Moretti, Federico (1769-1839)

Musical composer, theorist and performer widely acknowledged as a key figure in the development of the modern notational system for guitar, Federico Moretti was born in Naples on 22 January 1769. He was baptised on the following day with the names Federico Francesco Vincenzo Emidio. Curiously, his family belonged to the Florentine nobility and had a long tradition of service to the Spanish Monarchy. In the 1760s, an uncle of his father Pietro Moretti (1722-1784), Giovanni Moretti, was captain in the Spanish navy and Spanish consul in Sardinia. According to the English tenor and director of the King´s Theatre in London, Michael Kelly (1762-1826) who frequented their home during a visit to Naples in 1779, Moretti´s mother, Rosa Cascone (c.1732-1791) was ‘a charming person and (which was not her least recommendation to me) an excellent judge of music, and a good singer and performer on the piano-forte’ (Kelly, 1826: 49-50). The Moretti’s household served as an artistic hub for celebrated musicians, including Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) and Fedele Finaroli (1730-1818) of whom Federico Moretti became a disciple. He also trained under the master of the church Santiago de los Españoles (St James of the Spaniards), the composer Girolamo Masi (1768-?). In 1786, Moretti released a first manuscript version of his Principles for the Guitar published in 1792 as Principj per la chitarra by Luigi Mareschalchi. Before Moretti, guitar music had been written either in tablature or in staff notation, with little attempt to separate the different parts and without precise indications of the full duration of all notes.

In May 1794, Moretti moved to Spain apparently under fear that Naples, then involved in the War of the First Coalition, was to fall under French rule. When Naples signed peace with France in 1796, Moretti joined the Spanish army as a regular cadet in the Reales Guardias Walonas while still pursuing his musical career. In 1799, he published in Madrid his Principios para tocar la guitarra de seis ordenes, precedidos de los elementos generales de la música, dedicated to the queen María Luisa de Parma, wife of Carlos IV. In 1800 he was promoted and destined first to Campo de Gibraltar and then to the Balearic islands where he participated in the re-seizure of Mahon (Minorca) from the British. During this campaign it is believed that he entered in contact with captain Estanislao Solano (1773-1840), a keen guitarist who started to perform some of his composition in social gatherings attended by Fernando Sor (1778-1839) who was influenced by his work. In 1801, Moretti was destined to Extremadura, at the time of the war against neighbouring Portugal (War of the Oranges), and remained in the area for many years conducting intelligence services and in various diplomatic missions. The latter took him in 1802 back to Naples to assist the Spanish ambassador Benito Fernando Correa Sotomayor (1743-1816). He stayed in the Italian peninsula for three years, being admitted on 28 April 1805 in the prestigious Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. Within five months, however, he was back in Spain were he continued progressing in the military career, participating in the military blockade of Gibraltar in 1806. Despite the animosity between Spain and Britain, relations among officers of the two armies were cordial. It was not uncommon for parties of both sides to visit each other; Moretti played as go-between of a British visit to Algeciras in the summer of 1807.

At the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal, Moretti was dispatched in an intelligent mission to gather a report from the general in charge of the Spanish troops still remaining in Portuguese soil, Juan Carrafa (c. 1755 – c. 1833) and gather the opinion of the British admiral Sir Charles Cotton (1753-1812) and the Russian admiral Dimitri Seniavin (1763-1831) whose fleets were in the area. Although successful, the secrecy surrounding the mission, added to his participation in a military action in Evora that ended in defeat, troubled his military career. Nonetheless, as from September 1808 he was trusted to liaise with the British allies and fought alongside them in the battle of Talavera (28-29 July 1809). In March 1810, he was transferred to Campo de Gibraltar to be placed under the orders of General Adrián Jácome (1752-1815) who was just back from London where he had been part of the Spanish delegation that formally signed peace with Britain. Moretti acted as interpreter and liaison officer with the British forces, particularly admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleming (1774-1840). He took residency in the home of the governor of Gibraltar, Collin Campbell (1754-1814) who allowed him to establish there an office of representation of the Spanish army (Mayoría General), granted him licence to have access to all fortified buildings and even placed a British vessel, the Saint John, to his disposition for lodging prisoners of wars captured by the Spanish Patriots. On 13 April 1810, with Campbell´s assistance, Moretti planned and led an attack in Tarifa that contained the French advance over the last remaining Spanish stronghold, the city of Cadiz. He subsequently worked in the fortification of the area and spent much of the following four years drafting proposals for military and economic reforms that he presented to the Spanish Cortes. During this period, he became friend of a British volunteer in the Spanish army, James Duff, Viscount Macduff, fourth Earl of Fife (1776-1857) and strengthened his contact with key members of the established British community in Spain, including the owner of Gordon, Murphy, and Co., Juan ‘John’ Murphy (1767-1820) and the wife of his partner and British MP for Worcester, Sir William Duff Gordon (1772-1823), Lady Caroline Duff Gordon (1789– 1875), to all of whom he would later dedicate some of his works. His early activities in Portugal landed him in some trouble, but on 12 August 1814 a Council of War Generals in Andalusia cleared his name permanently.

In 1816, he moved to Madrid where he was awarded the Royal Military Order of San Hermenegildo. A year later, with the support of the Real Sociedad Económica Matritense (Royal Economic Society of Madrid) which he had just joined and aided by the leading  musical chalcographer Bartolome Wirmbs, he established the first modern musical publishing house in Spain with a printing workshop located in the calle del Turco. In 1820, he married Bárbara Sánchez Andrade with whom he had been living in Madrid for four years; they had no children. A year later, and amid the turmoil of the Liberal Trienium, he published for beginners the Gramática Razonada Musical (Imprenta de Indalecio de Sancha, 1821) dedicated to the younger brother of the King, the infante Francisco de Paula (1794-1865). He was awarded that year the Royal and Military Order of San Fernando. Having avoided collaborating with the liberal regime, he had little trouble in returning to royal favour after the Restoration. In 1824, he published the Sistema Uniclave o ensayo sobre uniformar las claves de la música sujetándolas a una sola escala (Imprenta de Indalecio de Sancha, 1824), In 1828, he published a dictionary of military terms in Spanish and French (Diccionario Militar Español-Francés) on which he had been working since 1810 and that he dedicated to King Fernando VII who ordered its publication by the royal press (Real Imprenta). A year later he was promoted to the rank of mariscal de campo (similar to major-general in the British military scale). In 1831 he published a translation into Spanish of Angelo Morigi’s Trattato di contrappunto fugato (Tratado del contrapunto fugado, Madrid: Imprenta de Sancha) and around the same time the Cuadro general melódico comparativo de la extension de todos los ynstrumetnos de viento y de cuerda y de las cuatro voces fundamentals (Madrid: Mintegui y Hermoso, c. 1831). Although suffering from a Parkinson-style syndrome, in the years leading to his death, he published a number of popular songs, including Los amores del jitano [sic]: (canción andaluza) (Madrid: Hermoso, Mintegui y Carrafa, c. 1832), Los negritos: canción americana (Madrid: B. Wirmbs, c. 1832) and La Panchita (Madrid: B. Wirmbs, c. 1832).  He died in Madrid on 17 January 1839, the same year than his colleague and admirer Fernando Sor (1778-1839).

Sources: Michael Kelly, The Reminiscences of Michael Kelly (London: Henry Colburn, 1826), 14, 49, 50; James Tyler, Paul Sparks, The Guitar and Its Music: From the Renaissance to the Classical Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 233; Ana Carpintero, ‘Federico Moretti (1769; †1839). I. Vida y obra musical’, Nassarre, 2009, nº 25, 109-134; Ana Carpintero, ‘Federico Moretti (1769; †1839). II. Descripción y estudio comparativo de las ediciones de los Principios’, Nassarre, 2010, nº 26,.131-163; Ana Carpintero, ‘Federico Moretti: un enigma descifrado’, Anuario Musical, 2010, nº 65, 79-110; Ana Carpintero, ‘El Mariscal de Campo Don Federico Moretti (*1769; †1839): vida y obra militar’, Revista de Historia Militar, 2010, nº 108, 77-109; Ana Carpintero, ‘Il Conte Federico Moretti. Dai Principij alla fine’, Il Fronimo, 2011, nº 154, 7-24; Ana Carpintero, ‘Federico Moretti y el establecimiento de grabado y estampado de música de Bartolomé Wirmbs’ in  Begoña Lolo y José Carlos Gosálvez, Imprenta y edición musical en España (ss. XVIII – XX) (Madrid: UAM, AEDOM, 2012), 245-261; Graciela Iglesias-Rogers, British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon: Volunteering under the Spanish Army in the Peninsular War (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 29, 114-15; Ana Carpintero, ‘Vida y obra del músico Federico Moretti: estudio documental y artístico’, Phd thesis, Universidad de Zaragoza, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Departamento de Historia del Arte, Zaragoza, 2015.

Author: Ana Carpintero

(translated and enlarged by G. Iglesias-Rogers)

How to cite:  To cite from this page, please use any style (Chicago, Harvard, etc). Our preferred citation form is: Ana Carpintero, transl. and enl. G. Iglesias-Rogers, ‘Moretti, Federico (1769-1839)’, The Hispanic-Anglosphere: transnational networks, global communities (late 18th to early 20th centuries), project funded by the AHRC and University of Winchester in partnership with the National Trust, [; accessed – please add date].

Thematic categories: 

The Arts ; Exile and Migration; War and the Military