Matteo Carcassi (c. 1792-1853)

A more detailed biography

There isn't yet, as far as I know, a full biography of Carcassi based on primary evidence. A really good beginning was made by Mauro Mariottini in Il Fronimo of October 1999, in which he examined several primary sources as well as all the 19th and 20th century books and articles which gave details of his life. Much of the detail below comes from Mr. Mariottini's work. But it would be very good to have more primary evidence, in order to fill in the gaps.

Carcassi was born in either 1792 or 1793, it is still not certain which. Mr. Mariottini's research in the archives in Florence shows that it may well have been in that city in 1793, but it is still not wholly certain. It seems that he fought with the French in the Napoleonic Wars, for his obituary in the Journal des Débats of 20 January 1853 said "[il] avait fait de la France, qu'il avait servie comme soldat, sa patrie adoptive et de prédilection." ("He had made of France, which he had served as a soldier, his adopted and favourite country"). He then settled in Paris, and that seems to have been by 1816 at the latest because his name, as resident in Paris, figures in a list of subscribers to Molino's Nouvelle Méthode pour la Guitare in its French edition which was published in the period 1814 to 1816. In 1820 Gardeton's Annales of that year listed him as resident at 8 rue Grange-Batelière, which is still there, now rue de la Grange Batelière, just a few minutes walk from the centre, off the present rue du Faubourg Montmartre. One wonders whether, if he had fought for France, he was in receipt of a military pension, and perhaps research in the French military archives might give some details.

At the same time he began publishing. The earliest known date for this is 1820, in which year again in Gardeton's Annales there is a mention of Six Walses by him, which is likely to be his op. 4. He published several (perhaps all) of his earliest works himself, including op. 4 of which a copy of an edition published by him is in the British Library. By 1822 he was publishing with Meissonnier, for a Meissonnier edition of his Trois rondo op. 2 can be dated 1822 or shortly before by the publisher's address (for the dating of Meissonnier editions, see my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist, second edition, pages 64-66).

Accompanying Mr. Mariottini's article in Il Fronimo of October 1999 is a bibliography of his works compiled by Mario Dell'Ara, to which I have been able to add many details. The works with opus number go up to op. 77. His Méthode complète pour la Guitare, op. 59, first published in Paris in 1836, became very famous. He also wrote guitar accompaniments to many French songs of the period, probably hundreds of them (for I have seen several which are not in Mr. Dell'Ara's list), in which the accompaniment is frankly usually not very distinguished, and one wonders whether making those guitar accompaniments for publishers was perhaps principally a source of income for him.

He gave many concerts, probably at least twice in London including a concert at the Argyle Rooms for which Domingo Prat (Diccionario de Guitarristas, 1934) gives the date of 30 June 1828 (but without saying where he got the date from), at least one tour of Germany perhaps in 1824, and Prat says that he toured Italy in 1836. He died in Paris on 16 January 1853.

At its best his music shows a good gift for melody and is well constructed. My own favourites are the Six Caprices op. 26 and the 25 Etudes for Guitar, op. 60 (both available in Tecla). 

Brian Jeffery

Mauro Mariottini, "Matteo Carcassi (1793?-1853): un aggiornamento bio-bibliografico", Il Fronimo, October 1999.

Mario Dell'Ara, "Catalogo delle opere di Matteo Carcassi", Il Fronimo, October 1999.

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