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Stephen Shepherd

It is the early eighteenth century, and I am a learned man...

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and in want of a brighter sounding stringed instrument and I wonder into a local Cremona shop and am shown a fine instrument by Antonio himself. Handed a bow, I place a hankerchief over the end and play a tune. What would that tune be and what are the qualities I am looking for in this instrument? What are the kinds of music, composers, etc. popular? What would best show off the qualities of the instrument to help me make my choice?

What would be a fair amount to pay and should I stare him down on the price?

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" and I am a learned man..."

What sort of learned man might you be?

If you have a lot of experience assessing a high number of violins, you might be able to know 90% of what you need to know by playing a one octave scale. If not, you might need a few weeks with a fiddle, and even then make a decision you regret later.

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As it is the early 18th century, Antonio was by that time already highly regarded and well connected. His instruments were being made to commission and not for inventory.

So you would turn up and be told roughly what the waiting list is and perhaps be able to view some work made for other customers.

This is pretty much the same today for the well regarded Cremonese makers.

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I think we know that Stradivari had some nice commissions, but do we know what his general inventory situation might have been?

Can we assume that all of his instrument were highly placed commissions, or might that be where he or others have chosen to place emphasis?

If his instruments were universally held in high regard, how does one explain the legend of Tarisio, offering new instruments in exchange for old beat up Strads?

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As it is the early 18th century, Antonio was by that time already highly regarded and well connected. His instruments were being made to commission and not for inventory.

So you would turn up and be told roughly what the waiting list is and perhaps be able to view some work made for other customers.

This is pretty much the same today for the well regarded Cremonese makers.

At the time of Stradivari's death (1737), according to Count Cozio di Salabue, there were to have been 91 violins, two violoncellos and several violas in the shop, including the Spanish Quintet which wasn't to go to Spain until 1775 and, in all probability, the Messiah of 1716. After the deaths of Omobono (d.1742) and Francesco (d.1743), his son Paolo (d.1775) continued to deal in instruments while Cremona was slowly picked clean of any remaining violins of the classic period.

Many of the shop artifacts were purchased by Count Cozio in 1775, at the age of 20, and these artifacts later passed to the Della Valle family, then to Giuseppe Fiorini and finally to the city of Cremona in 1931.

Bruce

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and in want of a brighter sounding stringed instrument and I wonder into a local Cremona shop and am shown a fine instrument by Antonio himself. Handed a bow, I place a hankerchief over the end and play a tune. What would that tune be and what are the qualities I am looking for in this instrument? What are the kinds of music, composers, etc. popular? What would best show off the qualities of the instrument to help me make my choice?

What would be a fair amount to pay and should I stare him down on the price?

Learned men in that era often sent someone ahead to do the groundbreaking and gather the necessary information prior to making a decision. If you have a copy of the Hill book on Stradivari the classic example is Fra Fulgentius Micanzio, acting on behalf of Galileo Galilei, through the intermediary of Claudio Moneverdi.

Or the Marchese Ariberti for the quintet that was to go to Florence.

Windowshopping was not yet in fashion. :)

Bruce

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At the time of Stradivari's death (1737), according to Count Cozio di Salabue, there were to have been 91 violins, two violoncellos and several violas in the shop...

Which raises the question: If he was so "highly regarded and well connected," why did he have nearly 100 unsold instruments sitting in the shop when he died?

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16 pistoles?

This is a guess at the inventory, I presume.

From Wilipesia:

Pistole – Musical instrument - evolved from the pochette which was carried in a pocket (sic). The pistole was a larger instrument noted for wearing holes in pocket linings, hence adapted to fit conveniently in a holster suspended from a belt. A favourite rodeo camp instrument.

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This is a guess at the inventory, I presume.

From Wilipesia:

Pistole – Musical instrument - evolved from the pochette which was carried in a pocket (sic). The pistole was a larger instrument noted for wearing holes in pocket linings, hence adapted to fit conveniently in a holster suspended from a belt. A favourite rodeo camp instrument.

Not exactly a guess as Count Cozio purchased the workshop artifacts from Paolo Stradivari (son of Antonio) in 1775, the year of Paolo's death. It is true that Stradivari died in 1737 and that 38 years had passed by but why would the Count have been so specific to say 91 instruments? Was the Count a liar? Was Paolo Stradivari a liar? Did either or both exaggerate their claims? It is second hand information because the Count did not and could not have seen the workshop at that moment as he was born in 1755.

In 1733 Paolo was set up in business by his father Antonio who was, according to his wills, four copies with modifications have been found, see Carlo Chiesa and Duane Rosengard "The Stradivari Legacy", which is the demonstration that Stradivari was indeed a wealthy man. Also the funeral ceremony for the death of Antonio's first wife Francesca Ferrabosca in 1698 was another demonstration of his financial solidity.

In 1733 when a French Colonel from Avignon (the French at that time were occupying Cremona) attempted to purchase the inlaid quintet (Spanish Quintet) from Stradivari but failed because of the exorbitant price asked.

Bruce

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Which raises the question: If he was so "highly regarded and well connected," why did he have nearly 100 unsold instruments sitting in the shop when he died?

He could have had a garage sale; but he didn't have a garage! :)

Social and political changes could have very easily caused an interruption in commercial trade and competition was building in most major cities in Europe. (sounds like a question for Atomino)

It also appears that some of these transactions were of a socio-polital nature. Not just "wanna buy a violin?". Could Stradivari have decided something like this intentionally as a form of saving or investment? We may never know.

Bruce

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Bruce, Bruce - I was referring to the 16 pistoles...

Janito, It wouldn't be the first time I have misunderstood a question :) but I presumed from the word inventory that you were referring to the remaining instruments in the workshop.

As for the Pistoles there is a section in the Hill book on Stradivari that deals with prices paid before, during and after Stradivari's time.

Bruce

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googling for Fra Fulgentius Micanzio this article came up containing ancient quotes on prices of cremonese instruments, good read!

$$$$

Martina

Hi Martina,

This is taken from the Hill book on Stradivari.

Reese,

That's a great Gary Larson cartoon.

Bruce

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It is actually an interesting question and we will never know the answer.

We actually know nothing much about what was in the Stradivari workshop in the early part of C18th and we only have much later heresay evidence of what was there when he died.

I know very little about violin playing, as I am just a beginner. I first visited Cremona in 2005 because I was (and still am) interested in the history of violin making. Since then I have read (and at times truggled through) numerous books (including Hill), many in Italian. One thing I have learned - the texts are contradictory and inconclusive. And the historical archive contains much "information" from the past that was probably skewed by dealers etc for marketing purposes. Some of the more recent Italian texts are quite vociferous on that point. For an amateur - and a foreigner too - it is difficult to formulate a cohesive picture of the Cremona of those times.

By the time he died Antonio was an old man, especially for those days, and it seems credible that for the preceding several years the violins made in his workshop were entirely constructed by or under the supervision of his sons. Hence, the workshop at the end may well have had quite different dynamics three decades earlier when Antonio was at or approaching his prime?

I would love to know what Cremona was really like at that time. It is such a shame that The Island was substantially demolished so that we no longer have even the historical buildings containing the workshops of Stradivari, Guaneri, and Amati et al.

I suspect the Cremonese mayoral authorities would make different property development decisions today and focus on preserving everything to do with their main claim to fame. The curators of today's instruments and artefacts must wish fervently that the workshops were still there.

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It is actually an interesting question and we will never know the answer.

We actually know nothing much about what was in the Stradivari workshop in the early part of C18th and we only have much later heresay evidence of what was there when he died.

I know very little about violin playing, as I am just a beginner. I first visited Cremona in 2005 because I was (and still am) interested in the history of violin making. Since then I have read (and at times truggled through) numerous books (including Hill), many in Italian. One thing I have learned - the texts are contradictory and inconclusive. And the historical archive contains much "information" from the past that was probably skewed by dealers etc for marketing purposes. Some of the more recent Italian texts are quite vociferous on that point. For an amateur - and a foreigner too - it is difficult to formulate a cohesive picture of the Cremona of those times.

By the time he died Antonio was an old man, especially for those days, and it seems credible that for the preceding several years the violins made in his workshop were entirely constructed by or under the supervision of his sons. Hence, the workshop at the end may well have had quite different dynamics three decades earlier when Antonio was at or approaching his prime?

I would love to know what Cremona was really like at that time. It is such a shame that The Island was substantially demolished so that we no longer have even the historical buildings containing the workshops of Stradivari, Guaneri, and Amati et al.

I suspect the Cremonese mayoral authorities would make different property development decisions today and focus on preserving everything to do with their main claim to fame. The curators of today's instruments and artefacts must wish fervently that the workshops were still there.

In answer to your first statement I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. True, Count Cozio was an avid collector and that makes him something of a dealer as well but he was responsible for saving many of the Stradivarian artifacts from certain ruin and his notes on instruments and making at the time are a wealth of information.

It appears that Antonio Stradivari not only lived to a ripe old age but he was still considered head of the workshop and household until his death. This is hard to understand today when everyone, at a certain age, retires and immediately becomes useless, a burden to society and an impediment to their own children. It can be seen that his strong character was there to the end. He might have been a hard guy to work for.....

Many historians believe that the success of the Amatis was taken over by Stradivari leaving the other makers with the leftovers.

The only house still standing is the one now in Corso Garibaldi in the Parish of Santa Agata where he went in 1667 after his marriage to Francesca Ferrabosca or if you prefer, Ferraboschi.

To see how the times were during the life of Stradivari is a bit too complicated to organise in a few words but every year there is additional information being uncovered about the lives of the Cremonese makers and their environment. Fortunately much of this information is being published regularly.

As far as the loss of the buildings where most of the history of Cremonese violinmaking was written we can echo Joni Mitchell; "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?" :)

Bruce

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An additional wrinkle concerning the Stradivarius inventory. Wasn't Bergonzi brought in to finish some of the incomplete instruments?

There are instruments that fall into this category; for example, the "Pleeth", Stradivari cello c.1732 has a scroll clearly made by Carlo Bergonzi. In 1746, a year before his death, Carlo Bergonzi moved into the Stradivari house with his family when Paolo Stradivari moved out.

Bruce

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Accounting for the large inventory, wasn't there something of an economic 'recession' towards the end of Stradivari's life? Plus the rise of the Milan makers, the 'cheap-jacks' to quote the Hills.

And where did they put 100 instruments in the Strad shop? -- must have been cluttered with fiddles, something to imagine, Stradivari violins piled on shelves or in the corners. The sketch of the Stradivari household in the Hill book makes it seem rather modest in size.

More to Stephen's initial post, I seem to remember reading somewhere that Antonio Stradivari was a player, but it has been many years since seeing or reading that anywhere. Does anyone know if Strad was a violinist?

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And where did they put 100 instruments in the Strad shop? -- must have been cluttered with fiddles, something to imagine, Stradivari violins piled on shelves or in the corners. The sketch of the Stradivari household in the Hill book makes it seem rather modest in size.

That's a chaotic picture for someone whose work was so neat. :)

They could have been stored off-site. Or think how many would fit in a large wooden chest, stacked unstrung with a layer of fabric between layers of fiddles. Or multiple rows hanging floor-to-ceiling against one wall of a small room.

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In answer to your first statement I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. True, Count Cozio was an avid collector and that makes him something of a dealer as well but he was responsible for saving many of the Stradivarian artifacts from certain ruin and his notes on instruments and making at the time are a wealth of information.

It appears that Antonio Stradivari not only lived to a ripe old age but he was still considered head of the workshop and household until his death. This is hard to understand today when everyone, at a certain age, retires and immediately becomes useless, a burden to society and an impediment to their own children. It can be seen that his strong character was there to the end. He might have been a hard guy to work for.....

Many historians believe that the success of the Amatis was taken over by Stradivari leaving the other makers with the leftovers.

The only house still standing is the one now in Corso Garibaldi in the Parish of Santa Agata where he went in 1667 after his marriage to Francesca Ferrabosca or if you prefer, Ferraboschi.

To see how the times were during the life of Stradivari is a bit too complicated to organise in a few words but every year there is additional information being uncovered about the lives of the Cremonese makers and their environment. Fortunately much of this information is being published regularly.

As far as the loss of the buildings where most of the history of Cremonese violinmaking was written we can echo Joni Mitchell; "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?" :)

Bruce

Didn't Mussolini have a bit to do with the razing of the neighborhood, or was it done earlier than the construction of that neo-classical shopping mall?

Andrew Dipper was working on a plan for reconstructing the shop, I think. He presented a paper on his research on the house plans in Vermilion S.D. at the Amati celebration in 2007.

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Accounting for the large inventory, wasn't there something of an economic 'recession' towards the end of Stradivari's life? Plus the rise of the Milan makers, the 'cheap-jacks' to quote the Hills.

And where did they put 100 instruments in the Strad shop? -- must have been cluttered with fiddles, something to imagine, Stradivari violins piled on shelves or in the corners. The sketch of the Stradivari household in the Hill book makes it seem rather modest in size.

More to Stephen's initial post, I seem to remember reading somewhere that Antonio Stradivari was a player, but it has been many years since seeing or reading that anywhere. Does anyone know if Strad was a violinist?

If my memory serves me correctly I don't think there is any mention of Stradivari being a player. It is an advantage but it is equally obvious that he was getting a lot of feedback from the players. In addition he had over 100 years of Cremonese violinmaking tradition as a training background. Not bad for starters! :)

Bruce

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