The Neapolitan Mandolin enjoyed great popularity in the 18th century. A distinct style of music developed in the early 1700s -- a lighter and more melodic sound.
Naples had a long association with plectrum instruments, dating back to at least the 15th century, when Arabian wire-strung long lutes of the bouzouki type were introduced, modified with characteristics of lute building. Metal-strung guitars were often strummed for song and dance.
Credit for development of the mandolin is often given to the Vinaccia family; several other luthiers were also making mandolins. The earliest surviving mandolin is a tenor, a mandola, circa 1744, made by Gaetano Vinaccia. The earliest surviving mandolin was made in 1753. The mandolin was popular in Naples prior to that date at every level of society.
The mandolin was not taken seriously in Naples and was considered an instrument of the common street musician. A school of players and composers grew up in Naples but was never accepted into the conservatories. The most important center of mandolin activity in the second half of the 18th century was Paris, where the mandolin enjoyed great popularity.
The major players and composers:
Pietro Denis, a prolific composer and arranger who wrote a three-volume method, published in Paris in 1768, 1769, and 1773. His method teaches violinists how to transfer their technique to the mandolin and to accompany songs.
Giovanni Fouchetti (Jean Fouqet) came to Paris in 1769 from Lyon and published his method in 1771 in Paris. He wrote for both the mandolin and mandolino, a similar instrument tuned in fourths.
Giovanni Battista Gervasio was a touring virtuoso and composer active in the 1760s who published several works in Paris and London, but the bulk of his very large output is in manuscript collections, including the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (the national library of France).
Signor Leoni, or Leoné, of Naples (records show no firm knowledge of his Christian name) first performed in Paris in 1760. He was maître de mandoline in the household of the Duc de Chartres in the 1760s. Much of his music was published in Paris, including “Méthode Raisonnée Pour passer du Violon à la Mandoline,” 1768, (going from the violin to the mandolin), the most detailed and important of all 18th-c mandolin tutors.
These notes were taken from “The Early Mandolin” by James Tyler and Paul Sparks, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989.