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Artemio versari Collection

Great Italian Violin Making (Part I)
It’s generally accepted that the classical age of Italian violin making is the most celebrated, revered, cherished and consequently imitated period in the history of instrument fabrication. The giants of Cremona, Amati, Stradivari and Guarnieri, along with several of their contemporaries, established a standard of craftsmanship that guided the hands of both violinists and luthiers for nearly three centuries and is unlikely to be supplanted in the foreseeable future. The period’s finest intstruments have inspired a good deal of yearning over the years: musicians have longed to channel the violin’s exquisite sonorities while craftsmen aspired to conjure them. It’s little wonder that virtually every maker since the mid-18th century has kept one eye steadily fixed on the past, contemplating the masters’ craftstmanship and choices of materials, while at the same time considering how their own work stands up to that of the forerunners. Following a brief lull that came on the heels of the classical period, violin manufacture in Cremona resumed with vigor: while liuthiers of this time failed to recapture former glories, they nonetheless produced many excellent instruments, for which demand continued to grow. Before long, makers outside of Cremona began to establish themselves as credible alternatives and new schools quickly sprang up throughout Italy. The violins included in this book superbly demonstrate how Italian violin makers from the 19th century onward continued to use traditional techniques and material while at once maintaining the confidence to produce violins that looked new. The approach differed quite substantially from other pockets of violin manufacture, where the emphasis was either placed either on mass production or close imitation of the old Italian masters. Instead of finishing their instruments with their thin, fast-drying varnish to replicate the antique look of old violins, the Italians opted for varnish that was richly coloured, lustrous and heavily applied on the instruments’ surface. What’s more, their woodwork was bold, with strong chamfers that showcased these makers remarkable ability to inject their own personalities into their work while remaining faithful to the accepted parameters espoused by their teachers and mentors. These luthiers, aware of their history and entirely conscious of the legacy to uphold, were intent on cementing their own identities through the violins they produced, and so rather than withering in the shadow of their predecessors , they stood galvanized to preserve individuality in one of Italy’s most famous creations. The result was a continuation of the leading violin making tradition, complete with a wide array of styles and personality-based idioms. While it’s always a pleasure to admire and compare the more renowned makers, it’s equally important, and no less fascinating, to document and preserve the output of these makers’ pupils. I find it heartening to see within these pages an effort to represent some of the lesser known preeminent makers’s outputs. As soaring prices rendered many of the celebrated violins virtually unattainable, market attention began to shift to the legendary makers’ associates and students, the most talented of whom began to enjoy a renaissance within the violin community, receiving the adulation befitting excellent craftsmen, and finding a place for their instruments amongst the antiques of the future. (The collection featured in this book spans of one hundred and fifty years of Italian violin making and includes various examples of excellent regional schools). The Turin school, for example, was established during the first half of the 19th century by Pressenda, Rocca and their collaborators. Quick to gain attention and its share of plaudits,  the school fast became, and still remains, one of the most important centers of violin manufacture, with Luthiers like Fagnola, Guerra and Oddone establishing their own identities within the unmistakably bold idiom of Turin craftsmanship. Among the other schools to gain widespread attention were those connected to Naples and Milan. The members of the Neapolitan School were a less radical lot than their colleagues in Turin but were nonetheless possessed of a fine lineage. Alessandro Gagliano established the Neapolitan school in the early 18th century, drawing on techniques from the north, formulating a spectacular recipe for varnish. His sons radically transformed his technique and developed the strong style that came to characterize those instruments produced by his family and their followers – Postiglione and Sannino, among others – through the 19th century and beyond. Despite having been established slightly later (c.1870), the Milanese School was similarly of almost direct Cremonese descent. Consider that Gaetano Antoniazzi, who established many of the Schools’ fundamental tenets, learnt his craft from the Ceruti family of Cremona. The Milan School is typified by the work of the makers such as the Bisiach, Sgarabotto, and Garimberti, but is glorified by Riccardo Antoniazzi, Gaetano’s youngest son, whose violins are often breathtakingly exquisite, and almost certain to see increasing popularity amongst players and collectors alike. In considering the collection I feel several noteworthy comparisons ought to be pointed out; beginning with the Romeo Antoniazzi violin made in 1921and the Giovanni Pedrazzini made in 1923. Although the Antoniazzi has a slightly different f-model and a varnish of different shade and is less worn, clear parallels and be seen between the two violins. Both exhibit strong corner and edge work as well as similarly shaped channels and a well rounded volute on the scroll. A comparison in contrast with this Antoniazzi/Pedrazzini style is that between the 1910 Stefano Scarampella on pag. 142 and the instrument crafted by his pupil Gaetano Gadda, are dramatically shaped and highly idiosyncratic. Scarampella developed this style and passed it along to his protégé, who not only adopted it but persisted with it over the course of his career. Some other characteristics these two shared are evident as well. The scrolls, for instance, enjoy a similar boldness and outline, and then there’s the full arching and contour of the bodies, whichmay have been derived from outlines Scarampella took of instruments produced by famous Manutan predecessors, like Tomaso Balestrieri, whose style is characterized by a wide, bold model, slightly square curves in all the bouts, and hook-free corners. A third pairing worth considering is that of the 1924 Giseppe Fiorini on page 164 and the 1930 Poggi. Remarkably, both violins remain virtually mint in most aspects, and accordingly dreveal an exceptional degree of finesse, very similar outlines, assured yet meticulous edge work, and unquestionably clean, sweeping F-holes. Having this collection at our disposal allows us to draw these sorts of comparisons, but also bestows upon us a greater favour. The lack of concise documentation from the earliest days of violin making left a sizable gap in our knowledge that generations of experts and enthusiasts have painstakingly endeavoured to remedy. As is evidenced by this volume and others like it, we’re now able to exploit advancements in photography and colour printing, and use these resources to not only preserve, but to share the details of the instruments that represent our recent past. Books like this will serve as invaluable tools in the appreciation, and by extension authentication, of violins for future generations of makers , collectors and players, and so for his part in that, I thank Mr Versari and Mr Mazzolari. Florian Leonhard.

From: Great Italian Violin Making 84 Masterpieces of Modern Violin Making by Artemio Versari, Novecento Ed.

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  • Le fotografie degli strumenti del Museo della Musica sono di Claudio Mazzolari
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