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The Carnival of Venice -
Fantasy and Variations by M. A. Zani de Ferranti

Here we have the Carnival of Venice (Fantaisie Variee sur la Carneval de Venise, Op. 5) by Marco Aurelio Zani de Ferranti presented in tablature. The complete work consists of an Introduction, Theme, five Variations, and a Finale. The justification for the use of tablature is that Zani de Ferranti wrote the work for a guitar tuned to an E major chord.

In June 2016 I added this graphic tablature version which should render the ASCII tablature version more or less obsolete.

Carnival of Venice (pdf file with nice graphic tablature)

Consider tuning your guitar to E-flat major rather than E major. The E-flat tuning (low to high: Eb Bb Eb G Bb Eb) is a total of just 1 half-step lower than the standard tuning, while the E major chord cranks the total tuning up 5 half-steps. See my page on alternate tunings for more discussion.

I leave all of the original ASCII tablature and comments pertaining to it here just because, well, I was quite proud of it, and who knows who might find something useful in it. But I've pushed it down the page.

Here are some links internal to this page:

My source for Ferranti's Carnival of Venice

I worked from an edition of the piece included in an anthology called Classical Guitar Music of the 19th Century, published by Charles Hansen, 1968. I refer to this as "the original" in my comments which accompany the tablature. It looks to me like this edition of the Carnival of Venice is a facsimile reproduction of a 19th century edition, with a few of the musical instructions translated into English and rewritten in a modern type-face.

They could have saved themselves the trouble, as far as I'm concerned. For instance, the modern translation without quint is quite a head-scratcher until you experiment with the passages and figure out it means "without the 1st string." Then they saw the right hand instruction pouce et index and a word was born: pandi! I had no idea what that meant until reading C.F.E. Fiset's discussion of the passage in a letter to a guitar friend. (See below.)

On the other hand, they left the instruction Cordes filees intact. My French dictionary yielded a batch of red herrings in the "fil-" area: "drawn out", "sustained", "slender thread", "string", "to spin". The last is the prize. Cordes filees means the spun - or more accurately wound - strings. So, those passages are confined to the bass strings. Seems so obvious in retrospect . . .

From the foregoing, you see that Zani de Ferranti gave some fingering information in the form of what strings to use, or not to use. Besides that, there are no actual fingerings or position indications or string numbers. Still, given the texture of the music in a passage, and the slurs and glissandos, it is almost always obvious where Zani de Ferranti intended the note to be played.

Of course, what's "obvious" to me isn't necessarily right. The point is, be aware that the translation to tablature was performed without the benefit of explicit fingerings in the music, and you may be absolutely correct in moving a note to a different string. Let me know if you find a spot where I missed Zani de Ferranti's intent.

A small problem for me was the interpretation of some of the glissandos. Most of the time a glissando connects two nearby notes on the same string - no problem there. But in some cases, the connected notes are definitely not on the same string. In some cases, it isn't even clear from the placement of the dash which note of a chord is supposed to be the starting note. I believe some of these glissandos simply start "out of the blue" on the string which has the note you are sliding to. Better informed explanations of these glissandos are very welcome.

A turn of the century view of Zani de Ferranti

You might enjoy some of these extracts mentioning Zani de Ferranti in the letters of C.F.E. Fiset to an amateur guitarist. The correspondence took place from 1898 to 1912. The complete letters were compiled and annotated by Ronald C. Purcell and printed in Soundboard magazine (Winter 1989-90 to Summer 1991). They are fascinating.

June, 1898: The literature concerning the guitar and its players is very meager. I know of no book either in French or English published on the subject and am afraid there are none. The great players of this early century made Paris their headquarters but I can find no book in French on them. Berlioz mentions Ferranti in his memoirs and wrote concerning him in various newspapers of the period. I have read in various other newspapers accounts of these early guitarists but these accounts are not satisfactory or entirely trustworthy.

I have never seen a Concerto by Ferranti or Sor - if any are published kindly let me know. [...]

Ferranti's Carnival of Venice would be easier if you tuned your guitar to the key of E Major. This is the only way it can be played. [Purcell points out that many editions did not mention the altered tuning. The edition I have doesn't - and I also had the exasperating experience of trying to struggle through it in regular tuning. Not that it isn't a struggle in the proper tuning . . . ] His Nocturne Op. 9 is very fine. Also Op 10, Op 2 Rondo of the Fairies, Op 7 and Op 8 (The Last Rose of Summer - 2nd number) Is there more than ten of Ferranti's published? That is all I can get.

July 1898: Of Ferranti one can not say too much. His arr. are in my humble opinion the highest in rank in regard to fitness to the guitar. The closer you examine his works the better they sound. Did you ever see his "Three English Airs"? The Last Rose of Summer though very short is very beautiful and shows what can be done in that direction. The Alice Grey is also exquisite. In his 6 nocturnes - the March Nocturne No. 3 is the best March I have ever run across. The 4th is very easy but very pretty. The 5th is fine. The 6th in the Mazurka style is typically guitaristic (If I can use the word). The Rondo of the Fairies (Rondo des Fees, op.2) has as a prologue an aria on the bass strings which when well played reminds one of the cello. The rondo itself is an excellent bit of writing. His works are, of all writers, the most suited technically to the guitar and when learned, I think, the most grateful.

August 16 1898: De Janon told me he [Luis Romero] had a fine technique but his fingering was faulty and his tone was small, but very sweet. Also that Romero played but some six or eight pieces. I played for a musician in N.Y. who knew Romero very well and this man told me to use his language "that (Fiset) I could play all around Romero -" so I hardly believe that Romero could play as well as Ferranti - De Janon to the contrary. [...]

I was surprised to hear that you could make nothing of the Rondo by Ferranti. The after introduction is taken almost entirely on the bass strings and the effect is very much like a cello. Get Kitchener to play it for you as if he is a virtuoso he can read that at sight. [I think it would be very entertaining to stick this piece in front of a virtuoso guitarist on a concert stage! Track down Rondo des Fees on the REX site. DS]

August 29 1898: The trouble with many guitarists is that they stay in a narrow path and are content to live and die in that same path. To illustrate I met a guitarist in Minneapolis who asked me to play for him. I did so, when he remarked that I got my runs and scale passages with great rapidity. I explained my system of right hand fingering to him [Fiset used p, m, i for scales] - wherefore he said - "Well, you get those runs as fast as any pianist, but those old guitarists studied technique pretty thoroughly and I don't care to change." i.e. from their system of 1st-finger-2nd-finger alternation and thumb and 1st finger alternation.

He could not play scales fast and yet he hated to budge. In regard to Ferranti & Giuliani & Legnani I have no doubt that they played runs rapidly but it was at the expense of an immense amount of hard work. Also if you examine their works you will find that in long runs they use the slur to a great extent - but a clear staccato run is much more brilliant (except in special cases) and also where slurs are used it is almost impossible to get the runs evenly. [...]

I would like very much to see some of Ferranti's unpublished manuscripts. They must be fine - to judge by those published - and I have heard that he wrote a concerto that is a corker. [...]

[PS ...] Do you know anything concerning either the Paganini or Ferranti concerto?

October 1898: In regards to Farland's system of banjo runs & Ferranti's system of guitar runs, i.e. by thumb and index; if you will turn to the third page of Ferranti's Carnival of Venice near the close of the introduction you will notice under some runs "Pouce et index" (i.e. x & 1) also immediately preceding the runs short lines piercing the chords which means to roll the chord with the thumb. Mertz also used the thumb glide or roll & many other guitar players also. [...]

Their last number [Cadenza magazine] I saw had a short sketch of Ferranti's life. From what I have observed in his music & read of his ability I think that as a player Ferranti could give them all cards. Bye the bye I intend to play his Carnival of Venice next month as a concert piece. Have never worked the number up as yet but think it will be a good number to "catch" the fickle audience which audience (as a rule in the West) considers it a duty to applaud Chopin, Bach, & Beethoven - even on a guitar - but a pleasure to pound out applause on a familiar air especially if the air has brilliant variations. So shall hereafter (although I've been well treated) make my programs spicy with some of the dear old strains. I may write a few variations on Annie Laurie if I have the time.

January 1899: I think Withers is quite right in that Mertz, Ferranti, etc., would have great difficulty at this present time arousing their commonly accorded applause. I have played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (Last Movement) playing both the violin & piano parts in public and although heartily applauded the people did not go frantic. Perhaps it is in the player - however I have no hesitancy in saying that this number is very much more difficult than anything I have ever seen in print. That morceau si difficile the Carnival by Ferranti being merely a molehill to a mountain in comparison. Among guitarists however, the Concerto arouses their admiration to an intense pitch. The Carnival also, I may add. [...]

Have you tried Ferranti's Last Rose of Summer in the three English Airs? If not please do so as the divertissimente is not difficult and abounds in rich effects.

January 1901: Am going to write to Miller of Vinton, Iowa to see if he has any of Ferranti's in mss. [Mr. Miller bought manuscripts by Mertz from Mertz's widow.] His daughter Miss Gertrude wrote Jacobi to show me the new Mertz numbers published by Schirmer & to ask me to write a "critique" of them in the Journal.

March 1901: Miss Miller sent me a copy of the "Walpurgis Night" by Ferranti. While it is very good - I don't care for it as well as some others of his. She also sent another ending to his "Rondo des Fees" which is better than the published one.

December 1901: I did absolutely nothing with the guitar until about two weeks ago when I resumed work and am getting Ferranti's Carnival of Venice in shape again.

January 1903: I have always been fed on the pablum that Sor was the Beethoven of the guitar and it seems like going against the grain to say a word against his guitar works but I confess to having seen but few - very few - of his published music that make acceptable solo work. [...] I'll stick to what I've said and you can try my judgment by asking some good pianist the musical worth of some of Sor's compositions - try him on the Sonatas (one of which is fairly good). I have held that Zani de Ferranti was the greatest writer for the guitar that ever lived - judging from all the printed music I've seen - and a worthy follower of him is Regondi. Now of course I may be biased from the point of view of the virtuoso (which title perhaps I could at one time honestly claim) however I don't think so, since I am a lover of Bach - but for melody, tonal effects, bringing out all the possibilities of the instrument and also for playableness Ferranti holds the palm. This does not mean to say that there are not a score of others who wrote well. I am fond of many numbers by Giuliani, Legnani, D'Aguado, Mertz, etc. but these gentlemen must all retire for their master.

March 1903: Now as regards technique - no musical critic will dispute that a man to be an artist on any instrument must be able to do scale work and scale work is the first and last thing in technique. Never denied that Ferranti could play his Carnival of Venice better than I play it - I think he did, but how he did it is a mystery.

The Carnival of Venice in ASCII Tablature, Mark II

This modern tablature uses only common keyboard characters - no graphics. It's very simple and instantly usable - almost. You will need to add slur marks and fix a few rhythm symbols, but that effort should be insignificant compared to getting the piece down. Click here for some general comments on the modern tablature, including tips on printing it out perfectly.

For convenience, each movement has been assigned a short ID. Each movement is given on a separate page:

The ASCII tablature used here will look familiar to anyone who's spent some time at my pages with vihuela and Baroque guitar pieces. For a long time I wondered if it would be possible to put such a complicated 19th century work into ASCII tablature. One brainstorm was to indicate grace notes by their lack of stem - which makes sense when you think about it.

Now, because there may be "notes" (meaning "fret numbers") without stems as well as stems without notes, I refer to the "Place" or "Position" ("p") within a measure instead of the rhythm count ("r") used before. When locating a Place in a Measure, move along counting up everything: all the stems, whether or not they have associated fret numbers, plus notes or chords that have no stems.

Another difficulty was the 64th-notes. I chose the # symbol, which suggests frighteningly dense beams rather than the precise number of beams. (After almost 30 years of playing, 64th-notes still look scary to me.)

I couldn't come close to representing a dotted 16th- or 32-note. However, it only takes a few seconds to draw in the dot and partial beam to turn a 16th note pair into a dotted 16th followed by a 32nd-note. I spell out where this is necessary.

I use two symbols to indicate note duration which, of course, is more precisely specified in modern musical notation (as opposed to the early music tablatures.) A "." in the tablature shows the endpoint of the note played on that string. If all the notes, or a bunch of them, stop at the same point, a "z" may be used to indicate this. I don't have rigorous guidelines for when to use "z" as opposed to several "." . Even though the "z" already looks like a backwards quarter rest, I suggest filling it in to make a solid block looking like a half rest.

Add to all of that an extra line above each tablature staff for showing musical instruction in text and symbols and, bingo, we've translated a complex piece of music into simple ASCII tab.

Regarding copyright, this tablature may be copied freely by anybody. Help yourself.


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Helpful keywords not in the main text: zani di ferranti; glissandi; charles frederick elzear fiset; c. f. elzear fiset; j. m. sheppard; charles de janon; fernando sor, giulio regondi; mauro giuliani; luigi legnani; j.k. mertz.

Parents, if you're considering tutoring or supplemental education for your child, you may be interested in my observations on Kumon.