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I have been playing for the last 9 months a Gustave Bernardel violin dating from 1892 in almost pristine condition which hadn't been played for a while, and have followed discussions on Maestronet about this maker and the Gand & Bernardel firm. I have to say it is absolutely the best violin I have ever played.  Strong, even, sweet, clear, responsive, you name it, it's got it... including a wonderful pianissimo, and harmonics I have never heard before, a strong B natural on the E string, you choose between the G string  6th and the E string 3rd harmonic.... plus for the first time I actually 'enjoy' C sharp. 

I was interested in Martin Swan's comments that Gand and Bernardel violins can be inflexible, but on his website he gives the only Gustave Bernardel violin he has tried  3 stars, i.e. up with the best. My questions are these:

a) It is made with an outside mould, and over 1,500 violins had been made by the 'firm' before mine. How many moulds did G&B use, and how many 'sister violins' are there to mine?

b) Why should a Gustave B in 1892 be different from a G&B in 1891?

c) I have seen comments somewhere that there are 'early' and late' G&Bs. What is the difference?

d) Did G&B make Guaneri models, mine is a Strad type?

Would be most grateful for responses from  m'learned members of this forum if these questions are of interest.

Many thanks in advance.

Edited by Samuel Detached
typo
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Should one consult Terriers genealogy page for the Bernadels, Généalogie. Bernardel . (luthiers-mirecourt.com) one finds no Gustav (well, I didn’t), which leaves at least me wonder if Gustav wasn’t a trade name from one of the large workshops, rather than an individual. If this is the case it would make your comparison with Gand & Bernadel sort of redundant

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23 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Should one consult Terriers genealogy page for the Bernadels, Généalogie. Bernardel . (luthiers-mirecourt.com) one finds no Gustav (well, I didn’t), which leaves at least me wonder if Gustav wasn’t a trade name from one of the large workshops, rather than an individual. If this is the case it would make your comparison with Gand & Bernadel sort of redundant

Gustave Adolphe BERNARDEL (1832 - 1904) tucked away in the lower right corner just above the copyright symbol?

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21 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Should one consult Terriers genealogy page for the Bernadels, Généalogie. Bernardel . (luthiers-mirecourt.com) one finds no Gustav (well, I didn’t), which leaves at least me wonder if Gustav wasn’t a trade name from one of the large workshops, rather than an individual. If this is the case it would make your comparison with Gand & Bernadel sort of redundant

Jacob, Gustave is one of the 3 sons of ASP Bernardel.

The firm of Gand & Bernardel was formed through the alliance of Gustave & Ernest Bernardel and Charles Gand. In 1891 the firm split up and its operations were carried on under the name Gustave Bernardel - I'm not sure how active Gustave himself was, I've always thought of the firm as more of a workshop.

Gand & Bernardel lasted for over 25 years, and in that time their production seems to have been pretty unreliable in terms of tone. 

When I did those tonal ratings of instruments at auction I only rated one Gustave Bernardel. I must have played at least a dozen since as well as selling a couple of violas, and they are as much of a mixed bag as Gand & Bernardel was.

3 stars in that tonal rating system meant a good and usable violin, not an outstanding pearl ...!

In my experience the model used by G&B firm for violins is always the same generic Strad model, but it would be surprising if they never made a Guarneri model since most Paris makers did ... I think that the Gustave Bernardel violins were made on the same mold.

 

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13 minutes ago, gottawonder said:

Gustave Adolphe BERNARDEL (1832 - 1904) tucked away in the lower right corner just above the copyright symbol?

thanks! found it. I have often wonderd which firm stamped all those bows and stuff "Gustave B"

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13 hours ago, martin swan said:

Gand & Bernardel lasted for over 25 years, and in that time their production seems to have been pretty unreliable in terms of tone. 

I don't know if I would agree with you 100% on this point, Martin. I think we would agree that in terms of model (Strad inspired), technique and finish, they were very consistent, even if there were a number of different workers in the shop over the years, but my experience (based on contact with a whole lotta these fiddles, maybe closing in on 100) is that they are relatively consistent and predictable with a certain number (maybe 10-20%?) of exceptionally good ones, and a few real "dogs." Although it's generally felt that the earlier Gand Père/Frères violins tend to be better made and better sounding, In my experience I've found basically the same ratio of excellent/good/dog across the century and a half production of this family.

The basic model was set by Gand Père after he took over Lupot's shop, basically inspired by the late Lupots he was making for his boss, and as the firm continued through the Gand Frères era into the Gand & Bernardel era, it got "standardized" and it carried through to the Caressa & Français and finally Emile Français period into the 1940's. 

You can find Maggini-inspired and even a few rare Del Gesu inspired Gand Pères and Bernardel Pères, and there was recently a DG model Gand Frères era violin in the sales, but once Gand & Bernardel started cranking out their several hunderd violins using more hired help, the Strad model seems to be all they produced.

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I thought I'd just add that Gand & Bernardels are a sort of "workhorse" fiddle for orchestra members here in France. Growing up in the USA in the 60's and 70's, studying and later playing with Boston Symphony Orchestra members, I got used to the idea that professional orhestra players all had Gaglianos or better for their "workhorse" violins, Moving here in 1990, I discovered what life was like where orchestra salaries are 70% lower...

I have heard it said that Etienne Vatelot intentionally kept his prices low, conscious that the average French player could not afford to pay the kind of prices that players in the US, England or Germany could pay. Since he kept a lid on his prices, that forced the other dealers in France to do the same, but when he passed his shop on to his successor, the lid came off...

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5 hours ago, Michael Appleman said:

I don't know if I would agree with you 100% on this point, Martin.

my experience (based on contact with a whole lotta these fiddles, maybe closing in on 100) is that they are relatively consistent and predictable with a certain number (maybe 10-20%?) of exceptionally good ones, and a few real "dogs."

Hi Michael, I don't think we are disagreeing ....

I haven't played as many as you, probably 30 or so, but we've bought and sold a couple and also 2 violas. I would agree that the majority are consistent, that occasional ones are great, and that some are hellish.

Where we might disagree is on the question of how their average instruments compare with other violins at the same price - my own take is that an average Gand & Bernardel is well balanced, relatively loud, but on the harsh side of things. The arching is a bit stiff, the varnish generally quite brittle, and the sound just seems wiry to me. It's possible that the quality is lower in the UK, and in fact the instruments I've really liked have been shown to me in France. In the UK I find them quite over-priced, and I am always horrified to hear what people pay in the US or Australia.

I have often taken issue with players over here who talk about instruments sounding "French" - if you think about the totality of French making, even in the middle of the 19th century, it's an absurd prejudice. However, I've sometimes wondered if the prejudice doesn't derive in part from Gand & Bernardels, which have always been pretty common over here.

This "French sound" seems to be to do with a kind of brassy timbre, a lack of colour but with undeniable power. Even if it's by no means common to all French violins, and even if I resist such a silly generalisation, I do know what people are talking about. And if I were to look for a cause, I would examine the very entrenched habit of setting the neck angle so steeply, with the nut so much lower than what we regard as normal. 

What's your experience of this? It's certainly a feature of G&B violins and their successors, also Collin-Mézins, but I don't associate it with Lupot or the earlier makers contemporary with Gand. I do have a pristine Thibout from the 1820s with is original neck, and it has this extreme set - I wonder if it was one of his innovations, maybe even a patent like the rib corners ...

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It's very interesting to hear your report on the UK take on the "French sound," Martin. After taking the time to digest your description and think about it a bit, I think I get what you're talking about, and I think your intuition about the sometimes extreme neck set-back with a low "overstand" is probably pretty accurate as far as why some of these instruments soud "brassy" and "colourless."

From my point of view, however, I rather associate these "qualities" with Collin-Mézins and the more "commercial" Mirecourt production, and less with G&B, and the more "hand-made," artistic lutherie output I think of like Blanchard, Sylvestre, Jombard...for instance, I would be surprised to see a G&B with a "brittle" varnish. There has been a family of varnish makers in Paris that had basically been producing the "Lupot" recipe since the days of Gand Père (until the last of them passed away a few years ago. I managed to get the last bottle...) and all of the G&B's (and Caressa & Français and Emile Français) violins I've handled have this soft linseed oil varnish that wears off if you look at it too long. There has been a long practice of passing off Mirecourt violins with brittle shellac varnish as something nicer, and some of the worst culprits were the Paris makers themselves!

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Michael, you are absolutely right about the G&B varnish - I don't know why I think of it as brittle. Perhaps because the violins mostly sound that way to me - looking at examples in our archive I can see that they were "shiny" rather than brittle!

I'm sure I haven't been confused between authentic ones and Mirecourt imitations - for example here's one we sold. For the record, the sound was spectacular, so I have no hard and fast prejudice against these instruments!

 

sr295gandbernardel-violin-front-msv.thumb.jpeg.b9c4724cb0cf618cf5a4668d40dd3474.jpeg

sr295gandbernardel-violin-side-msv.thumb.jpeg.9210c7763321e66b8d49661075e87de1.jpeg

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Many thanks for the responses. So I have learned this:

a) How many moulds did G&B use, and how many 'sister violins' are there to mine?

All G&B violins are pretty much the same shape. (Mine is very similar to the illustration shown by Martin Swan, though with darker varnish and little gold caps on the pegs which seems to be a feature of high class French violins from about the 1870s -1940s)

b) Why should a Gustave B in 1892 be different from a G&B in 1891?

No reason.

c) I have seen comments somewhere that there are 'early' and late' G&Bs. What is the difference?

Became more standardised as time went on.

d) Did G&B make Guaneri models, mine is a Strad type?

Probably not. But the earlier generation Bernardels and Gands may have made some.

I have also learned:

e) They are pretty much 'workhorse' violins for French orchestral players. (This makes sense to me because G&B were luthiers to the Conservatoire and I read they were commissioned to build a whole string section for the Trocadero orchestra in 1878 - see https://tarisio.com/cozio-archive/cozio-carteggio/lupot-and-his-successors-part-4-gand-bernardel-freres/ ) Nice to know they are still being played a lot.

f) They are on the whole good instruments, some 'spectacular', and with the occasional 'dog'.

Hope I got this right.

Finally I would say about mine, it has none of the harshness or shrillness  Martin Swan associates with French instruments. I would describe the tone as classy, silky, clear, strong, resonant, yet warm. I chose it after trying an 1870s G&B, a couple of Hels and an ASP Bernardel. For me, and I know it is deeply personal, this one 'sang' and was very responsive. My wife found it the mellowest of them all, though it still has the same power. I was quite surprised that I liked it so much, I think of my self as non-conformist yet I ended up with about as much of an 'Establishment' violin as one could imagine.

Thank you Michael and Martin, you have helped me to understand my instrument. 'To understand in order to love, to love in order to understand...' as Stravinsky once said.

Best wishes.

Edited by Samuel Detached
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7 hours ago, Samuel Detached said:

 

Finally I would say about mine, it has none of the harshness or shrillness  Martin Swan associates with French instruments.

This is the only bit I would take issue with ... I don't associate harshness or shrillness with French violins, so I must have expressed myself badly.

Kind of the opposite - we sell a lot of French violins, and I am always frustrated by the prejudice that British classical players have against what they call "the French sound". It's an idiocy of the first order to think that such a thing exists - if you consider the totality of French making from the 18th century onwards, it's extremely diverse. There is very little common ground, either in construction method or in essential philosophy, between even the major schools of Lupot and Vuillaume, let alone all the outliers.

We have sold instruments by Gand, Gand & Bernardel and Gustave Bernardel, and even within this same family tradition there is no consistency in sound quality, though the average later G&B does tend (to my ears) to be a bit brittle or wiry. We have also sold instruments by Pique, various Silvestres and Chanots, Blanchard, Bailly, other Vuillaume makers, Joseph Hel and many others, as well as innumerable workshop instruments by CH JB Collin-Mézin and all of the 20th century workshops/factories, and I can honestly say that there is no common ground when it comes to tone. But we wouldn't have sold any of these if they had been harsh or shrill :)

Of course the customer is always right, but there is no more a French sound than there is an Italian sound, and it can be quite hard to bite one's lip when a client regurgitates this lazy prejudice. I would defy anyone to identify country of origin in a blind test of violins made in different countries around the same time period and to similar standards of workmanship.

However, there is a specific issue which I'm aware of ... the cranked neck which results in a rather acute string angle. I really believe this was a negative development in French making, or perhaps an innovation which is only appropriate to a certain arching and wood choice. We tend to correct this when the economics allow and where the violin isn't an important historic piece. Probably the effect on the tone is subtle, but it seems similar to what happens when you replace a massively over-tight post with one that fits properly. The table vibrates more, and the tone has more colour or malleability.

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Posted (edited)

I defer to your experience, and am really interested/intrigued by the adjectives we use to describe violin sound (and sound in general): i.e. brittle/wiry v. harsh/shrill.

I see there is another topic posted on this on the pegbox: 'Descriptors of Sound' and there has been some good academic work on this over the years (from Helmholtz onwards) for example Zachary Wallmark at Oregon.

What must be true, if 'French 19th century artistic Lutherie production' used:

a) outside mould and smaller blocks/lining

b) thin(ner) wood

c) low arching

d) Strad Lupot type wide waist

e) angled neck and low overstand

that these would affect the sound.

Of course the bow and the player make all the difference.

Once again thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my queries. I really appreciate it.

Edited by Samuel Detached
typo
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1 hour ago, Samuel Detached said:

 

What must be true, if 'French 19th century artistic Lutherie production' used:

a) outside mould and smaller blocks/lining

b) thin(ner) wood

c) low arching

d) Strad Lupot type wide waist

e) angled neck and low overstand

that these would affect the sound.

Of course the bow and the player make all the difference.

Once again thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my queries. I really appreciate it.

You can’t homogenise it like that. French 19th C. violin making went through a considerable development, and a century is a long time

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I have a Gustave Bernardel from 1892. This is has been favorite violin among a few others for years. But not everybody likes the tone. It is very overtone rich, which is not what most players are looking for today. This makes it very radiant, it carries extremely well, I love it for quartet playing, the E-string is a dream. You are always heard.

From the artisitic point of violin making these instruments are extremely consistent and very precise. Fantasticly nice scrolls fluted to the very end, very sharp f hole edges. Immaculate edge work with a very wide purfling. In his work you will never find a kink in the purfling.

Gustave worked alone from 1892. In his later years he did not use bright colours any more.  All I have seen were from the same mold and Strad models. He used an inside mold. His blocks are somewhat square shaped, high linings. There should be a stamp near the top block (hard to see without opening it).

Tonal ratings are very subjective. I played violins with Martin in the hallways of the Royal institution and know his taste - he has seen a lot and knows what he likes. This would not be the vilin that he would like most.

 

20210513_154131.thumb.jpg.436bb138e8326936b9814eee16257eac.jpg20210513_154147.thumb.jpg.c8ea7bce7739bd63da0cbb531b95004e.jpg

20210513_154147.jpg

20210513_154154.jpg

 

20210513_155316.jpg

Mein Song 2.m4a

 

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10 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Who told you that?

I meant he was the sole owner. He must have had makers working with him but I would not know who. Caressa&Francais bought his shop and worked there before.

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On 5/7/2021 at 12:47 PM, martin swan said:

Michael, you are absolutely right about the G&B varnish - I don't know why I think of it as brittle. Perhaps because the violins mostly sound that way to me - looking at examples in our archive I can see that they were "shiny" rather than brittle!

I'm sure I haven't been confused between authentic ones and Mirecourt imitations - for example here's one we sold. For the record, the sound was spectacular, so I have no hard and fast prejudice against these instruments!

 

sr295gandbernardel-violin-front-msv.thumb.jpeg.b9c4724cb0cf618cf5a4668d40dd3474.jpeg

sr295gandbernardel-violin-side-msv.thumb.jpeg.9210c7763321e66b8d49661075e87de1.jpeg

 

 

I have seen one of those with the writing on the side in Munich - a mathematician picked it up for a few Euros from a fleemarket in an original Menesson case. He wondered whether it was genuine. I wanted to buy it but he wouldn't sell it. It was not playable at that point.

How much are those in a violin shop? (I did not ask what you got for it).

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18 minutes ago, uguntde said:

I have seen one of those with the writing on the side in Munich - a mathematician picked it up for a few Euros from a fleemarket in an original Menesson case. He wondered whether it was genuine. I wanted to buy it but he wouldn't sell it. It was not playable at that point.

How much are those in a violin shop? (I did not ask what you got for it).

If it's one of the Conservatoire prize instruments and in top condition, I would think around £35k ... probably more in a posh London shop.

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1 hour ago, uguntde said:

I have a Gustave Bernardel from 1892. This is has been favorite violin among a few others for years. But not everybody likes the tone. It is very overtone rich, which is not what most players are looking for today. This makes it very radiant, it carries extremely well, I love it for quartet playing, the E-string is a dream. You are always heard.

From the artisitic point of violin making these instruments are extremely consistent and very precise. Fantasticly nice scrolls fluted to the very end, very sharp f hole edges. Immaculate edge work with a very wide purfling. In his work you will never find a kink in the purfling.

 

Tonal ratings are very subjective. I played violins with Martin in the hallways of the Royal institution and know his taste - he has seen a lot and knows what he likes. This would not be the vilin that he would like most

Mein Song 2.m4a 487.35 kB · 4 downloads

 

1. What can one say...  ?

2. Mein Song 2  - How much is the violin in the picture ?

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1 hour ago, uguntde said:

I have seen one of those with the writing on the side in Munich

A friend of mine in Vienna has a cello like that. I remember many years ago, when my son was about 7 or 8, we went to a performance of the opera Hansel & Gretel by Humperdinck together, where my freind was playing in the orchestra on it. After about 20 minutes, my boy tugged my sleeve, and said in a loud whisper “look, Eberhard has been very naughty, he’s written on his cello”

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38 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

A friend of mine in Vienna has a cello like that. I remember many years ago, when my son was about 7 or 8, we went to a performance of the opera Hansel & Gretel by Humperdinck together, where my freind was playing in the orchestra on it. After about 20 minutes, my boy tugged my sleeve, and said in a loud whisper “look, Eberhard has been very naughty, he’s written on his cello”

That is a great story, reminds me of the time when I wrote on my own cello, although my writing was much less artistic.

 

It is also a great opera, the kind of thing that Wagner himself might’ve written if he had had a shred of human decency.

Edited by PhilipKT
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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

If it's one of the Conservatoire prize instruments and in top condition, I would think around £35k ... probably more in a posh London shop.

And a normal one, not made for the conservatoire prize? I never liked this writing on the side, you can't play this in an orchestra.

On auctions they go for more like £10-14k.

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