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Colin_baillie

Aberdeen Violin

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Hi,

I've been reading through many of the threads on Scottish made violins here recently and thought I'd try and seek some help.

I've been interested in Scottish made violins since taking up playing 5 or so years ago. On learning I'd taken up playing my Grandmother in Aberdeenshire informed me that her father had been a respected local traditional player, and played a muched loved fiddle which had been made in Aberdeen. This would place it's age at least around the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately when I asked if it was still in the family somewhere nobody could recall who it was passed on to.

This interested me enough to start looking out for Aberdeen made fiddles, not to find his of course but maybe to play a similar instrument. I'm keen on history, antiques and anything Scottish so this notion just fitted!

I was recently offered an instrument made in 1931, signed by one John Alexander, and would love to know anyone's thoughts on the fiddle and perhaps it's maker?

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If you're looking for a new violin, I wouldn't care about the maker too much. Rather, I would worry about sound, feel, playability and price to stay finnancially reasonable.

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There was a luthier by the name of John Alexander who worked in Aberdeen.  However, according to the Rattray book on Scottish makers, he died in 1930.  He made only 14 instruments but apparently was admired by local players.

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"Alexander, John.  b. Bullers of Buchan 1871; d.1930; fl. Aberdeen 1920    Amateur credited with about 14 instruments.  Label: John Alexander Aberdeen 1924."

                    ~Rattray, D. (2006). Violin Making in Scotland 1750-1950. Oxford:BVMA

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I'm quite happy to believe that the violin in the photos is Scottish - it has a slightly amateur look and is very consistent with what might have come from a minor maker in the North East. But it could as easily be from England, and it doesn't have much that's specifically Scottish.

There are some great Aberdeen makers from this period, Marshall the best known - I had a lovely violin by a student of his Alex Strachan. These are violins made by professional makers with a good understanding of sound - something like this purported John Alexander is not likely to sound great, it looks very heavily built.

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Thanks Martin - it does look rather heavy and there is something proportionally uncomfortable in the f hole design to my (amateur) eye.  I suspected an amateur maker from what I've read so this has been useful in confirming that likelihood.

I'll be playing the instrument next week to evaluate the tone but I suspect the hunt will continue...

 

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Many years ago, I had a rather eccentric violin by Alexander Murdoch of Aberdeen.  In spite of its peculiarities, it had a rather good sound.  In the end, I gave it to one of my students who liked it.  More recently, I acquired a James Duncan of Cluny which has an outstanding sound--gives my Italian fiddle a run for its money!

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Ah, success "MacKay, George Sutherland, born Inverness 1849. A rising violinist and composer. Pupil of the celebrated Dr Mark of Manchester. Conductor of orchestra of Aberdeen Theatre Royal for several years." Baptie, D. in Musical Scotland 

...and in Rattray, 

"MacKay, George. b. Inverness 1850 d. Aberdeen 1918 fl. Aberdeen c. 1885. Maker, violinist, teacher and music seller...possibly associated with John Marshall."

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Does anyone know anything about James Duncan of Cluny?  Did he go to America?

I have. Violin by James Duncan, Lewiston, Maine 1896, no. 3..  this ties in with the dates of George Duncan who did go to America.  Could George have changed his name in the States and started his numbering again?  Where in the States did George go?  Any ideas please.

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All my sources indicate that George Duncan emigrated to Canada in 1892.  It is possible that he spent some time in Maine which shares a border with the Canadian province of New Brunswick.  On the other hand, since he won a gold medal in London in 1885, it seems unlikely that he would be making number 3 in 1896.

James Duncan of Cluny seems to have stayed there.  I have his number 19 dated 1906 and his number 39 dated 1925.  Both made in Aberdeenshire.

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On 12/19/2019 at 10:35 PM, Ron MacDonald said:

All my sources indicate that George Duncan emigrated to Canada in 1892.  It is possible that he spent some time in Maine which shares a border with the Canadian province of New Brunswick.  On the other hand, since he won a gold medal in London in 1885, it seems unlikely that he would be making number 3 in 1896.

James Duncan of Cluny seems to have stayed there.  I have his number 19 dated 1906 and his number 39 dated 1925.  Both made in Aberdeenshire.

It can’t be James Duncan of Cluny then.  Are there any other James Duncans making violins in 1896?

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On 12/20/2019 at 6:35 AM, Ron MacDonald said:

All my sources indicate that George Duncan emigrated to Canada in 1892.  It is possible that he spent some time in Maine which shares a border with the Canadian province of New Brunswick.  On the other hand, since he won a gold medal in London in 1885, it seems unlikely that he would be making number 3 in 1896.

James Duncan of Cluny seems to have stayed there.  I have his number 19 dated 1906 and his number 39 dated 1925.  Both made in Aberdeenshire.

George Duncan emigrated to Innisfail, Alberta.  I did a lot of research on this after buying the 1886 viola and an 1880 violin.  After raking through heaps of records and tracking him down,, a 1921 Canadian violin ( with Glasgow label suitably amended for Innisfail !) turned up at Skinners which I was happy to repatriate.  It is probably my favourite violin for sound not bad looking either, though the detail is less precise than the viola.

As for James Duncan, I know his granddaughter..  I will pass on the favourable comments on his fiddle. 

Gordon

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