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The White Hat Guide to the

Mandolin

Mandolin

Mandolin

Mandolin

Mandolin

 


The mandolin is a plucked string instrument which developed from earlier instruments in the late Renaissance - in particular the mandora. It continued to develop in various forms and sizes in different countries and from different makers. If you have a spare three hours ask a friendly mandolin player about the styles of mandolin out there. As these pages concern themselves with classical music we will restrict ourselves mainly with those that have found their way into that field, such as those shown to the right.

The mandolin became popular for street and light entertainment in Italy and still remains an almost obligatory instrument for Neapolitan song. Further north it was regarded as the sort of discreet parlour instrument which a young lady of quality could play in a seated position without having to indulge in the unseemly and sweaty practice of bowing required by an instrument such as a violin.

A common form of the mandolin was at the same pitch and tuned in the same manner as the violin which meant that simple violin music could transfer straight to the mandolin. However a mandolin, which is usually played with a plectrum,  has very little 'sustain' and each note dies away very quickly which would seem to make it unsuitable for flowing 'singing' melodies. This problem is solved by tremolando - a repetition of the one note for as long as required as the plectrum is moved backwards and forwards rapidly across the strings. If there was just a single string (as on most guitars) per course then the sound would stop each time the plectrum came in contact with the string and not restart until the plucking action had finished. Thus if you listened to the  sound in slow motion it be something like "pling - dull thud - silence - pling - dull thud - silence - pling' etc. Not a particularly pleasing sound. However, as the mandolin usually has two strings per course (at least in the lower and middle registers) than one string continues to ring while the other is in contact with the plectrum. Much more satisfactory.

In fact it is this tremolando that people most immediately associate with the mandolin. When you hear you are wafted off to that night in the moonlight with the warm Mediterranean breezes, the romantic music drifting across the water, the soft breath on your neck, the increased heart rate, the smooth silk being . . . Sorry, we got carried away, but that's what the mandolin can do.

Because of its association, the mandolin was sometimes introduced in opera to denote a street performer or courtly serenader. Probably the best known example is the serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. It finds its way into Baroque music with some notable concertos by Vivaldi. The mandolin became a popular salon instrument in Vienna and Beethoven wrote several works for mandolin and piano. (Special mention should perhaps be made of Fauré's song Mandoline. In this setting of Verlaine's poem, Fauré' uses a piano accompaniment in the style of a mandolin.) By the twentieth century, certain composers found that the sharp attack and quick decay of the mandolin could be a positive asset for certain styles of spiky avant-garde music and it is used in this way by Schoenberg and Berg. Later composers stretched the instrument further. For instance George Crumb in his Ancient Voices of Children has the two strings in each course tuned a quarter-tone apart to eerie effect.

In film music, the mandolin is quickly called into play to evoke an atmosphere of Italian 'doce vita'. However it takes a composer like Nino Rota to take the use of mandolin past the evocation of mere local colour. A good example can be found in his orchestration of the waltz from The Godfather.

BL

Copyright © 1995 - 2019 White Hat.

Some forthcoming Australian concerts and performances featuring the mandolin:

Selected mandolin sheet music:

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Concerto in G Major for 2 Mandolins Strings and Basso Continuo RV532 - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Concerto in G Major for 2 Mandolins Strings and Basso Continuo RV532 Score. By Antonio Vivaldi. Arranged by Fritz Zobeley, Gian Francesco Malipiero. Orchestra. Size 8x10.5 inches. 40 pages. Published by Ricordi. (50016740)
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Ludwig van Beethoven: Works for Mandolin and Piano - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Ludwig van Beethoven: Works for Mandolin and Piano Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), edited by A. Raab. Collection and set of performance parts for Mandolin and piano. With introductory text and fingerings. Urtext edition-paper bound. 27 pages. Published by G. Henle. (HE.499)
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Baroque Music For Mandolin - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Baroque Music For Mandolin By Robert Bancalari. For Mandolin. Solos. Baroque. Level: Intermediate. Book/CD Set. Size 8.5x11. 40 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (99150BCD)
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Concerto in C Major for Mandolin Strings and Basso Continuo RV425 - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Concerto in C Major for Mandolin Strings and Basso Continuo RV425 Score. By Antonio Vivaldi. Arranged by Fritz Zobeley, Gian Francesco Malipiero. Orchestra. Size 8x10.75 inches. 30 pages. Published by Ricordi. (50031690)
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A Further Collection of Dances. Marches, Minuetts & Duetts of the Later 18th Century For hammered dulcimer, fiddle, mandolin. Published by Kitchen Musician Books. (KM16)
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Antonio Vivaldi: Lautenkonzert (Lute Concerto) in C Major - Arranged for Mandolin and Guitar - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Antonio Vivaldi: Lautenkonzert (Lute Concerto) in C Major - Arranged for Mandolin and Guitar Composed by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), arranged by Siegfried Behrend. Instrumental duet book for mandolin and guitar. With standard notation and standard guitar notation. 7 pages. Published by Heinrichshofen Verlag. (PE.N08971)
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Renaissance Solos for Mandolin - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Renaissance Solos for Mandolin By John Holenko. For Mandolin. Solos. Early Music/Renaissance. Level: Beginning-Intermediate. Book. Size 8.5x11. 64 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (98222)
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Evergreen - Mandolin Music for Christmas - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Evergreen - Mandolin Music for Christmas Written by Butch Baldassari. Mandolin solo book for mandolin solo. With standard notation, mandolin tablature, chord names and illustrations. 32 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (MB.95535)
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Scott Joplin: Ragtime Solos And Duets - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Scott Joplin: Ragtime Solos And Duets (20 Scott Joplin Favorites) Composed by Scott Joplin (1868-1917), arranged by Jerry Silverman. C instrument duet songbook for C instrument duet (flute, recorder, oboe, violin, mandolin, harmonica). With duet notation and chord names. 62 pages. Published by G. Schirmer, Inc. (HL.50462620)
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Easiest Mandolin Book - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Easiest Mandolin Book By William Bay. For mandolin. Songbook. Easiest. All styles. Level: Beginning. Book. Size 8.75x11.75. 32 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (94833)
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Celtic Mandolin Encyclopedia - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Celtic Mandolin Encyclopedia By Robert Bancalari. For Mandolin. Solos. Encyclopedia. Celtic/Irish. Level: Beginning-Intermediate. Book. Size 8.75x11.75. 144 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (98197)
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Songs, Airs & Dances of the 18th century - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com Songs, Airs & Dances of the 18th century For hammered dulcimer, fiddle, mandolin. Published by Kitchen Musician Books. (KM14)
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Easy Songs for Mandolin - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com Easy Songs for Mandolin Supplementary Songbook to the Hal Leonard Mandolin Method. Arranged by Various. Mandolin. Size 9x12 inches. 40 pages. Published by Hal Leonard. (695865)
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