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


Stephen Shepherd
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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.

Good point! Perhaps thinking too much of my own shop. :) I can see the multiple rows on a wall, or even hung from ropes across a ceiling.

But, stored off-site or in a chest has certain sales issues. Wonder if some of these instruments had been deemed unsellable or in some other way not interesting?

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Bruce - I should point out here that I respect your knowledge as a local. Mine is entirely parroted from a few visits to Cremona and a lot of books.

I fully accept your point on the Count. I am merely saying that he vacuumed up what was left after the workshop closed, and this may well have presented a different picture to that extant some decades earlier at the start of C18th.

It is interesting (to me anyway) that some of the books by current Cremonese Luthiers and local historians, tend to make the assumption that Antonio must have played a minor role in the workshop towards the end of his life. His sons were middle aged (in today's terms) by this time and one would think that they would have taken over from the Master. But of course, this is applying modern thinking and culture to a time now shrouded in history. You are probably right that the Master exercised a strong influence on quality control.

One of the points I have seen made a few times to suggest that the sons must have taken over, is that the old Antonio must have struggled with his vision towards the end of his life. I suppose this too is just speculation though. The fact that his sons did not outlive him by much and that Paolo apparently had little interest in the business, is an impediment to historical understanding.

As regards storing 100 instruments, if the map of The Island is anything to go by (as reproduced in the Bissolotti books and numerous places elsewhere), Antonio's workshop on the corner was quite large: bigger than Niccolo Amati's and Andrea Guaneri's workshops put together. I know a luthier in southern England who has a tiny two room workshop. There are around 50-60 violins and violas hung on one wall in the main workshop room and dozens more in his dendrochronology room. Antonio's workshop would have had plenty of room I suspect.

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Good point! Perhaps thinking too much of my own shop. :) I can see the multiple rows on a wall, or even hung from ropes across a ceiling.

But, stored off-site or in a chest has certain sales issues. Wonder if some of these instruments had been deemed unsellable or in some other way not interesting?

As I recall the house plans, it was small but three stories tall , with the showroom and public shop on the bottom floor and another workshop on the roof. Not a lot of privacy. Remember too, that there were other types of instruments being made. I wonder if the cases were made there also? Of course the peg makers were probably chained to their oars in the shed in the back. :)

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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.

The Fascists were very keen on making their architecture seen in the center of the Italian towns and unfortunately they picked the block where almost all of the old Cremonese makers were once located to make a new galleria.

Below is the new Galleria by the Fascists. Stradivaris house stood approximately where the white marble plaque is above the archways above the taxi stand. A map of marble is on the side of the building where the new galleria is superimposed over the older block (the street names are new).

Bruce

post-29446-1264972832.jpg post-29446-1264972846.jpg post-29446-1264972814.jpg

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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?

I think the Hills speculated that del Gesu was a player. The only evidence they had for this was his low violin output compared to Stradivari. That and Peter Guarneri is known to have been a professional player in Mantua. I can't remember anyone claiming that Strad was a player.

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I think the Hills speculated that del Gesu was a player. The only evidence they had for this was his low violin output compared to Stradivari. That and Peter Guarneri is known to have been a professional player in Mantua. I can't remember anyone claiming that Strad was a player.

Del Gesù was producing one instrument after another between 1731 and 1744. It is the gray period that the Hills referred to when he left his father's household until he returned to aid his ailing father. I suppose he could still have played in off time.

We have no evidence that Del Gesù had any assistants other than his Father who was carving scrolls.

Bruce

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I have often wondered if a truly great maker can achieve near perfection in instruments if he or she is not able to play well enough to hear and adjust the full tonal range of his instruments.

Since the record of Antonio Stradivari's apprenticeship is unclear at best (did he start out as a carver?) something must have sparked his interest in stringed instruments. This may have been mere proximity to the workshops of esteemed makers, but is it not also possible that he was interested in music as well a in becoming a luthier?

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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

It's been pestering me since I posted -- where did I read that? -- and have tried to locate it. Thought it might be in Wechsberg's _The Glory of the Violin_ but I couldn't find it there. The closest I could find was in his Guarneri chapter, writing:

"Pietro (Guarneri) is the only famous maker who divided his life between making fiddles and professional performance. Naturally all makers could play their instruments, otherwise they couldn't have understood them so well..." pg 90.

Which implies that Strad played -- though offering no evidence, and is simply an opinion.

As I mentioned, I haven't read of Stradivari the violinist in a long time, and perhaps it was in something I borrowed from a library long ago. Occasionally, a book on violins gets some things wrong. Certainly it can't be my memory. :)

RE the Stradivari shop, Wechsberg reports his 1948 visit to Cremona, meeting Antonio's 6th generation descendant Mario, who saw his first Stradivari violin at the exhibit in 1937, but was chased off by an attendent for staring at it a bit too closely. (pg 74-75) He also mentions the home shop being torn down during Mussolini's time, even though "Mussolini was said to like violins." Cf. the ex Benito Mussolin 1695 Hieronymus Amati on pg 28 of the November 2009 Strad magazine.

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I know a couple of full time makers and, while neither is a concert violinist, both can play well enough. One plays occasionally in informal chamber groups, the other doesn't play except to test his instruments. Both have developed routines (not pieces of music) that allow them to evaluate the tone and response and do set-up adjustment.

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I have often wondered if a truly great maker can achieve near perfection in instruments if he or she is not able to play well enough to hear and adjust the full tonal range of his instruments.

The answer must be that some great makers can overcome the obstacles of not possessing complete mastery of playing. Making and playing are two separate arts, and any fine maker who might be a lesser player will at once recognize this potential liability, and compensate for it in one or more creative ways. This argument extends not just to violin making, but to many other crafts also. And as a side note, it can swing the other way too. I know at least one local maker who is a terrific player, but his instruments are not good. It seems he has a very narrow concept of tone, aesthetics, and playability, but since his violins suit his peculiar palette to a tee, he believes they should suit everyone. Yet he labours to sell them even at paltry sums.

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It is interesting (to me anyway) that some of the books by current Cremonese Luthiers and local historians, tend to make the assumption that Antonio must have played a minor role in the workshop towards the end of his life. His sons were middle aged (in today's terms) by this time and one would think that they would have taken over from the Master. But of course, this is applying modern thinking and culture to a time now shrouded in history. You are probably right that the Master exercised a strong influence on quality control.

One of the points I have seen made a few times to suggest that the sons must have taken over, is that the old Antonio must have struggled with his vision towards the end of his life. I suppose this too is just speculation though. The fact that his sons did not outlive him by much and that Paolo apparently had little interest in the business, is an impediment to historical understanding.

One of my standard replies to those who ask about how the sons were participating in the Stradivari workshop is: " Francesco and Omobono weren't just standing around with their hands in their pockets watching Antonio make all the violins.". I truly believe however that Antonio had a very strong personality and played a decisive role in the workshop until the end. It appears, because of the Stradivari wills that were found, that Francesco was Antonio's right hand man. Antonio had less good to say about Omobono and was bequeathed less in the will.

Even Niccolò Amati was evidently ever present in the shop up to the end. It appears that any instrument leaving the shop, even if clearly made by his son Gerolamo, was destined to bear the label of Niccolò, as head of the workshop, he was the Master.

It is obvious that Stradivari had an unusually healthy constitution or he wouldn't have lived to such an age. Glasses were available and, although expensive and probably not much more than magnifying lenses, would have enabled him to continue if he needed them.

Paolo and those who followed after the death of Antonio were not capable or were not interested in the continuation of the business at such a high level. Much the same with Gerolamo Amati, the son of Niccolò. This, together with the changing economic times and outside competition, was bringing to an end one of the most astounding periods in the history of violinmaking.

Bruce

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Paolo and those who followed after the death of Antonio were not capable or were not interested in the continuation of the business at such a high level. Much the same with Gerolamo Amati, the son of Niccolò. This, together with the changing economic times and outside competition, was bringing to an end one of the most astounding periods in the history of violinmaking.

Bruce

Sounds pretty much like what goes on today. A prominent Philadelphia firm comes to mind.

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Sounds pretty much like what goes on today. A prominent Philadelphia firm comes to mind.

The characters and events portrayed in post #37 are fictitious.

Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and unintentional. :)

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"

Bruce

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Bruce, about Stradivari as a player, in the Italian edition of Sacconi`s "I Segreti di Stradivari", there is a catalog of all Stradivarian relics in the final part of the book, and among the relics of the master we find in no. 222:

"Sul retro del foglieto sono tracciati alcuni righi musicali, autografi di Stradivari, con numeri al posto delle note."

For those who not speak Italian I would translate this as ("Tradutore, traditore!"):

"In the other side of the paper, there are some lines of musical notes, written by Stradivari own hand, with numbers instead of musical notes".

The musical notation in numbers points to a player that was not able to read music, but was capable to play, and perhaps play well, since in the past musicians were not able to read music. I remember Mozart`s irritation on the fact that many opera singers were not able to read music, so he had to teach them their parts.

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The musical notation in numbers points to a player that was not able to read music, but was capable to play, and perhaps play well, since in the past musicians were not able to read music. I remember Mozart`s irritation on the fact that many opera singers were not able to read music, so he had to teach them their parts.

The numbers don't necessarily point to anything about the writer's ability to read music. Lute music in Italy was recorded and printed in a numerical tablature, even late in the game i.e. Zamboni's sonatas published in 1718.

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Bruce, about Stradivari as a player, in the Italian edition of Sacconi`s "I Segreti di Stradivari", there is a catalog of all Stradivarian relics in the final part of the book, and among the relics of the master we find in no. 222:

"Sul retro del foglieto sono tracciati alcuni righi musicali, autografi di Stradivari, con numeri al posto delle note."

For those who not speak Italian I would translate this as ("Tradutore, traditore!"):

"In the other side of the paper, there are some lines of musical notes, written by Stradivari own hand, with numbers instead of musical notes".

The musical notation in numbers points to a player that was not able to read music, but was capable to play, and perhaps play well, since in the past musicians were not able to read music. I remember Mozart`s irritation on the fact that many opera singers were not able to read music, so he had to teach them their parts.

Hi Manfio,

That's what I get for going on memory. :) I now remember this fact but I don't have a photograph. I'll see if I can get a look at it. It could also have to do with the tuning of the instrument but naturally that depends upon how many notes are there. I don't think there could be a lot of music written on the back side of the card as it is not too big (14.9 cm x 10.4 cm.).

Bruce

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The numbers don't necessarily point to anything about the writer's ability to read music. Lute music in Italy was recorded and printed in a numerical tablature, even late in the game i.e. Zamboni's sonatas published in 1718.

"Late in the game" and "Zamboni"... Are we delving into hockey now? :)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Fascinating history lesson going on in this thread.

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  • 2 weeks later...

According to the Hills' book, Stradivari's instrument are priced at at least 4 Louis d'or (French gold coin) or 10 gigliati (Venetian gold coin). I looked these up and they are worth about 4-5 English pounds. The GDP/capita of England in those days is about 11 pounds. Simply said, a mediocre new Straivari violin is about half of the annual salary of the average worker. It would translate to about $15K in today's US dollar based on inflation and income adjustments.

How much are violins by reputed active makers today? I have the impression that it goes from $15-40K (correct me if I am wrong). Half of the GDP/capita (about $22K) is sufficient to buy an excellent modern violin. Basically, Stradivari charged for a similar amount.

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