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Joseph Guarneri defied convention? In what way?


GMM22

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Here are a few words from an address by Charles Beare on the subject of Giuseppe Guanerius filius Andrea (del Gesu):

As with Stradivari, sameness was anathema. For both of these great artists nothing could have been more boring than to make the same violins with the same appearance year after year, as so many 20th century makers have done. Rather, they both strove constantly not only to improve their tonal results, but also to produce variety for the eye. Del Ges?had a remarkable selection of wood available, some of his maple as handsome as can be found. Two piece backs, one piece backs, the flames running now this way, now that, now cut on the slab plenty of variety there. Then purfling set close to delicate edges, then further in to give a more masculine appearance - all this you can see in this great exhibition. After 1736 the adjective "feminine" would have to disappear altogether from the vocabulary describing del Ges?s workmanship, and although there are still experiments in this direction or that we see the master fulfilled. The gorgeous violins here of 1737 are, to my eye, the height of elegance and harmony, yet made with the panache of a master craftsman concerned with structure and the overall three-dimensional effect rather than with niceties of detail like the joints of his purfling. You can almost see the power of their tone.

One can understand as one examines these late violins why so many legends grew up around the name of del Gesu. My personal opinion changes all the time, with each new experience, but I think whatever his later failings, he has to have been one of the most intelligent violin makers of all time. There remains, and will always remain, much mystery about his character, and that is part of the enjoyment of looking at his violins. He may well, I feel, have been mentally unbalanced at the end, although I never have the impression that he was in physical decline, and although I am sure he liked a drink or two I doubt if he was anything but sober when he conceived and made those last great instruments. I see him as exuberant, full of zest and self-belief, knowingly a master of everything to do with the making of violins;

but since his labour was so unrewarded unrewarded financially I suspect he may have had plenty of thoughts about the unfairness of life when he was away from the workbench. I wonder if, after his father's death, del Ges?s violins may have had in them increasingly something of a protest, a very hot-blooded protest, against the classical disciplines and neatness of finish that had characterised almost two hundred years of Amati-inspired Cremonese violinmaking.

Guarneri del Ges?was buried an 17th October, 1744, cause of death not noted, and thus in the space of seven years the world lost not only him and his father, but also Antonio Stradivari and his two sons, and those five were followed by Carlo Bergonzi in 1747. It was an abrupt end to the great age of Cremonese violin-making.

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My view of it, as a maker trying to copy his work, is that del Gesu definitely did not break the rules and conventions, but rather that he experimented with them in ways that other Cremonese makers had not.

For instance, his apparently strange f-holes are positioned strictly according to the same rules the other Cremonese makers used, which was to place the holes at either end according to a definite plan. However, it's what happened between those holes, the unspecified aesthetic component, that's different.

Likewise with arching, where he uses the same mathematical process to generate the arch, but experiments with the variations possible in that math by doing the same calculations, but with different numerical values.

And the same with the outline: same process, different numbers.

What keeps his work easily identifiable as Cremonese is his underlying adherence to the rules and conventions, while at the same time experimenting with the possible variables inherent in them. So in the end, his work really isn't all that different from the other Cremonese makers. Another maker who did the same thing only in a milder way, with the same result that his instruments are immediately identifiable, is Stradivari.

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In thinking about this, I realized that the two makers have another thing in common:

First violins: Stradivari copied his more popular contemporary, Amati; del Gesu copied his more popular contemporary, Stradivari.

Next period: Stradvari reacted against Amati's light, elegant model with a very broad, full "Brescian" arch; del Gesu reacted against Stradivari's powerfully-built last models (remember, their time lines are offset--at this point, Stradivari is in his last period) to a super-fragile lightly-designed model.

Third period: Stradivari worked towards developing artistic elegance in his designs; del Gesu worked towards developing elegance in his designs.

Last period: Stradivari developed a strongly built model with an impression of physical density--thicker edges, powerful archings; del Gesu: same thing. [in order to see this clearly, you have to leave out certain later del Gesus that I believe will ultimately be decided to not be his own work, but his wife's. The best example of a "pure del Gesu" from this period is the "Cannone"; also the ex-Carrodus, and the ex-Vieuxtemps qualify.]

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Del Gesù's first period violins were very clean, very precise work, some old writers used to say that he tried to emulate Stradivari. He was the third generation of a family linked to his trade.

I think that he was looking for a different kind of sound, the Hills suggested that he was a top violin player, since his family had many musicians.

Precision is found in Strad and Amati, but not found in all Italian liutai from the classic period. In Venice, for instance, with the exception of Seraphin, violins are not all that clean, precise and neat.

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If you take the Alard, Cannone, Carrodus, Vieuxtemps, and some others that aren't readily accessible in photos as the logical continuation of all the violins that went before----it makes perfect sense. Those are violins with strong, careful outlines, classical del Gesu f-holes, but slightly more developed in the general direction he was already heading, careful edgework and f cutting, and scrolls with stubby ears and expansive volutes that expand rapidly from the eye. Interleaved with these are violins with rough outlines, crude or bizarre f-holes, lumpy outlines and edgework, and the scrolls with the funny handlebars and cramped lines and tight exit from the eyes that are the exact opposite of the others, and very crudely executed. The ONLY thing they have in common with the others are the basic underlying model. If these instruments were Amati-type or Stradivari type, they'd have already been immediately identified as being from an unknown and relatively inexperienced (or untalented) maker, sorted out, and the maker discoverd, as has happend with the various makers of the Amati and Stradivari shop who made violins with Amati or Stradivari labels. These quirky "del Gesus" don't appear in a solid sequence, but are in amonth the others. It should be quite obvious that they are not the work of the same person, but of someone who's using the same model, but is a very inexperienced maker. To cap it off, one of them is dated AFTER del Gesu's death. Old dictionaries note violins and a viola with labels by a maker Katarina Guarneri, who seems to have been wiped from violin making history, but turns out to have been recently discovered to be del Gesu's wife.

I know that it's very difficult for modern experts to come out and say that they think a Strad isn't all Antonio, and then attribute a likely name, because it means a huge hit in value to the owner. I think they're sandbagging on this topic, too. I've talked with one expert who completely doesn't believe what I'm saying, and I think he's (and others) completely in denial on this subject. I suspect part of it is that the idea is repulsive to the heavy-drinking, cigar-smoking, old-boy's network that a woman could turn out to be one of the greatest violin makers of all time, and partly because most/all of them aren't working violin makers and don't understand that a maker doesn't wake up and do completely alternating and conflicting things from one day to the next. No experienced violin maker makes a completely different violin with respect to these details just because he's sick or drunk for a week--that's just a totally ridiculous suggestion, as any experienced and productive maker understands, but "experts" apparently do not. This is a different and cohesive body of work that pops up completely without precedent late in his career, coexists with his own work, and extends even after his death!

Eventually this will be sorted out. In the meantime, use your eyes, and come to your own conclusion. I think that once you dislodge from your mind the idea that every del Gesu that the experts accept has to be from the same person, and sort the violins on the criteria I've offered, the situation will seem different.

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I think the Wilton may be, to a very large extent or entirely, a Katarina, along with the Sauret, and some of the posthumous Leduc, particularly the head and possibly the finalizing of the outline, purfling, and edgework (which would have been among the last steps in finishing a violin). Are we to gullibly expect that he rose from his grave to finish and label it? In fact, the last sentence in the blurb on this violin in the Biddulph books virtually says Katarina finished it, without [choke] admitting that, outright.

What expert, do you suppose, would be willing to step up and say the Lord Wilton was made by a girl?

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I can imagine that there will be guys in black cars with darkened windows in the parking lot. "Uh, buddy, we think you may want to reconsider and talk about strings, or something."

How about a speech on the effects of testosterone on violin expertise? I bet you could tell some good raging testosterone stories, too--from the point of view of an observer, of course.

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That helps a lot. I specifically mentioned the Lord Wilton because it always seemed so different from the Cannone, although still respresenting some of his best work. The f holes in particular are so different for two instruments that were produced not all that far apart. At the same time, I had been laboring under the impression (even from your writing earlier in this thread) that the "other" work was not only different, but not on the same par. Not so?

There's a nice story to be written about Katarina some day. Thinking about her reminds me of Vivaldi's charge, Anna Maria of the Violin, for whom he wrote so many concertos--and who undoubtedly showed Vivaldi how far he could push his music. People of that day recognized the quality of those women's artistry. It's funny that their contributions are difficult to accept in "modern" times.

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No, the Cannone scroll is pure del Gesu. It's very similar to what he was doing in the 1720s before his father began carving his heads for him. The difference between that type--bulky, stubby, compact, and the Katarina type--sharp, lean, wide ears--is really striking--to me, anyway; apparently "the experts" think they same person did them all.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to have had this idea, so I don't want to take credit for it. I'm the only person I know who's laid out the differences, and suggested which specific violins were whose, though, as far as I know. I'm sure creative thinkers like John Dilworth and Roger Hargrave are thinking about this issue, too. This is an idea whose time has come--all it needs is for the right people to sign on, and it will become "fact".

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Jeffrey, some well selected instruments illustrating the different types of Guarneris could be very interesting. If violin history was an academic field, this would make a great PhD dissertation for someone. In the mean time, maybe I'll start referring to my old shamrock fiddle as a Katarina model: Guarneri outline w/ out the Cannone f holes and, maybe, with an Katarina scroll (see attachment).

Thanks, Manfio. I have that book, but so far I've only been looking at the pictures. Have you seen the research that was reported on soundpostonline.com a couple years ago about the Pieta school: http://soundpostonline.com/arc.../summer2002/page10.htm ?

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Hi Richf! Thank you for the article! It's in Italian mixed with some Venetian dialect. "Cantino" is the E String on the violin and the A String on the viola or cello. "Scagnelo", that some old Italian manuscripts refer as "scranello" is the moder "ponticello", that is, the bridge. The descripion of the repairs are quite interesting.

The number of old record books in Italy is enormous, there are still many many things to be discovered. The Hills say that probably the small Venetian cello was made for the girls. This Anna Maria was indeed an incredible musician !!!!

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Richf
People of that day recognized the quality of those women's artistry. It's funny that their contributions are difficult to accept in "modern" times.

I have a friend, a professor (-essa) who runs the 'Women's History Project" at UNH. According to her, some women's contributions (in other fields I'm talking now) were misattributed because of the laws in force at the time -- for instance, in the US it was not until relatively late (when women got the vote?) that women were allowed to own "intellectual property" like patents. So in nearly all cases, their husbands registered the patent. I understand this was the case with Eli Whitney's cotten gin. This was more invidious than out-and-out prejudice would have been.

My friend reeled off a whole list of similar misattributions to me. If you do a panel, Jeffrey, I'll come armed with lots of stories!

-Claire

PS Seems to me this also relates to the problem of apprentices working for a master, and not getting credit. Would work by a servant (as opposed to a formal apprentice) ever be properly credited? In bowmaking, you hear of all the "little boys" who worked in the major shops -- were those who didn't become masters ever given proper credit?

You're right -- sounds like as PhD thesis... Disenfranchised Luthiers as a Social Indicator of.... uh, what is that postmodern deconstruction URL again?

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Hi Michael, thank you. Roger Hargrave says in the article on Biddulph's books that there are 3 or 4 types of heads: by Del Gesù's father, by Del Gesù himself, by Katarina, and some started by DG's father and finished by Del Gesù or Katarina.

Richf: the building of the Ospedale della Pietá does not exist anymore, but there is still there a marble plaque excomunicating all those who left their own (illegitimate) children there. The position of nuns and women that were dedicated to the church was quite different than that of the rest of women, they had lots of liberty, if there were feminists in those times they would be found in religious sisterhoods. There is a very interesting book called "La Vita Quotidiana in Venzia al Tempo di Tintoretto" (Venice's Dayly Life in Tintoreto's Time).

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There are some parts of those books that I never got around to reading, and apparently that's one. Now that I hear that, I also can easily see some which are "composite" works. The Wilton, for instance, looks like a del Gesu/Katarina mix: del Gesu from the side (compare it to the Cannone); Katarina's handlebar eyes from the front. Thanks!

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Gentlemen and Claire, I have read what I have been able to find regarding the history of these interesting Cremonese characters and their violins but my knowledge is sketchy, at best, compared to what you guys are carrying in your heads.

I have the Johnson/Courtnall book, I have the Hill books on Stradivari and the Guarneris. I read as many copies of Strad and Strings as I can get hold of. What other literature can and should I obtain to increase my historical knowledge? You guys talk about small differences between makers' details, where does one find all this info? How does a history novice get to know the differences between scrolls etc etc? Who was Katarina for example.........?

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Hi Amori: Katarina was Del Gesù's wife, they had no children and according to an old tradition (suported by recent studies) she helped DG in his work.

Michael: Yes, some heads were made by "four hands". It seems that heads sometimes were made indepently of the bodies, the Hills point out to the fact that in some of late Strads the heads are very well cut in contrast with the bodies, suggesting that they were carved when Strad was younger.

Yes falstaff, the "cortigianne" had lots of freedom, Veronica Franco is an example. The inquisition was not all that bad in Venice, the "Serenissima" kept an independence in relation to Rome. Veronica Franco was acused of "stregheria" (witchery) but was absolved.

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  • 2 weeks later...

quote:


What other literature can and should I obtain to increase my historical knowledge? You guys talk about small differences between makers' details, where does one find all this info?

As someone who can barely distinguish a Stradivari model from a Guarneri, I've come to the conclusion that the only way to come by the knowledge necessary to recognize the "small differences between makers' details" is to learn the craft of violinmaking and then spend a fair number of years in a shop that handles a large volume of high-end instruments.

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