The "Carnival of Venice" is based on a Neapolitan folk tune called "O Mamma, Mamma Cara" and popularized by violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini, who wrote twenty variations on the original tune. He titled it "Il Carnevale Di Venezia," Op. 40. In 1829, he wrote to a friend, "The variations I've composed on the graceful Neapolitan ditty, 'O Mamma, Mamma Cara,' outshine everything. I can't describe it." Since then, the tune has been used for a number of popular songs such as "If You Should Go to Venice" and "My Hat, It Has Three Corners" (or in German, Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken). A series of theme and variations has been written for solo cornet, as "show off" pieces that contain virtuoso displays of double and triple tonguing, and fast tempos.
Since Paganini, many variations on the theme have been written, most notably those by Jean-Baptiste Arban, Del Staigers, Herbert L. Clarke for the cornet, trumpet, and euphonium, Francisco Tárrega and Johann Kaspar Mertz for classical guitar, Ignace Gibsone and Louis Moreau Gottschalk for piano, and Giovanni Bottesini for double bass. Chopin's "Souvenir de Paganini", dedicated to the composer and violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, is another variation on this theme. The popular novelty song, "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?", written and recorded in 1952, is based on the tune.
The piece has also been arranged for tuba, notably played by John Fletcher and available on the CD The Best of Fletch. Also Roger Bobo on Tuba Libera (cd). Another tubist whose performance of the piece is noteworthy is Øystein Baadsvik, a Norwegian tubist.
Between 2015 and 2018, German crossover violinist David Garrett gained wide recognition with the tune, playing variations of Paganini's variations in movies and with various orchestras and bands.