napoleon seems to best personify the character of the music that is the subject of this presentation. The social and political structure of the age had a profound influence on musical tastes, and most specifically, on the incredible popularity of the guitar. Furthermore, many of the composers listed below owe much of their success to the active support of either Napoleon himself, or to that of his many relatives who had been strategically placed throughout his far-flung empire. For all of his faults, he and most of his family members were, most certainly, ardent supporters of the arts, especially music.

The fact that the guitar was extremely popular during this period is well documented. During the Age of Napoleon, its popularity was equaled only by the popularity of singing. Singing in its various forms has always been the single most universal form of music making, but during this period, it became especially widespread. Opera and song were the two most important forms of musical entertainment. However, because of The Revolution, and all the events surrounding it, operatic themes (and song) underwent a radical change. Before the revolution, operatic librettos dealt largely with real or imagined historical events that had to do with royalty and pageantry. After the revolution, comic opera came into vogue, often using humor to lampoon those in authority or to make fun of past royalist practices.

Today, we often overlook many of the social mores attached to musical practices of the past, which are now completely different. This is, in part, because we tend to see the eighteenth century through today's eyes, often at our own expense. Take, for example, our use of the terms "popular" and "classical" as applied to styles of music. This terminology is a modern innovation stemming from compositional practices that began to evolve in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when composers began thinking in terms of writing music for the "ages", attempting to express through music grand philosophical thoughts that transcend a specific time or place. This approach was then taken one step further, with "experimental" music, which heralded the first time in history that an attempt was made to write music with a total disregard for its potential audience. It was also the first time in history a composer was not expected to make a living through composing.

In the late 18th century, there was no distinction between "serious" and "popular" music. The closest approximation of this concept could only be drawn from the time of royalty, when serious musicians were dependent on the whims and tastes of their royal employers. They were called upon to write and perform elegant music for elegant tastes. Demand for their music was most often associated with a specific event - a wedding, a coronation, a banquet or for the entertainment of a visiting dignitary. None of these touched the average person of the day unless it was part of a specifically staged public event. The only other avenue for the composer was through the church. Indeed, this was a rich period in the volume of music produced for the church that extended well through the Napoleonic era. Through one of the many vagaries of history, not much of the liturgical music written during the Age of Napoleon is heard today. While most of it may not now be seen to have been on a par with many of the great masterpieces from previous eras, it, along with secular vocal music, began to reflect the changing tastes of the times, taking on a rich simplicity that marked a new-found preoccupation with closely wedding the text and the melodic line.

For the practicing musician, the most telling and personal effect of the French Revolution was the sudden and complete loss of his livelihood. Musicians had worked for royalty. Now, aside from Napoleon and his family, there was no more "royalty". For better or for worse, the Revolution heralded the dawn of "free enterprise". Therefore, in order for them to make a living, musicians of all kinds, as well as publishers, instrument makers, and impresarios, were all faced with the need to find new markets for their wares. Under the circumstances, this involved going directly to the average "man on the street".

Today, those of us who are given to think about such things sometimes marvel at the volume of works commonly turned out by a single composer during this time and previous eras. Haydn, Schubert, Mozart and Rossini are names that immediately come to mind. The days when a composer such as Johannes Brahms could afford to take twenty years or so to think about one symphony were yet to come. In the Age of Napoleon, the free market was more like a free-for-all for everyone involved in music. There were no copyright laws, for example. Anyone could publish anything that might sell, whether it was already being published by someone else or not. Under such circumstances, composers had no control over the fate of their music, once it was sold to a publisher, even to the extent of merely correcting typographical errors. Nor could they benefit from arrangements of their music done by a person hired by the publisher, a very common practice with music for which there was a demand. In addition, there were no restrictions on publishers "stealing" from other publishers. There are countless instances in which a given work of a composer appeared in numerous editions put out by dozens of publishers in as many countries. They each, in turn, issued arrangements of popular works for what now seems like rather bizarre combinations of voices and instruments. This was especially true of operatic arias, since opera, especially comic opera containing a generous dose of political satire, was the most popular music of the day.. If a particular opera succeeded in becoming well known, arias were extracted for publication in whatever form would sell to the public. In all of this, the composer had no say and reaped no benefits.

Under the circumstances, composers were always heavily involved in self-promotion. This generally took the form of performing their own music in concerts. Unlike concert programs of today, in which the performer presents works by a variety of composers from different periods, the performer was most often the composer, and the program was made up entirely of his or her own compositions. Very rarely did a performer present works by other composers. There were also occasions, especially in Vienna, when concerts were sponsored by wealthy patrons that involved the participation of several performers, all of whom presented samples of their works.

Over a long period, almost since the beginnings of opera, staged performances involving singing were often no more than showcases for singers who were capable of displaying the greatest range and flexibility in their voices. By the 18th century, their careers had come to depend almost entirely on their ability to dazzle their audiences. Their vocal displays normally included improvisation of lavish melodic ornamentation, often so extreme that it rendered the work of the composer nearly unrecognizable. One manifestation of this trend was the phenomenon of the castrato, a voice type that began in the church and migrated into opera. This was a voice with incomparable power, range and agility, ideally suited for the times.

Beginning in the second half of the 18th century, however, this all began to change. Audiences, performers and composers alike began to view such practices as straying far afield from the intrinsic spirit of music, and in particular, of singing. The pendulum began to swing completely toward simplicity, expressivity, and respect for the wishes of the composer. In both opera and song, the emphasis became that of placing great importance on communication of the text, on a beautiful, flowing legato line, and on musical simplicity.

This trend toward simplicity and directness in Italian song without further development may have been its undoing with respect to its historic perpetuation as a great art form. Elsewhere, the same theme of expressivity began to take the form of innovation; largely centered on exploiting the perceived capabilities of the piano The major innovation was to establish the "accompanying" instrument and the voice as equal partners, and to compositionally place melody, text, harmony and rhythm on an equal footing. This was a purposeful break from the time-honored tradition associated with solo song, in which every other musical element was subservient to the vocal line.

Girolamo Crescentini, one of the composers of songs with guitar listed below, was among those who contributed substantially to this change in thinking. One of the most famous of the Castrati, and virtually the only one to remain active during this time, he became disenchanted with the prevailing trends and retired as a singer. He established himself instead as a teacher of singing and wrote several treatises on the aesthetics of the voice. He also wrote numerous songs and vocalizes to illustrate his point, a substantial number of which are accompanied by the guitar.

Although there were undoubtedly other poets who were also popular, the majority of Italian songs at this time, whether they were written with guitar or other instruments, used as their texts the poetry of Pietro Metastasio. According to the Oxford Companion to Music, Metastasio was "born in Rome in 1698 and died in Vienna in 1782, aged eighty-four. He was a grocer's son who, being heard at the age of eleven publicly improvising verses in the street, was adopted and educated by a wealthy man of learning, Gravina, who later left him a fortune. He now climbed rapidly, devoting himself particularly to the provision of texts for music, and becoming the most celebrated librettist in Europe--almost The Librettist, for his dramas were accepted as the perfection of their kind, some of them being set by twenty or thirty different composers, so that their every word was known in advance by the audiences of the day, as regular church-goers know their book of prayers. Gluck, Handel, Haydn and Mozart were amongst his clients. Hasse set all his librettos once and some twice. His poetic works, other than those for music, were translated into many languages. For over half a century he lived in Vienna as court poet."

As was the case with his libretti before, some of his many verses that songwriters used quickly became favorites. One such was Ecco quel fiero istante. It was set to music not only by Metastasio himself, but also by no less a composer than Mozart. Others included Zingarelli, Johann Gottlieb Naumann and Pellegrini. Among the composers of guitar accompanied song who used this verse were Carulli, Crescentini, Brambilli and Melia, to name a few. It was also used by numerous anonymous writers of songs with guitar, piano, and orchestra. It was set for duets, vocal trios and choruses. This verse was only one of many that enjoyed such repeated use. In fact, among the many songs with guitar in the Italian language I have encountered, whether the composer in Italian or another nationality, it is somewhat rare that one of them has verses by a poet other than Mestastasio.

Such evolutionary processes also made it easy for future historians to place comparative value judgments on differing styles of song writing, at the expense of those, which did not follow their particular way of thinking. It has been my experience over the years that most of the literature I have read having to do with music history and biographical information on composers contains the common flaw of having subjective opinion presented under the guise of factual information. This tendency seems to be especially true of general reference material. Naturally, the tendency is far less prevalent in works devoted to the in-depth study of a given composer. On the other hand, perhaps such subjective evaluations are seen as being more acceptable in such a context. In any event, it usually takes the form of a gratuitous opinion concerning the quality of a particular composer's work, or the aesthetic characteristic of a specific composition. In light of the highly personal nature of musical taste, this practice is, at best, flawed, and for the most part, highly misleading. In my view, one of the results of this practice has been to minimize the artless simplicity of Italian song writing during the late 18th century, dismissing it as being, for the most part, mundane. This seems to be especially true of songs written with guitar, since they have all been ignored in standard music history texts.

Songs with guitar from this period present numerous opportunities in the realm of subtle artistic expression. This is intimate music; designed for intimate settings. The lessons of this body of music were to influence songwriters and singers for many generations. Correctly or incorrectly, I have long felt that if it were not for this music, and the trends it set in terms of expressivity, vocal technique, and the wedding of the text to the melodic line, similar vocal writing, notably the somewhat later German Lied with piano, might very well have taken a different turn.

The biographical material, when provided, came from the following sources - P. J. Bone - The Guitar and Mandolin; The New Groves; The New Groves Opera; Massimo Agostinelli; The Oxford Companion to Music; Thomas F. Heck, Mauro Giuliani, Virtuoso Guitarist and Composer; Grout, A History of Western Music; Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera; Stevens, A History of Song; Frederick V. Grunfeld, The Art and Times of the Guitar.


Vicenzo Righini was born five days before Mozart. He was originally a singer in his native Bologna, but during his lifetime, became a famous and important composer. In addition to writing roughly 200 songs to both Italian and German texts, he wrote operas, as well as sacred music and instrumental scores. He established himself as a singing teacher in Vienna in 1780, and later, in 1787, became the first Italian-born Kapellmeister in the royal court of Mainz. He was then appointed Kapellmeister and director of the Italian Opera in Berlin, working with Johann Friedrich Reichardt.



[1] [A Kk] Kärntner Landeskonservatorium, Bibliothek, Miesstelerstr. 8, Klagefurt 9020

[2] [B Br] Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1. Er, Blvd de l'Empereur 4, Bruxelles 1000 (Brussels)

[3] [CH AR] Napoleonmuseum, Arenenberg 8268

[4] [CH Gc] Conservatoire de Musique, Bibliothèque, Plave Neuve, Genève 1204

[5] [CZ BER] Okresni archiv, Seydlovo nám. 24, Beroun 266 01 (Czech Republic)

[6] [D B] Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Potsdamer Str. 33, Unter den Linden 8, Berlin 10772 10117

[7] [D BAUm] Stadtmuseum, Kormarkt 1, Bautzen 02625

[8] [D BFb] Fürst zu Bentheimsche Musikaliensammlung Burgsteinfurt, Burgstein

[9] [D DO] Pfarrbibliothek Sankt Nikolai, Kleine Kirchgasse 1 Döbeln 04720

[10] [D DO] Fürstlich Fürstenbergische Hofbibliothek, Haldenstrasse 5, Donaueschingen 78166

[11] [D EU] Eutiner Landesbibliothek, Schlossplatz 4, Eutin 23701

[12] [D HER] Brüder-Unität, Archiv, Zitauer Strasse 24, Herrhut 02747

[13] [D HR] Fürstlich Öttingen-Wallerstein'sche Bibliothek, Schloss Harburg 86655 (Schwaben)

[14] [D Hs] Staats-und Universitätsbibliothek Carl von Ossietsky, Musikablteilung, Von-Melle-Park 3, Hamburg 20146 (Tel. 49-40-4123-2256 und -5812 [Musikabteilung], Fax. 49-40-4123-3352)

[15] [D HVs] Stadtbibliothek, Musicabteilung, Hildesheimer Strasse 12, Hannover 30169 (Tel. 49-511-168-2166, Fax. 49-511-168-6410)

[16] [D KII] Schleswig-Holsteinische Landsbibliothek, Schloss, Schlossgarten, Oslokai, Kiel 24103 (Tel. 49-431-9067-160 [Zentrale], 49-431-9067-172 [Auskunft], Fax. 49-431-9067-167)

[17] [D MÜs] Santini-Bibliothek, Münster (Westfalen)

[18] [D Rtt] Fürst Thurn und Taxix Hofbibliothek, Schloss, Emmeramsplatz 5, Regensburg 93047

[19] [D SÜN] Schloss, Krankenhaus-Strasse 1, Sünching 93104

[20] [D WEY] Pfarrkirche. Bibliothek, Weyarn

[21] [DK Kc] Carl Claudius musikhistoriske Samling, Abenra 32-34, Carit Etlarsvej 3, Kobenhavn 1124 1814

[22] [FIN A] Sibeliusmuseum Musikvetenskapliga Institutionen vid Abo Academi, Biblioteek & Arkiv, Biskopsgatan 17, Abo 2 (=Turku)

[23] [H KE] Helikon Kastélymúzeum Könyvtára, Szabadság u. 1, Keszthely 8360 (Hungary)

[24] [HR Dsmb] Samstan Male Brace, Placa 2, Dubrovnik 50000

[25] [HR Osm] Muzej Slavonije (zbirke Prandau), Partizanski trg 6, Osijek 54000

[26] [HR Zha] Zbirka Don Nicole Udina Algarotti, Gunduliceva 6, Zagreb 41000

[27] [H SFm] István Király Múzeum, Gagarin tér 3, P.O.B. 12, Székesfehérvár

[28] [I BGc] Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, Piazza Vecchia 15, Bergamo 24129 (Italy)

[29] [I BO] Civico museo bibliografico musicale - Bologna, Italy

[30] [I FI} Biblioteca del Conservatorio di musica Luigi Cherubini - Firenza, Italy

[31] [I Le pastore] Lecce (Italy) Biblioteca Privata Giuseppe Pastore

[32] [I MI] Conservatorio di Musica Giuseppe Verdi, Biblioteca, Via Conservatorio 12, Milano 20122 (Italy)

[33] [I MN] Biblioteca musicale Opera Pia Greggiati - Ostiglia, Italy

[34] [I MO] Biblioteca dell'Istituto musicale pareggiato Orazio Vecchi, Modena

[35] [I NA] Conservatorio di Musica S. Pietro a Majella, Biblioteca, Via San Pietro a Maiella 35, Napoli

[36] [I Pesp] Basilica Benedettina di San Pietro, Achivio e Museo della Badia, Borgo XX Giugno 74, Perugia 06100 (Italy)

[37] [I PR] Biblioteca Palatina. Sezione Musicale - Parma, Italy

[38] [I Rc] Biblioteca Casanatensa, Via di S. Ignazio 52, Roma 00186 (Italy)

[39] [I RM] Biblioteca musicale governativa del conservatorio di musica S. Cecilia, Roma

[40] [I Tf] Academia Filarmonica, Achivio, Piazza San Carlo 183, Torino 10123 (Italy)

[41] [I VE] Biblioteca del conservatorio statale di musica Benedetto Marcello - Venezia

[42] [I Vlevi] Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi, Biblioteca, San Marco 2893, Venezia 30124

[43] [S Skma] Statens Muskbibliotek, Torsgaten 21, Box 16326, Stockholm 103 26

[44] [S Smf] Stiftelsen musikkulturens främjande, Stockholm, Sweden

[45] [US AUS] University of Texas at Austin, Music Library, Austin TX 78712 (Tel. 1-512-495-4475)

[46] [US Bem] University of California, Music Library, 240 Morrison Hall, Berkley CA (Tel., 1-510-642-2623, Fax., 1-510-642-8237)

[47] [US Bu] Boston University, Mugar Memorial Library, Department of Special Collections, Boston, Mass. (Tel. 1-617-353-3705)

[48] [US NYp] New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Music Division, 111 Amsterdam Ave., New York NY 10023 (Tel. 1-212-870-1650 - Fax. 1-212-787-3852)

[49] [US Wc] Library of Congress, Music Division, Washington DC 20540 (Tel. 1-202-287-5504, 1-202-287-5505, 1-202-287-5506)

[50] [US SFsc] San Francisco State University, Col. Frank V. de Bellis Collection, 1630 Holloway Ave., San Francisco CA 94132

[51] [US R] Sibley Music Library, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, Rocester NY

[52] Kenneth Sparr Collection, Nynäshamn, Sweden

[53] Matanya Ophee Collection

Copyright © 2003 by John R. McCormick. All Rights Reserved.


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