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Do you build Bergonzi?


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That looks much better than the poster depicts.  Straight on photos are great for patterns, but horrible at details.

That was the second instrument I made.  It came out, but nothing like that!  Pointing corners sticking up. Too much arch.  Clear varnish. 5a3a8403ec858_20171220_0955552.thumb.jpg.d8fd66de214c437e45b4bd5df834bf3d.jpgThose photos sure would have helped immensely.  Maybe I should resurrect that mold using David's tutorial.  I couldn't have possibly made it right.  I had no idea what I was doing back then. (like i do now?)


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On ‎12‎/‎19‎/‎2017 at 1:44 PM, Jim Bress said:

Lol, I looked at the pictures first before reading.  I thought, my God, Christian copied every single detail perfectly!  I'm sure your next project will be just as lovely.


I'm guessing that Christian actually has the chops to copy every detail perfectly! A maker with his skill doesn't just happen. We all know that though. :huh:

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On 10/18/2014 at 11:06 AM, Roger Hargrave said:

I am also a BIG Bergonzi fan. I have made several that are being played by exceptional players and I think I have good reason for choosing to copy his works. Carlo Bergonzi was unquestionably one of the finest and most valued violinmakers of the Cremonese classical period, and was almost certainly a more prolific maker than his rare surviving instruments suggest. In spite of great efforts by modern researchers, his working life largely remains a mystery. There is no sign of him for over 30 years and he was well into middle age before he produced the instruments, which are now accepted as his own unaided work. Most appear to have been made in a single decade, between the years 1730 and 1740. Though extremely scarce, these magnificent instruments vary considerably in form and style. In addition, only a few bear genuine unmoved labels. These factors make it difficult to arrange Bergonzi’s instruments chronologically. Opinion varies considerably as to the emergence of his first instruments. Some authorities place his earliest label as late as 1733, while others advocate the early to mid 1720’s. It has even been suggested that his initial works were made before the turn of the century. However, it is now widely believed that his final works, probably produced around 1744, were almost certainly completed with the help of his son Michelangelo.


The uncertainty about Carlo Bergonzi’s labels is indicative of the problem of Cremonese labels generally. Apart from a few recent noteworthy individuals, few serious attempt has been made to correlate data about the authenticity, dates and wording of the labels of any Cremonese maker. Theoretically this task should be quite straightforward especially for the better known makers, but unfortunately, the private enterprise nature of the violin business has not always been conducive to the free exchange of such information. Consequently as with most Cremonese makers it is not known how many genuine unmoved labels of Carlo Bergonzi actually exist.


In spite of their importance, it is not without reason that dealers seldom endorse labels. Although some serious scientific work has been undertaken concerning ancient papers and printing techniques, only rarely has such research been applied to violin labels in any but the most arbitrary way. The sad truth is that label expertise is still highly unreliable, in spite of the fact that genuine undisturbed labels are all that we have.  


Whenever Carlo Bergonzi’s began making, none of his accepted works give any indication that he was self-taught. In fact the theory that Carlo was a pupil or employee of Antonio Stradivari largely stems from the exceptional quality of his early craftsmanship. His work certainly resembles that of the Stradivaris in numerous ways. In addition although his knowledge of the Bergonzi family has often proved unreliable, Count Cozio di Salabue sets Carlo firmly in the Stradivari workshop from 1738 to 1743. The Bergonzi and Stradivari families are also known to have been on personal terms from at least 1740 if not before. Moreover, linking Carlo to the Stradivaris by association is the fact that in 1745-6, Paolo Stradivari let the Stradivari workshop-home to Carlo after the death of his brother Francesco Stradivari. Probably because of the harsher economic climate that prevailed in the 18th century and because the Bergonzi family were relative newcomers to the violin business, apparently they never owned their own home or workshop.


In view of the fact that the mother-in-law and sister-in-law of Paolo Stradivari, and their servant girl, remained in the house, there may have been some form of special arrangement between Paolo and Carlo. By this time Carlo had been a widower for sixteen years, and as a lone parent he had been left to raise three daughters and two sons, so any ‘special arrangements’ might have been working for both parties.


After the death of Francesco Stradivari, in 1743 his brother Paolo claimed to have inherited almost 100 instruments from the workshop. It is logical to assume that some of these remained unfinished. Had this been the case, Paolo, who was a cloth merchant, would have required someone to complete them? Perhaps consequentially there are one or two instruments, which indicate a close collaboration between the Stradivaris and Carlo Bergonzi. A viola, ostensibly by Carlo Bergonzi, appears to have been started by the Stradivaris and finished by Michelangelo Bergonzi in the late 1740s, possibly because Carlo died shortly after moving into the Cassa Stradivari. This instrument, which when I saw it was in the possession of Charles Beare, has a back similar to the 1734 ‘Gibson’ viola and was built on the CV mould of Antonio Stradivari. There are several similar examples. However, there are also instruments which indicate a close cooperation before the death of Francesco. In particular I think of a violin with a head that might be considered typical of Carlo Bergonzi that has a body that might be considered typical of Francesco Stradivari. The Cremonese method of construction rules out such a combination after the death of Francesco, because the head not the body would have been made first. Incidentally this construction rule can also be applied to the cello dated 1729 that was started and labelled by Joseph filius and finished by his son Joseph Guarneri del Gesu.


In their masterpiece about the life and works of Stradivari, written in 1902, the Hill brothers came out in favour of a Stradivari connection. However, undaunted by this opinion, in 1931 they came to a different conclusion, preferring to place Carlo Bergonzi in the workshop of Joseph Guarneri filius Andrea. Although Carlo often incorporated features of Joseph filius’ work this judgment was based largely on comparisons of their respective outlines, especially the area around the upper corners and the centre bouts. However, as potential employers for Carlo Bergonzi the Guarneri family are an unlikely option. They were far from being affluent and from the Cassa Guarneri in the 1720's decade, there are only about twenty surviving instruments from the father and son combined; none of which have original labels. Indeed, only Antonio Stradivari was labelling instruments on a regular basis at that time. Accordingly it is conceivable he employed both of the Guarneris’ and Carlo Bergonzi. In which case, Carlo Bergonzi may have been influenced by Joseph Guarneri filius Andrea in Antonio Stradivari’s workshop.


That characteristics of both Stradivari and Guarneri should materialize in Bergonzi’s work may seem strange, but such mysterious and apparently contradictory elements often have simple explanations. And, as with the riddle of Del Gesu's heads, they may eventually be solved by careful research.


As if to complicate matters further, before Carlo Bergonzi moved to the Cassa Stradivari, in 1745-6 he lived in the parish of San Luca, in the same Cremonese quarter as Vincenzo Rugeri. Vincenzo, another enigmatic figure, could also have been Carlo's mentor. Several sources including the New Grove dictionary state that there is evidence linking Vincenzo and Carlo some time after 1705, before Carlo became a self-employed violinmaker. As with the Stradivaris, there is no doubt the Bergonzi and Rugeri families were closely associated. However, since Vincenzo's own work is rare, it has also been suggested that both were employed as outworkers, presumably for the Stradivaris. Nevertheless the Rugeri family appear to have been fairly affluent and while apparently not producing many violins they may have provided employment making different types of musical instruments.   


That Carlo’s life and work was demonstrably linked to so many Cremonese makers is probably less strange, than it is indicative of the norm. As has been demonstrated many times in recent years, classical Cremonese makers were a highly interactive workforce. This said, of the great Cremonese violinmakers Carlo may have been something of a special case. He does not appear to have had the status or clout of Cremona’s other famous names. The fact that he seems never to have owned a house or shop of his own suggests that he was essentially an employee rather than an entrepreneur. It is even possible that Carlo worked for several makers before finally assisting Francesco and Omobono Stradivari between 1738 and 1743 as Count Cozio de Salabue suggested.


That Carlo Bergonzi was one of the greatest Cremonese makers is beyond argument. Carlo Bergonzi is considered by many to have been the last of the great Cremonese makers; he was not the last member of the Bergonzi family to make violins. However, after his death a new standard prevailed. Faced with a fresh set of economic circumstances, the Cremonese makers who followed Carlo were largely concerned with cutting costs. Their work was less punctilious, their materials often of inferior quality, and perhaps most disturbing the famous Cremonese varnish was beginning to lose its lustre.


It may not be a popular line, but the best of Bergonzi’s work might be considered the culmination of all the knowledge and artistry that was known passed on and improved upon during the 200 years of this great school. At least that is my opinion. 

Amazing, best thing I've read in a while. Thanks a lot Roger. ( I know, a few years late to the party...)

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On 12/4/2014 at 1:59 PM, Christopher Reuning said:


My favorites are the "Cramer, Heath" and the "Salabue, Martzy" but the "Earl of Falmouth", "Kreisler", and "Perkin, Burnford" have to be considered the top 5 from that best period of his work.

Christopher Reuning

Thank you Christopher for your reply.

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A fine looking instrument Christian. I particularly love the way the light illuminates your edge fluting as it passes through the corners. Sometimes you can just see the sound. The thing about most utilitarian objects is that when they look right, they generally feel good and work well. This is the reason why cleaver dealers and violin makers can often predict how well an instrument will sound simply from its appearance. The argument being that someone so tuned in to the aesthetics of appearance must ipso facto be tuned in to the underlying principal behind the entire project. Throughout history this has been true of every utilitarian object ever made, from arrowheads to Viking longships. (Not too over the top I hope.)

 [RH1]Do two rights make a wrong here? Or are we OK?

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I'm late to comment on this thread, but Christian, your Bergonzi copy from a couple pages ago! What a beautiful instrument - has such class. That back is gorgeous!

(Your more recent instrument as well - I just really liked the looks of that first fiddle, both wood & varnish.)

Roger, I totally agree with your point on "judging a book by its cover," but don't think it's just clever dealers and makers who can imagine the sound of an instrument just by examining its architecture. :) 

As a somewhat professional player, I always give an instrument a looksie before playing it, making a mental prediction of what I might expect based on arching, etc. While there have been some outlying surprises (both positive and negative), in general, my intuition matches with the results in practice. Now I just need Ms. Claudia Fritz to tell me that this is all subjective and more for the realm of acoustic psychology :)



P.S. Christian, love the back on your Segelman copy as well - would love to see finished work!

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On 5/4/2018 at 1:11 PM, Scoiattola said:

I'm late to comment on this thread, but Christian, your Bergonzi copy from a couple pages ago! What a beautiful instrument - has such class. That back is gorgeous!

(Your more recent instrument as well - I just really liked the looks of that first fiddle, both wood & varnish.)

Thanks, It’s two different makers, the violin is Carlo copy and the viola is Nicola copy.

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