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Profiles in Classical Guitar: Matteo Carcassi

Matteo Carcassi was a 19th Century performer and composer for the classical guitar. His haunting and romantic music still remains with us today and is part of any guitarist’s repertoire.

Carcassi was born in Florence, Italy in 1792 and he began his musical career with the piano but at an early age he switched to the guitar; and for much of his life he was a performer of the guitar and an instructor for both the guitar and the piano.

Early in his career he moved to Paris but spent much of his time in the shadow of the older and more famous Ferdinando Carulli who was heralded as the number one performer for the instrument. Over the course of the next two decades Carcassi spent much time traveling various European countries including Italy, England, and Germany. During this time he refined his skills and techniques and when he returned to Paris he took his place as an equal to the aging Carulli.

It is quite possible that he would have been just a footnote in classical music history if it wasn’t for his meeting with a publisher in Germany who published many of his compositions – two of which are in every guitarist’s repertoire.  His Opus 59 is called a Method for Guitar and it is a standard for learning how to play the instrument that is still used by students today. This work is followed by his Opus 60 Twenty-five Melodic and Progressive Studies which, while beautiful in sound and composition, is also a brilliant series of etudes that progress in technical challenge.  And while it is a technical exercise book many of the exercises are valuable stand alone compositions performed to this day.

His body of work consists of 74 compositions with Opus’ 59 and 60 being the most famous. But he had also achieved great fame with popular arrangements of famous arias and overtures such as his William Tell Overture (opus 36).

Around 1840 He retired from public performances and focused on teaching and on publishing his written works.  He died in Paris in 1853 and left behind a legacy of beautiful and romantic music.  Almost every professional classical guitarist has used both is method and his progressive studies books and every major performer has performed and produced works written by him.  These works are readily available today on CD.


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Listen to a Carcassi work or download some of his sheet music for free:Matteo Carcassi

For more interesting insights and information about the classical guitar or to hear pieces played by the author visit his website at: The Classical Guitarist

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