Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Old Violins and Violin Lore it was amazing 5. Old violins and violin lore. This book, "Old violins and violin lore," by Hugh Reginald Haweis, is a replication. It has been restored by human beings, page by page, so that you may enjoy it in a form as close to the original as possible.
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As he put only the name and place, but not the date, on his labels all dated Magginis are therefore frauds , it is not easy to assign fixed dates to any of his instru- ments, and the personal information to be squeezed out of them is of the meagrest description. He worked in Brescia ; few of his instruments survive.
His violas are as rare as Gaspare's violins, but he distances all other makers in the attention that he gave to that new- fangled and suspiciously regarded instrument the true violin. His handwriting, some of which survives, would lead one to suppose that his education was very moderate, but the signatures of illustrious princes of this period are no better. Recently, however, the State Archives of Brescia have revealed some interesting gleams of 3 33 OLD VIOLINS information which enable us to show him in his work- shop with one apprentice, Franchino, and a young wife, aged nineteen, Maddalena Anna, who brought him a dowry, and afterwards children.
A picture of his house in the Contrada del Palazzo, Vechio del Podesta, lies before me. It has but two storeys, and the family lived upstairs, surrendering the ground floor to the violin business. In a woodcut by Jost Anian, Zurich , we have an authentic picture of such easy, leisurely, calm workers as Maggini.
There is the rude substantial bench, the tools, the glue-pot, the planks and the wood in blocks, bits of fiddles and strips of timber hung up on the walls ; the aproned artificer is carefully trying a lute as he sits on his three-legged stool. Were we to enter in imagina- tion the studios in which the greatest pictures in the world were being painted about this time, the same meagre appliances and absence of superfluous luxury would doubtless have greeted our eyes.
But our gorgeous modern studios hung with the spoils of the East, and iridescent with precious pottery and curiously worked metals, our modern workshops with their exquisite mechanical appliances and all sorts of labour-saving machines, somehow fail to rival in quality of production those old masters who sat on three-legged stools, ground their own pigments, made their own glue and vamish, and chopped and chiselled their own wood. The singing-schools of Naples had resulted in a call for stringed instruments in increased numbers, but the old viols were seen to correspond ill to the altered times, and the need for an instrument which would render leading melodies effectively was felt just in proportion as such melodies became multiplied with the rise of vocal music, sacred and profane.
Most writei"s on the violin seem to have a passion for cutting up a maker's life into periods, as though a man could rise one morning and say "Go to now, let us enter upon period number three, in which the back shall be sloped so, and the belly brought down thus, and the curve of the bouts tilted, contracted, or elongated thus. Now I come to speak of Maggini, I will trace roughly but clearly what may be called his continuous development, rather than any so-called three periods. Naturally at first the pupil made like his master Gasparo.
His violins suggested big viols on a small scale. They had a heavy look; they were of large size, which makes the sides seem lower than they are, for in reality the ribs are not higher than those of the Amati. Maggini's early backs, sides, and bellies are cut on the slab — that is, across the grain. Then Gaspare's sound-holes have got narrower in the hands of his pupil, and Gasparo has probably got credit for some of the improvements of Maggini, as there can be little doubt that some violins labelled Gasparo are the work of his pupil, just as early Stradivari violins are in existence signed Nicolo Amati.
If I may hazard the remark, in my opinion Maggini did not copy so long or so seriously the work of Gasparo as did Stradivari copy Nicolo. The reason is obvious. The stride between Gasparo and Mag- gini is far greater than that between the late Nicolo and the Strad. By the time Nicolo died the violin had already risen to that supreme and independent individuality and dignity which it has never since lost.
Stradivari got the violin all ready made; it was Maggini's glory to have assisted at the individualisa- tion of the " King " type. Presently we become aware that Gasparo is dead and buried. The sound-holes are more delicate, but still a little quaint; they are invariably bevelled inwards, a practice entirely discarded by the Cremona masters. Sir Joseph Chitty's, and Mr. Sternberg's, and the Dumas' tenors are good specimens of Maggini's first independent work illustrating the above characteristics.
The Dumas family were friends of Beethoven, and enthusiastic admirers of Maggini's work. They pos- sessed at least one valuable " chest " of his instruments. A chest is described by an old writer as " a large hutch with several compartments and partitions in it, each lined with green baize"" we have since gone heavily into velvet and plush.
There are only about eight violas or tenors of Mag- gini's known ; they do not vary in their proportions. The model of the Dumas viola is of the master's most arched type — a feature much exaggerated by Stainer and his followers. It is, like almost all this master's specimens, adorned with double purfling, set close to the edge, with the usual Maggini bevel at the comer joints.
These corners give it a special phy- siognomy ; they are short, and make no appeal to the eye like the later Cremonas. The Dumas tenor is in exquisite condition ; the varnish is unlike the old Gasparo brown, it glows with rich golden tints. Its type is admirably defined ; no one in looking at this tenor can say, " This is a little violoncello," or " This is a big violin. The Cremona makers worked on it, but they did not re-create the tenor; they could not. The Dumas-Maggini violin is in equally fine condi- tion ; it looks so new that some have supposed that, although eighty years before Stradivari, it must be a copy made by Strad of the older master, but it is absolutely authentic and genuine.
Before Maggini died, we notice that a very high standard of finish has been reached, unknown to him in his earlier days, or, as for the matter of that, to any of his predecessors. Stradivarius at last fixed it and regulated it in a model from which no later maker has found it safe to depart with the exception of Duke and Klotz, who obstinately adhei-ed to the Stainer high bellies with deep side grooves.
Although Maggini adhered to his double purfling, there ai-e specimens of his work in exhibitions without it ; and at least one curiously but not carelessly made instrument is known where the purfling at the back is neither double nor even inlaid, but merely drawn sharply in black lines. A very fine single-purfled violin, formerly in the collection of Prince Caraman Chimay, now in the possession of Mr. Antonietti, pos- sesses an unrivalled tone of the Maggini timbre. Many of his violins retain the old taste for other inlaid orna- mentation. He does not run into maps and portraits, but a graceful clover-leaf pattern is often found at top and bottom of his backs, twisted, as it were, out of the purfling, and a sixfold trefoil sometimes occupies the centre of the back ; but an acute observer has noted that there is no instance of the central trefoil com- bined with the clover-leaf pattern.
Not less remarkable than this great maker's definition of the violin and viola types was his conception of the violoncello. The Maggini 'cello is not the son of the double-bass, but the father of the tenor. It is much more like a large tenor than like a small double-bass ; the proportions are, as it were, enlarged from the tenor, not reduced from the flat-backed bass.
Maggini's bent was entirely in the direction of the smaller violoncello pattern. The early and even the later Cremona 'cellos were too large, and there is very little doubt that the 39 OLD VIOLINS powerful influence of Maggini can be traced in the evolution of those perfect but moderately sized Strad 'cellos which date mostly after The tone of Maggini is full, mellow, and plaintive, rather than biting like Stainer, bell - resonant like Strad, or soft and sensitive like Nicolo Amati; but great players like Vieuxtemps, Ole Bull, Leonard, and De Beriot have found him sufficient, and if more have not extolled Maggini, it may be on account of the rareness and inaccessibility of his instruments.
It has been said by a competent authority that not more than fifty extant Magginis are known, and in England at present about thirty violins, ten violas, and but two violoncellos and one double-bass. Maggini died at the comparatively early age of fifty- one. All researches made in the archives of S. Lorenzo, his parish church, have failed to reveal the date of his death, and the worst of it is that the registers of that church prior to have disappeared. We hear plenty about his wife, Anna Foresti, who died , aged fifty-eight, and was buried in a neigh- bouring parish.
It is more than probable that Maggini himself was a victim to the plague which raged at Brescia in , and that he was hastily interred, or, dying at the Pest House, no official note of his death may have been taken.
At any rate, in , the year of the plague, his son describes himself as "filius quondam Johannis Pauli "" — the son of the late Gio. Maggini was doubtless well ofF, owned con- siderable property in and out of town, was the father of six children, and, what was of far more importance, the father of the modern violin. With the assumed immigration of makers from Brescia — the emergence of the Amati family the name of Amati is not found in the Brescian archives , and their final residence at Cremona — begins the classic period of the violin.
I have narrated elsewhere my pilgrimage to the place which so ungratefully forgets almost the very tradition 42 VIOLINS AT CREMONA of the Amati, Stradivari, and Guarnerii, whose fabrics alone have given it a musical immortality, and whose names are hung up high like the stars, which no discords of the middle ages, sieges, or brawls can ever reach. Let us now try and come face to face with these immortal makers.
Andrea Amati pere settled at Cremona, and made violins from He brought with him his- brother Nicolo not the great Nicolo, aftenvards master of Stradivari, Italian, or Stradiuarius, Latin. Andrea Amati had two sons, Antonio and Geronimo, who made violins jointly as well as separately. When Antonio married, the fiddles of neither seemed to im- prove. The brothers ceased for a time at least to work together there being, it is said, a period in which there are no joint productions ; but as there are much later violins bearing their joint names, it has been assumed that they again collaborated.
If we trust some of these late labels — the brothers being bom about , and one of the joint violins being dated — it would follow that the venerable artificers were still making violins at the age of years, which beats Stradivari himself, who only worked till he was ninety-three. Geronimo, according to one writer's account of his labels, went even one better, for there is a Geronimo violin dated ; so if this Geronimo, brother of Antonio, was born about , which is tolerably cei-tain, he went on working even longer than Moses, with his eye undimmed and his natural strength unabated, down to the age of !
But with this Geronimo Amati, son of Nicolo born , and a certain Don Nicolo Amati, an Italian priest, we need not trouble ourselves beyond recording their names. A good deal has been said about Andrea Amati and his violins. He was certainly the founder of the family, but not much is known about him except that he probably, almost certainly, acquired from Brescia the Maggini type, and that his violins are somewhat smaller, arched in the belly, with a varnish that runs out of the Brescian brown into the mellow and brilliant gold and ruddy tints common to the Cremona varnish ; 44 VIOLINS AT CREMONA the later Amatis have a tendency to revert to the browner hue.
That Andrea made some choice violins for Charles IX. The arms of France, we are told, were painted on the backs, and they are said to have been of beautiful workmanship.
This is known as the " Bridge's viollo. The "A" is beautiful, the "E" soft and delicate, and the third very full and round — qualities which are also conspicuous in the brothers Geronimo. But if Amati tone is of cabinet, not concert quality, its quality is of a kind unequalled for charm and sensitiveness, and although not loud, some violins made by the brothers have a considerable carrying power.
The double purfling of Brescia is also gone, but the brothers purfled very beautifully, with a bend of perfect regularity and smoothness. The violins of Antonio are better than his brother's, but the joint violins are the best, and have been oftenest forged. The brothers indeed made excellent violas, but, as the fashion then was, too large. They have been sometimes cut down.
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Sir Frederick Gore Ousely once had a fine specimen, which I remember playing upon many years ago at Tenby — tone very full and mellow. Richard Blagrove, a brother of Henry Blagrove, the admirable early Monday Popular violinist, was a viola player, and used a reputed Amati, but it was really a Gagliano.
Many of us can remember how richly it contributed to the triumph of a quartet, of which Joachim, Riess, and Piatti were often the other members. The over-arching of the early makers and scooped side-curves are generally supposed to be a vice in acoustics finally overcome by the gentle natural curve and flatter models of Nicolo, but it is perhaps possible to ride a theory too hard. It is well known that in both these Amati makers the late Cremona flat curve is conspicuous by its absence ; and whilst I do not for a moment deny that the flatness of the Stradivari model is preferable, I think the superi- ority of the late Cremona tone may be due to a good many other things beside that.
It will always be a question whether the man who makes possible the last perfection of an art or the man who actually achieves it is really the greater genius. Pietro Peru- gino or Raffaello in painting ; Chaucer or Shakespeare in literature ; Handel or Beethoven in music ; Gasparo and Maggini or Stradivari in violin -making; but popular opinion generally plucks the blossom without troubling itself much about the roots, and the prices fetched by the finest Strad and the finest Gasparo, or even Nicolo Amati, practically settle the question as regards the violin-makers.
Nicolo, the great son of Geronimo, was bora in , and died close upon the seventeen hundreds, in Nicolo was quite aware that he resumed in himself the fine qualities of his distinguished family and improved upon them. There could have been little in those small, almost three-quarter size, brown varnished, and sweet but feeble-sounding violins to attract the aspiring grandson ; but there were qualities in the some- what larger models of the famous brothers, Geronimo and Antonio, which set his hand and head agoing, when as a boy he fell to copying and cai-ving backs and bellies, and twisting ribs and throwing scrolls, in his father's little workshop at Cremona, opposite the west front of the Saint Dominic Church.
Nicolo the Great doubtless followed and imitated his father Geronimo, but wishing to miss nothing, and perhaps labouring under a sense of obligation or merely out of genuine affection, his labels embody an immortal acknowledgment of indebtedness to both masters. But as we watch his dates, the touch of Nicolo very soon becomes distinctive. On the death of his father and uncle he found himself in possession of a work- shop which inherited a great name, but which was destined to transmit to future generations the greatest violin names in the world.
Most of the Nicolo violins before are of the smaller pattern, but after this date down to , the year of his death, the eye of a connoisseur will notice an inci-ease in size, a finish in workmanship, and a more delicate purfle never double. The model is still somewhat high in back and belly, but with an increasing tendency to get flatter; the side-grooving is less pronounced, whilst the corners are noticeably drawn out into finer points full of character, aiTesting the eye, lightening as it were the model, and giving the whole physiognomy of the instrument a grace and piquancy hitherto unattempted.
The sound-holes of Nicolo are pointed and somewhat naiTow ; the scroll is cut a little too flat for the later taste, but passes as the century wanes into a somewhat larger and bolder style. The wood seems to be chosen almost as much for its mottled or fine-grained beauty as for its acoustical properties.
The eai'ly Nicolo varnish is of brownish Brescian type, but later on it glows with the rich amber tints of Cremona, and those dragon-blood stains which give to some Strads and Josephs such warm and generous tints like the sunlit dashes of mellow red on a ripe nectarine. Somers Cocks has a most glorious Amati violoncello, " one of the finest ever seen or heard," so said to me a distinguished connoisseur. The side-grooving, generally held to interfere with the volume of tone, whilst supposed by some to add to its sweetness, has not disappeared as in the Strad grand model, but it has become less pronounced.
The tone is lovely and sensitive, and the Nicolo is truly delightful to handle. It is par excellence the lady's violin. The one before me, where the varnish still remains, melts into light orange with clear golden gleams in it. If Joseph is the strong male, Nicholas or Nicolo cer- tainly belongs to the softer and more yielding sex.
The tone is most delicate, and of ravishing sweetness. It seems to leap out almost before the horse-hair has feathered the strings. It continues to sing on like a vibrating silver bell, as if intoxicated with itself, long after the bow has ceased its contact. In the sweet Nicolo the lover finds no bars, no obstacles ; it is won almost before 'tis wooed. We are interested to know that in his own time Nicolo's work was carefully imitated, if not forged ; whilst his supremacy over one of his best pupils, Francesco Rugereo, Rugieri, or Rugerius, was clearly ' An unique set of instruments by the Amati family worthy of mention is the quintett, composed of three violins, a viola, and a violoncello, novr in the possession of Miss Willmott.
The aggrieved Tomaso there- upon applied to his liege sovereign, the Grand Duke of Modena, for summary redress, avowing that he had given a higher price because the violin had a label of Nicolo, " who," he adds, " was a maker of great repute in his profession, but now it was proved to be only a violin by Rugerius the pupil, a maker of less credit. Whether he got it or not was no doubt very important to him, but of very little conse- quence to us. The fact that he made the application is the point. The GuAENEim family must have made violas or violins as the sand of the sea in number, if the frequency of their labels may be taken as any guide ; and in truth they were a long-lived and industrious family, and doubtless made a good many instruments, chiefly violins.
But the reputation of Andrew and Peter, and above all the great Giuseppe Joseph del Gesu, led to the early fabrication of pseudo Josephs, and labels in numbers far beyond what all the great makers of Cremona together could have produced, Andrea Guarneri Andrew Guamerius the appren- tice, as we have seen, was one of the witnesses to the 51 OLD VIOLINS great Nicolo Amati's marriage in , and Nicolo enters his pupil's name in the church register as aged fifteen, which gives us the year of his birth, He worked on till ; in he man-ied, and two of his sons, Giuseppe not the great Giuseppe, his nephew and Pietro, worthily sustained and improved upon their father's reputation.
Many of the violins of Andrea Guarneri are of the smaller Nicolo pattern, but somewhat inferior, and not always well finished. The wood of his rare 'cellos, however, although plain in appearance, can boast of singularly fine acoustic qualities. There is a well-known 'cello now belonging to Miss Theobald, of his finest workmanship. Giuseppe, second son of Andrea Gianbattista Giuseppe, born to , as distinguished from Del Gesu or " Jesus " Giuseppe, struck out a freer line of work. His narrow-waisted boldly-curved instru- ments, with their Brescian-looking sound-holes set low down, his rich, almost too profusely rich, varnish and fine wood, but not over-finished workmanship, give his violins quite a characteristic appearance, and in power of tone they are superior to his father's.
But next to the great Giuseppe del Gesu, Pietro Guarneri is the flower of the familjr, and most sought after by amateurs. The gi'ain of his bellies is often wide, the distance between the sound-holes is conspicuous, the sound-holes themselves are rounder and less Brescian, the scrolls are beautifully cut, and the varnish is superb, from golden tints to pale red, which has thrown some writers intO' 52 VIOLINS AT CREMONA rhapsodies about setting suns and the colours of the rainbow.
Passing over a lesser Pieti-o, son of the lesser Giuseppe, son of Andrea, who worked at Mantua, we come to the one man who, with the exception of the great Nicolo, is worthy to measure swords or bows with Stradivari. He came, singularly enough, from a side branch, and not in direct descent from Andrea or any violin-maker, being the son of one John Baptist Guarnerius, and was born at Cremona in The father of the great Giuseppe was the son of one Bernai-do Guarnerius, who was a cousin of Andrea, and therefore the great Joseph was nephew of Andrea Guarnerius, just as the great Nicolo was the nephew of Andrea Amati; but a distinguished fact separates our Giuseppe from all his illustrious kinsfolk, and it is this, that his father, Bernardo, does not seem to have been a violin-maker at all, so the young Giuseppe owed his teaching most probably to his uncle and cousins.
Most writers have speculated blindly enough upon his distinctive appendage "del Gesu," some talking about the Jesuits or a supposed religious bent. This is one of the many cases where sapient antiquaries, in seeking for recondite origins, neglect the simplest facts and ignore the easiest explanations. What can be more simple than for the great Giuseppe, conscious of his superiority to Gianbattista, son of Andrea Guarneri, as well as anxious to distinguish himself from Gianbattista, his father, and coming after both, though preferred before them, should call himself the 53 OLD VIOLINS "del Gesu," or Jesus, who followed after the John Baptist of the family?
So far from indicating any particular reverence for religion, the assumption of this bold title seems to me to partake more of a certain in-everent levity ; and if, as tradition says, the great Giuseppe or Joseph was somewhat of a free liver, and perhaps even a sceptic, he may have had small scruples in so lightly treating sacred names and subjects.
The question as to who may have been his master, and the influence or otherwise of Stradivari upon him, has also been involved, as I think, in needless mystery. Since Del Gesu worked at Cremona and must have been, as a cousin and nephew, a good deal with his uncle and cousins, Andrea, Giovanni, and Pietro, who lived there, it is no great stretch of fancy to suppose that when he showed the family bent for violin-making, he should have been apprenticed to study the art with his cousin Giuseppe, son of Andrea, in which case he must have lived next door to where Stradivari was working all thi'ough his finest period; and though Giuseppe's violins are rightly said to be in the style of his cousin's Gianbattista, and he may have drawn his early inspirations from his cousin, it is impossible to suppose that so able a man could be in daily con- tact with and yet wholly insensible to the influence of the greatest maker who ever lived.
Why, he not only worked next door to Strad, but probably met him every afternoon at the neighbouring cafe, and was doubtless often about his shop, year in year out. The massive, bold, and original lines and less scrupulous finish of Joseph the Great, the powerful almost brutally powerful scroll, the loud trumpet-like imperious tone, all mark the masculine as contrasted with the sweeter and more feminine qualities of the gentler, bell-like Strad.
The fact also before alluded to, that between the back and the belly of the Strad there is usually but one note, whilst between the back and belly of the Giuseppe del Gesu there are sometimes more, all prove sterling and distinct originality, as Rafael was distinct from Peru- gino or Michael Angelo from Leonardo da Vinci. But enough ; for to di'aw these comparisons before describing the master may seem like putting the cart before the horse.
So let us now, without further ado, locate the great violin shops at Cremona and peep into workshop No. Domenico, now Piazza Roma. In about , Andrea Amati had set up his modest establishment, trained his sons, and taken apprentices, bequeathing to Nicolo his plant and pupils. Stradivari and the early Guarnerii then worked together, cheek by jowl ; by-and-by Stradivari migrated to No.
Domenico, now demolished, there never were nor will be three such violin shops. Here were made, in long, quiet years of peaceful labour, between and , in steady and friendly rivalry, all the greatest violins in the world. But in following the development of the Guamerii family into the seventeen hundreds, the position of Giuseppe del Gesu, the king of the Guarneri, must be clearly defined before we describe the rise and progress of Stradivari, who ran parallel with, and who, in the estimation of most violinists, seems to combine in him- self, the ne plus ultra of all violin perfection.
Nothing about Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu is more remarkable than the determined way in which, after examining the Amati types, he deliberately went back to the Brescian Gasparo and Maggini models for in- spiration. The time had come when powerful tone was wanted.
The Amatis were sensitive, sweet, and weak ; in the larger and more massive Brescians Giuseppe found the suggestion of what he was des- tined to make perfect. Strength, power, was what he wanted, and the sentiment is thrown off in the bull- dog type of his head or scroll, in the thickness of his boards so much criticised, in the boldness rather than the grace and delicacy of his curves.
He tried many experiments: He was watching the effect on the volume and quality of tone, and when he had in his own way conquered that secret of grand sonority, whether empirically or by calculation, then, and not till then, his workman- ship improves. He weis like a man who had no time to think of the delicate cooking till he had stayed his main appetite. His frequent habit of cutting the wood upon the cross, a contre sens, as in the case of Mr. Del Gesu's varnish is never clotted, but is laid on thoroughly, yet with a light hand.
Ruskin used to say that Sir Joshua Reynolds' touch was so light that he could paint on a gossamer veil ; Del Gesu's brush is also as light as a feather. Some of Del Gesu's later violins, dating from about , after the death of Stradivarius, are amongst his finest. Frazer, are particularly fine, and belong to this period. Paganini's Joseph, now in the Town-hall at Genoa, Alard's, in the Museum of the Conservatoire of Music, Turin, and Vieuxtemps'', now in the possession of Maurice Sons, also belong to this great period.
The life of Joseph Guamerius is more or less en- veloped in mystery. It seems, for instance, utterly impossible to get at the truth about the so-called prison fiddles. Whenever a Joseph or a presumed Joseph which is not up to Joseph's standard comes into the market, it is dubbed a Del Gesu prison-fiddle.
The story runs that Giuseppe, being a somewhat reckless person, got into trouble and was locked up for many years, during which time the gaoler's daughter got him any wood she could find, and he made these inferior pot-boiling fiddles, which she disposed of for such moderate sums as she was able. I prefer to put this legend wholly aside. Something similar is said to have happened to the great Athanasius, whose name has been confounded with that of the obscure Pope Anastasius, in whose presence a creed was recited by one Bishop Victricius, and the confession of faith thus recited by command of Anastasius now passes as the creed of Samt A thanasitis, since it emphasises the Trinitarian doctrine chiefly connected with the name of that illustrious doctor.
A Giuseppe del Gesu is much more difficult to find than a Strad — his output, as compared to that of Stradivarius, is as one to six ; his life was shorter, and his working career probably more erratic. But he is placed on a level with the immortal Antonio by some who know how to handle him, and the prices of his wares have already reached four figures. Individuals may chafe under it, and writers may try to reverse its verdict. You even have crazes for the revival of neglected poets, painters, and musicians, but you will never succeed in pushing from their pedes- tals the great gods whom posterity has once decided to bow down to.
De Beriot may choose to play on a Maggini, and Paganini may prefer his Joseph, but even Maggini, Nicolo Amati, and Giuseppe Guarnerius, who stand round as it were saluting one another, leave Stradi- vari apart by himself like a Colossus on a moun- tain, and yet no one, not the greatest connoisseur, is able to say exactly why. When so many esteem individual violins above some Strads, and when Joseph del Gesu is held to run the magic master very hard, still Strad stands apart upon his mountain for all men to look up to and wonder at.
We can only say it is the way with all the greatest ; there is something of the mystery of heaven about the incom- municable touch ; the true aureole forms about no head to order, and the lonely seats are kept for the mighty. We get the date of his death from the register, and the date of his birth is fixed by a violin label in his own hand- writing, in which he states that he was ninety-three years old when he made the instrument. Stradiuarius married at the age of twenty-three a woman of twenty-seven, who had been a widow for three years, whose maiden name was Fen-aboschi, and he adopted her one little girl.
By her he had six children, some of whom died before him. His second wife, whom he married several years later, bore him five children, two of whom died before him — so that in all Stradivari had eleven children. None of them seemed to have inherited their father's genius ; only Omobono and Francesco Stradivari made even decent fiddles, and so far maintained the great name as to succeed at first in selling their wares at their father's prices.
The buyei-s probably hoped that at least the wood might have been selected by Stradivari pere, and much of it probably was ; and if there was the chance of getting a spare rib or back or belly with a touch of the master upon it, it was surely worth a little speculation. Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guameri, as stated before, were young garzoni or apprentices together in the workshop of the great Nicolo Amati — sat on the same work bench, used the same tools, and doubtless discussed the same problems.
In and out of that shop ran, no doubt, the boy Giuseppe Guarneri to see his uncle Andrea. He must 61 OLD VIOLINS have always found Stradivari there ; and when, later on, Giuseppe imbibed a taste for fiddle-making, and became himself the great Del Gesu, it is hard, I insist upon it, to believe that what must have been a lifelong acquaintance with the mighty Stradivari should have had no influence whatever in forming his ideas and methods. There is no mention of the youthful Stradivari having accompanied Andrea Guarneri to the wedding of his master, Nicolo Amati ; Andrea was doubtless the older pupil, and Antonio Stradivari was taken on later.
He was learning; but in he begins to sign his name, not from pride, but because his master made him do so. From before that date to about , which brings us to within fourteen years of Nicolo Amati's death, he made what are sometimes called Amati Strads. At this time Antonio followed closely the violins of the early Nicolo rather than the grand Amati pattern, but he appears to have followed his master's develop- ments continuously, slowly, but surely. When Stradiuarius married about and left Nicolo Amati, he set up round the corner in the same street as the brothers Guamerii, and almost next door to them, in the square opposite the great Church of S.
From about this time connoisseurs notice a great improvement in Stradivaii's technique ; but up to at least, remaining a close copyist of Amati, he doubtless kept on terms of the closest intimacy with Nicolo, now in his decline, and benefited by the abundance of orders flowing in for Amati violins which the old master was unable to execute. From to was a period of great activity, perhaps haste ; even some pot-boiling Stradivari violins may then have been made as the young family increased. Antonio's wood is often plain about this time, and not up to the best taste and selection of his master, but he evidently remained his right-hand man to the end ; and when Nicolo died, at the ripe age of eighty-eight, he left all his tools and his plant not to his son Girolamo, then about thirty-five, but to Antonio Stradivari, then just forty years old.
Desiderio Arisi, a Cremonese, has left an interesting MS. The master was not above making mandolines and lutes to order.
The massive, bold, and original lines and less scrupulous finish of Joseph the Great, the powerful almost brutally powerful scroll, the loud trumpet-like imperious tone, all mark the masculine as contrasted with the sweeter and more feminine qualities of the gentler, bell-like Strad. Of these chefs-d'osuvre the Marquis writes: The endless discussions as to exactly when the violin proper made its appearance, or the tenor proper, or when the viol da Gamba got modified into the current violoncello size and shape, will probably continue to agitate those whose minds have a special aptitude for such researches. As an avid amateur violinist and a new Kindle owner this book caught my eye. They show even now at Absam the bench to which the wretched man is said to have been bound when his paroxysms came on. Write a review Rate this item: The tablet bears the following simple inscription:
Hill own a perfectly plain Stradivari guitar in fine con- dition. It is of exquisite close-grained wood. I have often wanted to hear the sound of that guitar. I noticed a Stradivari cithern in the South Kensington Loan Collection with an elaborately carved female head of great beauty. I did not wonder that he who could carve such scrolls could carve a head or anything else. There are, or were, within the present century, other gems of workmanship some of which it is to be feared have perished, children's fiddles, instruments made with small figures, flowers, arabesques.
Everything that comes from his hand is finely accurate in drawing. Sometimes his decoration is merely painted in black, sometimes ivory, ebony, or mother-of-pearl is used, but everything Stradivari did was perfectly done; he qualified himself to the nth, as mathematicians say, for each branch of his art. Stradivarius did all, and did all consummately well. His heads and ara- besques are worthy of Cellini, his inlaying of the finest Florentine mai-queterie ; his scrolls and curves are of Pheidian beauty ; his varnishing is his own.
On the death of Amati, Stradiuarius and the Guar- nerii had the Cremona market to themselves, and whilst the competition was quite wholesome, there is no reason to suppose that their rivalry was other than a friendly one. They had all been brought up to- gether, they had worked as boys together, they had doubtless lent each other tools, touched up each other''s backs and bellies, varnished each other s ribs, criticised each other's scrolls from boyhood ; and now that the Cremona violin was in the ascendant, and kings and nobles from Spain, France, Germany, Saxony, and even England were anxious for Cremona fiddles, there was a market for them all.
The bitterness of competition is not always due to rival makers, but often to over-production ; and such a thing as over-production of fiddles in those days was unknown. Nay, the orders that came in could not be executed fast enough. Music walked faster than the instruments could follow it. When the King of Poland wanted a Strad violin he knew his man, and sent his Capelmeister Voleme to Cremona, with orders to stop there and bring back the twelve violins ordered for the court orchestra. After the death of the illustrious Nicolo Amati, this patient pupil, this careful copyist, this accurate and tireless student and experimentalist begins to assert his strong individuality.
His scroll departs from the feminine Amati type and becomes striking and independent, his sound-holes recline more, his corners are pronounced, his middle bout curves are prolonged, his varnish is almost fancifully varied from rich gold to soft velvety red. His wood is now in- variably chosen with the utmost care, and as he made chiefly for the nobility, royalty, and the higher clerical dignitaries, he was not only on his mettle, but he could afford to work just as he chose.
In , Michele Monzi, a rich Venetian banker, sent him an order for a chest of violins, altos and 'cellos, which were to be presented to our King James II. They were so much liked that his Majesty ordered a viol di gamba of Stradiuarius in In Stradivari makes his famous set of instru- ments for the Spanish Court, inlaid with ivory, with a scroll-work running round the sides. One of these rarities — a violin — found its way into the hands of Ole Bull, the famous violinist. It has been since sold in England to Dr.
Charles Oldham of Brighton. The tenor is, I believe, in existence. When last in the market, it had lost its ivory purfling, which has since been exquisitely i-eplaced by Messrs. There are extant several very small violins made evidently to order about this period. The fallacy of different sizes for different ages from childhood upwards is one which will always smile to makers and those acute persons who teach the violin and buy their pupils' in- struments, which of course have to be changed as the childi-en grow up, for larger and larger ones.
I have always protested against this. Thus from the very first, when at six or seven years of age I played the violin like the violoncello, I never had to unlearn my intervals in stopping the strings. The brain learns intervals. An habitual tenor player never plays the violin quite in tune, and vice versa ; and so every time a larger violin is placed in the pupil's hands, the brain is bothered with the narrower stopping learned in the preceding period. Artistically they are gems; musically, fallacies. I have never got anybody to agree with me about not using dwarf fiddles.
Joachim, I believe, con- tended that for a child to use a large fiddle stiffens his muscles. I don't believe it; it certainly did not stiffen mine.
I believe I am also in a minority in my partiality for old bridges. Neither theory is, in fact, " good for trade. Of these chefs-d'osuvre the Marquis writes: The players in the orchestra are unanimous in express- ing appreciation.
They declare your instruments to be quite perfect ; they all say they never heard a violon- cello with such a tone as yours. On this occasion, we learn, from the relics of Stradivari in the possession of the Marquis della Valle, that the great violin-maker characteristically enough made the most beautiful cases for the royal instruments, decorating them profusely with armorial bearings and symbols appropriate to each instrument. The order was given in , but the instruments were not handed in till The Grand Duke, it seems, came back for more, as there was found amongst his instruments a violin of the grand pattern bearing the later date, I cannot forbear to call attention to the exquisite chromo-lithographs of the Tuscan violin, and the lucid description and history of this last-named famous masterpiece, in Messrs.
He declares it to be in the very finest preservation still, with an unbroken and authentic record, and to possess all the noblest qualities of the incomparable master. It is on the very verge of his great period, bearing the date , and was bought by Mr. David Ker in The Tuscan viola and violoncello are still in the Institute at Florence, and I advise all lovers of Cremona who get the chance to go and inspect them.
The only other point of great general interest before the year , when Stradivarius enters on his golden period, is the deliberate manufacture of a certain num- ber of violins on a pattern distinct from the Amati, and from any patterns adopted by himself before , or after These instruments are known as 69 OLD VIOLINS long Strads, and they seem to be a sort of construc- tional or experimental link between the smaller Amati pattern and the grand Strad pattern of — a model evidently suggested by the gi-and Nicolo, but not adopted by the cautious Strad till some years after Nicolo's death.
From to Stradivari not only went out of his way to make long Strads, which not only looked longer because they were narrower and pinched in, but actually were longer — i. In other respects also he walked through his own traditions. Having mastered all violin lore, he was evidently at last trying a series of daring experiments to settle in his own mind once and for ever certain problems of tone.
We have known painters trifle with colour in the same way. Gainsborough would paint his blue boy, and Whistler symphonies in green, mauve, or anything else unexpected, and Turner would recreate the light that never was on sea or land ; but in reality it was no trifling, but study in arrangement of colour. So you can have study in construction, empirical ventures, and a testing of tone problems, whether in sound or colour.
As Stradivari mused and carved, and glued and var- nished, year after year, his meditations might run thus: Try old seasoned wood for back, newer for belly, or vice versa ; if wood hard, thin it ; if soft, thicken it ; try effect of higher ribs on flat curves ; lower the ribs on more bulgy curves and grooved sides. What did Nicolo aim at with his grand pattern? Adopt his width and size, and flatten his belly.
Try and save his sweetness did the gi-ooves give that? Is a joined back, or a back in one piece, best or indifferent? How would it be to patch bits of precious wood if inter-congenial? That gene- rally succeeds. A good secret that, but an open one — wanted always the patcher! He seems to have kept wood of the finest acoustic properties for his best ordei-s.
He had favourite planks ; we can trace one of these by a stain that runs through the grain, and the wood crops up again and again in some of his best fiddles. The plank must have been known to his pupils, for the remains of it were worked up after his death. Study effect on power of different strings by placing it a fraction of an inch one way or another ; place it slightly aslant for experiment. I have tried to indicate the kind of observation and meditation, demanding unlimited time, patience, and love, which Stradivari devoted for the better part of a century to his art, and without which those Cremona chefs-d'cBuvre, the Dolphin, the Messie, Tuscan, Betts, and Pucelle Strads, could never have come forth.
I have alluded to Strad's taking late to the large Amati pattern for violins, inclining for some time to the small size. I do not know that any one has yet noticed that in violoncellos Strad reversed this order of work, making his early violoncellos large, and diminish- ing their size. As he reached his golden period he probably felt that the demands made by virtuosity and tone-power were quite alike consistent with a larger type of violin and a smaller and more manage- able size of violoncello.
The long apprenticeship was at last over, and in the master had reached the ripe age of fifty-six, an age at which so many have achieved their greatest work. He could at last wield his tools as a Millais or a Tadema wields his binish, a Flaxman his pencil, a Canova his chisel, or as a Mozart or Wagner handles his score.
He knew what he wanted, and he could do it, and do it with a spon- taneous ease and joy which seems even now to smile to us from the saucy comers of his bouts, the free dai-ing curves of his grand pattern, and the lightly tossed and lifted scrolls. No one has failed to notice the masterful ease, the emancipation from all mannerism, the cool defiance of precedent and uniformity, and even symmetry, which characterises his great period from to The violins are not all alike.
Strad knew that the secret was not merely in the pattern or shape ; he could vary his curves, and yet produce masterpieces, because he knew all about the air column, the wood densities, and the proportions and quantities which should be combined for the requisite result, and he could mix them differently like a master colourist. He no more treated every violin as if it had the same constitution than does a physician treat every human body alike ; it is not so much nitrogenous or carbonaceous food, and so much liquid, but it is these and other things used in proportion, according to your digestion and temperament, which will produce in that instrument, your body, the harmony of health; and how close is the analogy between the constitution of a violin and that of a human body — how varied is the texture, the tissue, quality, fibre, and density of the component 73 OLD VIOLINS parts of each — I have endeavoured to point out as succinctly as I could.
So, in the grand period, the gi-and pattern Strads are all made with a trained, almost inspired instinct, according to those laws which govern the tone qualities aimed at ; but the fiddles are by no means alike to look at. They have the charm of imaginative variety, com- bined with the unity of supreme excellence.
To this great period belongs the Dolphin Strad, so called, it is said, from the melting and almost iridescent tints of the varnish. To me, however, the violin almost suggests the life, freedom, and elegant poise of that graceful fish whose name it bears. The beauty and acoustic properties of the Dolphin wood are quite special, and can easily be compared with other violins of the same period, some of which are much plainer to look at, and somewhat different in form, and though very charming, hardly so bell-like in tone. The last time I had the privilege of touching the Dolphin Strad was at my lecture on violins before the Royal Institution in I shall never forget its ringing notes and its exquisite sensibility.
It seemed anxious to speak before it was spoken to; when touched, it seemed to do all for itself like magic. Instead of the player showing it off', it shows off" the player ; he begins to feel he has nothing to learn in tone produc- tion. Since then Vuillaume's sound-bar has been replaced with a stronger one by Messrs. It seemed to me quite perfect before, but I suppose one must bow to experts in such matters.
The best opinion limits the number of instruments which Strad made to about two thousand, only eight hundred of which at most are known to be extant. Compared with any other maker except Vuillaume, both as regards output and survival of work, Strad probably bears the palm. An elaborate description, a careful portraiture of every known Strad, together with its history, as far as recoverable, I must leave for some more gifted and industrious recorder.
Hill are pre- paring the most complete monograph on Stradivari which has ever yet or is ever likely to appear, and I only wish I could dip into their MS. It will certainly, when it appears, be a monumental work, and there is no time to lose, as many of these gems are known to have been destroyed, others dismembered, whilst some are at the bottom of the sea. There are, however, a few more famous speci- mens, which are of such unique interest that they cannot be passed over even in so general a survey as this.
Croall of Edinburgh is the happy owner of M. Artot's Strad, varnished dark red, quite perfect, and one of the finest known for tone ; it is dated I shall never forget the wonderful effects elicited from it by the great magician Ernst in his palmy days, nor can I understand the statement recently made that its tone is difficult to elicit. I have heard the faintest vanishing whisper of its strings on the Covent Garden stage when, as a boy, I was seated up in the top gallery at one of Benedict's monster season concerts early in the fifties. A romantic interest attaches to two Stradivari violins which have come down to us in absolutely perfect con- dition ; one is called the Messie, the other the Pucelle or the Virgin.
The Messie was secured by Vuillaume after the death of that remarkable man Luigi Tarisio, to whom further on I devote a special section. It bears date Tarisio would never let it be seen till Vuillaume possessed it ; it had then never been touched or played upon. He lengthened the neck, but, without inserting his new neck, he fixed it to a block placed outside the ribs. Count Cozio de Salabue had bought it in , but never allowed it to be played upon.
Tarisio bought it after the Count's death, and at his own death in it passed to Vuillaume, and was exhibited No. Wlien I first saw the Messie I could not believe my eyes. It seemed to have left the workshop only the day before ; the anointed glitter of the fresh varnish was upon it, it looked hardly dry. It is of the grand pattern, but not heavy and massive like some of the gi-eat Del Gesu's, but beautiful as a Pheidian carving, full of a certain special grace and elegance. One "y" is a shade lower than the other — a practice so common with Strad, especially in his later period, that it must have been intentional, his artistic eye not tolerating even the suggestion of mechanical uniformity.
The Greeks worked similarly, no two sides of their Corinthian capitals ever quite matching. The " Messiah "" back is in two pieces, the corners are absolutely unrubbed, and completely covered with varnish — of no other specimen can this be said. The head is light and graceful, "the scroll,'" as I have elsewhere observed, thrown off like a ribbon lightly curled about the finger, and drawn in, one side of the scroll cut a little lower than the other; the lines of the scroll are picked out with thick black paint; only faint traces of this remain in other violin heads. The black outline was artistically conceived, as it called full attention to the scroll curve, always so character- istic a part of violin physiognomy.
As the Messiah recently bought by Mr. Crawford of Edinburgh for. The an- nouncement would doubtless pack St.