Classical guitarists owe a debt of gratitude to this Italian-turned-Parisian guitar master. Ferdinando Carulli, born to an affluent, upper-class family, began his musical training under the tutelage of a priest; who was little more than a musical dilettante himself. Carulli first learned music on the cello. It was not until he was about 20 years of age that he took up the guitar, which at that time, more resembled a lute and might have five or six pairs of strings. From that time forward, Carulli devoted his life to developing the guitar as a classical instrument and to popularizing guitar music. Guitarists were few in Naples in Carulli's time; he, therefore, had to study on his own and consequently, he developed his own unique style as a composer and a guitarist. A significant part of his legacy was born from that experience and published as Method, Op. 27. This collection of guitar pieces was composed for novice guitarists and, as such, became very popular. Today, these pieces are still used for guitar instruction.
Carulli's early career focused on performing. His popularity in his native Naples soon led to performances across Europe, where he gained equal prominence. His composing did not begin in earnest until the early nineteenth century. Some of his earliest published works were from Milan around 1807. After Milan, he apparently spent some time in Venice, as evidenced by published manuscripts from there in the 1807-1808 time period. By April 1808, however, Carulli had taken up residence in Paris. He enjoyed considerable success composing, performing, and teaching guitar. Over his lifetime, Carulli composed at least 400 pieces for the guitar, making him one of the most prolific composers of the century. One of his more popular pieces was Trio, Op. 12, for guitar, violin, and flute. Other pieces that exemplify his artistry include several serenades for guitar and violin and for flute and guitar. He wrote for guitar and piano, guitar and voice, guitar solo, and with his Concerto, Op. 8, guitar and orchestra.
Being a pioneer in his field, Carulli often had difficulty in getting some of his work published. Publishers were interested in works that were more simplistic, not willing to risk publishing works believed to be too difficult to perform for the average performer. Consequently, it is believed that many of what would have been Carulli's masterpieces were lost. This, no doubt, also played a role in Carulli's decision to self-publish. In addition to publishing some of his own works, he published the works of other guitarists as well.
Carulli was one of the few guitarists in Paris and the first to popularize classical guitar. He was so successful many burgeoning guitarists came to Paris to study under him. In addition to this influx of foreign students, many of whom were from Italy like himself, Carulli counted nobility and upper class Parisians as his students. His popularity was only surpassed when Fernando Sor arrived in Paris in 1823.
Carulli's interest in the guitar extended beyond composing, teaching, and performing to include guitar design and construction. He worked closely with the French guitar maker René Lacote to help evolve the guitar into the instrument it is today.
Ferdinando Carulli married Marie-Josephine Boyer from France in 1801. They had a son, Gustavo, with whom Ferdinando composed several pieces for guitar and piano.