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5 Interesting Facts About the Classical Mandolin

Classical Mandolin
The classical mandolin has a long, rich history that dates back centuries. Whether you’re new to the instrument or a seasoned veteran, it never hurts to get a glimpse into its storied past. In that spirit, here are five interesting facts about the classical mandolin. 
Ready to jump in and learn classical mandolin yourself? Our exclusive online course with famed player Caterina Lichtenburg is the best way to start. 
From the Beginning
The first known reference to a modern steel-strung mandolin originates in mid-18th century Italian literature, in which players travel through Europe giving lessons and performing concerts. The most notable examples are Signor Leone and G. B. Gervasio, who traveled widely between 1750 and 1789. These accounts, along with records taken from the Vinaccia family of luthiers, led musicologists to believe that the modern steel-strung mandolin was developed in Naples, Italy during this time.
Beethoven Did What?
While he is better known as a pianist, Ludwig van Beethoven also enjoyed playing the mandolin, which he kept hung beside his piano. He may have composed at least five mandolin works in his life, although only four are known today. Other notable composers who were classical mandolin players include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern.
Germany Jumps In
Around 1900, many working class Germans felt a strong urge to rebuild their traditional cultural identity, loving the Italian canzonas. The mandolin, once seen as an instrument of the upper class, was adopted as the instrument of the kleiner Mann, or “little man.” Shortly thereafter, many major German cities had their own mandolin orchestras, who performed mainstream classical works that were transcribed for plucked instruments.
The Competition Heats Up
In 1892, on the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, Italy and the United States organized a cultural exhibition in Genoa where a national competition for mandolin soloists, quartets, and orchestras was held. The event was widely known as a “mass awakening” for many mandolinists, who were exposed to the full range of possibilities for their instruments. Most notably, Carlo Munier’s performance of his own Concerto No. 1, Op. 163 (in G major, Ex. 3) is regarded as the most substantial work to be written for the classical mandolin at the time.
Mandolin Orchestras
Mandolins were seen as a fad instrument in the U.S. from the turn of the 20th century to the mid 1920s. They were often sold en masse by traveling salesmen to groups of people at a time, who would then teach their customers how to play. These makeshift mandolin orchestras would range in size from five to forty members, and would be comprised of various members of the mandolin family.
Ready to add your story to the legacy of the classical mandolin? Check out our online course with master mandolinist, Caterina Lichtenburg



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