For some pleasurable months from 2012-2013, I was able to put (increasingly metaphorical) pen to paper writing blogs on the key lots for Tarisio’s online auction. With the development of the Cozio site, these have been consumed into their back-catalogue of ‘Carteggio’ articles, and my pen is being put to other uses closer to home. All the same, here is a list of some of the more interesting projects I was able to spend time with – I can’t believe I wrote so many.
Visit the Cozio Carteggio here.
The ‘Parker Stradivari’
On the extraordinary ‘Parker Strad’ one of Daniel Parker’s most Stradivari-like instruments. Fritz Kreisler bought it from Hills towards the end of his 1910 tour, where he had come to England specifically to perform the violin concerto written expressly for him by Edward Elgar. It would become a violin that he played frequently during his life, once jesting to Nathan Milstein that it was the ‘Parker Strad’. An icon of English violin making.
A fine violin by Camillo Camilli, Mantua, 1742
Mantuan makers from Peter Guarneri, through Camilli and Tomasso Balestrieri are amongst the most free-thinking and imaginative traditions in violin making to evolve directly from the Cremonese, producing instruments of astounding beauty. I’ve long been fascinated by their incredible work, but it comes with a second fascination because of a phenomenal similarity between their work and and that of my favourite English maker, Daniel Parker.
The Berkova Guadagnini, Milan, 1755
The sale of the Gillot Collection in 1872 was arguably the auction of the century as the amazing collection of Joseph Gillot, a pen-nib manufacturer in Birmingham was disposed of. Amonsgst the lots in the sale, the 1755 Guadagnini – later to be called the Berkova – is one of the few instruments that can still be traced to this iconic collection. The violin had been barely played in the nineteenth-century, and the purity shone through. Experts debate which period of Guadagnini’s life produced the very best work, but to my mind, this is one of the most memorable of all Guadagnini’s violins that I’ve seen.
A French masterpiece in the shadow of Vuillaume
Jean Baptiste Vuillaume set a standard for French making that continued long after his death as French instrument makers competed with one another to take on the reputation that he had left behind. This doesn’t automatically relate to instruments being made that are equal in tone to Vuillaume’s work, and it is testament to his rigid workshop structure that so few of his assistants achieved the same quality when they worked on their own. This cello, by Jacquot in Nancy follows in a tradition of painted instruments that was revived by Vuillaume. It is likely that this belonged to the quartet that won Jacquot a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889.
A fine Italian cello by Lorenzo Storioni and Nicolò Bergonzi
It comes as little surprise to find a cello showing the two hands of Lorenzo Storioni and Nicolo Bergonzi in the same instrument. Their relationship was so close that they were sharing a house together from 1790 to 1795. Nevertheless, cellos by the later Cremonese makers are extremely rare, and in smaller instruments it is less likely – but not unheard of – for the evidence of collaborative work to be found.
A Fine Belgian Cello by Nicolas Francois Vuillaume, Brussels, 1862
Vuillaume’s influence and relationship with his brother is explained through this marvellous copy of Stradivari’s 1701 Servais cello. Like his brother, Nicolas-Francois Vuillaume was astute in focussing around the most celebrated instruments and their owners within Brussels society. Hector Berlioz called Adrien Servais ‘the Nicolo Paganini of the violoncello’ and it is his instrument which was copied.
A Good French Violin by Jean-Francois Aldric, circa 1815
A violin by one of the few French makers who I admire even more than Vuillaume. Amongst the great early makers of the nineteenth-century, Aldric seems to be eclipsed by his contemporaries, Lupot and Pique, but unfairly. The violin is made to a very well observed ‘golden-period’ Stradivari model, and preserved in very good order, it is amongst the first rate of Parisian work from the period.
Two Rare Danish Instruments
Guldbrand Enger isn’t the first name of choice when choosing one of Vuillaume’s workshop assistants to write about. In fact much of Vuillaume’s influence across Europe came from training leading makers who would return to their native country with the confidence of having worked for such an important figure. Enger’s Guarneri inspired violin from 1870 has its own distinctive characteristics, but the influence of Vuillaume runs right the way through it.
A good English cello by William Forster II, London, c. 1803
Forster’s account books survive in fragmented form, and its wonderful to occasionally find an instrument that can be put down to one of his customers. The pleasure becomes all the greater when they turn out to be a famous musical character of the period. A little detective work found that the cello was commissioned by William Hole, a little more work revealed him to be chaplain to the Prince of Wales, and the most famous amateur cellist of his day.
A Fine Violin by Carlo Ferdinando Landofi, Milan, 1772
Understanding who influenced who in eighteenth-century Milan is an enormous challenge to violin experts. The orthodox assumptions tend towards suggesting that the most praised of all makers, G.B. Guadagnini, inspired his lesser contemporaries, but a more complex picture reveals itself. It was revealing therefore to study an exceptional violin by Landolfi alongside the ‘Berkova’ to see where the superficial differences are but how the similarities on a technical level are profoundly closer.
A fine contemporary French violin by Frédéric Chaudière, 1997, ex-Ruggiero Ricci
After Ruggiero Ricci gave up his beloved Guarneri, the ‘Gibson, ex-Huberman’ his attention settled on contemporary makers during his journey to find a replacement. He became sufficiently entranced with the possibilities of new instruments that he bought many of them. In 2001 he recorded “The Legacy of Cremona” his tribute to his nineteen favourite new violins. Amongst the violins in the recording was this splendid 1997 violin by Frederic Chaudiere, based loosely on the ‘del Gesu’s’ output from around about the year 1735.
A fine violin by Giovvanni Pressenda, Turin 1828
Pressenda’s associations with Luigi Tarisio may well have encouraged him to build violins for the French market, and many of his instruments from the 1820s are straightforward golden-period Stradivari copies at the top end of a continuum that includes the work of Lupot, Aldric and Pique in France. At the same time, he continued producing a body of work that reflected his constant experimentation within Cremonese boundaries and often recalling Guadagnini’s work from Turin in the previous generation. The violin in this article seems intimately connected to Stradivari’s very last years in terms of concept. The immediate familiarity with the Habeneck or the Kreisler (though not a copy) is evident in the perculiar boldness of its form. I first bought a Pressenda on behalf of a client back in 2001. I never cease to enjoy studying his work.
A Voller Brothers Copy of the Vieuxtemps Stradivari
This very important example by the Voller brothers helps to shed light on their activities well beyond the conventional understanding of their life as fakers. This violin was made as a legitimate copy of one of the greatest Stradivari violins in circulation on the market at the time, and was openly labelled as such when it was sold by Hart & Sons. The attention to detail in the work demonstrates much of the close connection and trust that the Vollers enjoyed amongst certain members of the trade, but perhaps the most significant part of the story is how it sheds light on the Vollers as greatly respected restorers working amongst the leading circles of the London trade.
A Fine and Rare Italian Violin by Angelo Soliani, Modena, 1807
Modena is one of the cities in Italy that really should have more of a violin making tradition than it actually has. Perhaps though, the reason for being so sparse of luthiers was its relative wealth and constant proximity to other cities that had a better reputation for the craft. Angelo Soliani is the last of the classical period makers of Modena. There is something irrepressibly hasty about his instruments, but the fixation and experience of Cremonese forms produces an admirable result. I might have to admit to being dismissive of this violin when it was first in my hands, but by the time I had spent a few hours with it, Soliani grew exponentially in my respect and admiration.
A fine Grancino from the Cooper Collection
Albert Cooper’s name is legend amongst British violin dealers. An unassuming and modest man living in Hampshire whose passions seemed at times to be more embedded in early English instruments rather than the great Italian works that passed through his hands: He is probably best known for his biography of Benjamin Banks. This cello by Giovanni Grancino is characteristic of the class and quality of instrument that Cooper concentrated on, and its hard to find a more enviable example of Grancino’s work.
Two Early 18th-century Genoese Makers
Genoese makers of the early eighteenth-century are incredibly rare, none more so than Andrea Stanzer whose name appeared on the 1722 label of a violin that appeared at Tarisio’s auction. This was more detective work than I normally get asked to do. Notoriously, labels in a violin may have very little to do with whoever made the instrument. This time, such an unlikely label of a barely known maker held true. With a Giuseppe Cavalieri in the same sale, it was easy to think that Genoese makers were more commonplace.
Walter Hamma’s collection of decorated bows
Walter Hamma was the last of the great German violin-dealing dynasty. His collection of gold mounted (and mostly tortoiseshell) bows was of particular interest because of what it revealed about his interest and passion for living bow makers. Each example in the collection was a masterpiece and as a whole the collection gave enormous clarity to the brilliance of late twentieth-century makers whose talents are often overlooked for the sake of not being antique.
A fine violin by Simone Sacconi, New York, 1940
Simone Sacconi is a legendary name in violin making circles, especially for his book ‘Secrets of Stradivari’ which went further than any maker before towards understanding how Stradivari worked and disseminating ideas to help future makers get closer to his standard. As a legendary restorer his time as a violin maker was limited and his instruments are correspondingly very rare and seldom seen on this side of the Atlantic. In fact his life was one of legend, from sweeping the floors in a violin workshop at the age of twelve, to a developing fame that brought him to New York in 1931. This violin reveals his genius in observing great Cremonese masterpieces. Few violins of the twentieth-century capture Stradivari as well as this.
A fine François Peccatte bow owned by Ysaÿe
Francois may be remembered in the shadow of Dominique Peccatte, but it is easy to overlook how great the elder brother was, and therefore how extraordinary bows by some of his other family members can be. In fact, for much of its life this bow was assumed to be the work of Dominique Peccatte and it is only in recent years that the value of these bows, and the attendant requirement for expertise has enabled connoisseurs to know the difference – Eugene Ysaye, it’s famous owner certainly didn’t. How much the bow informs us about Ysaye’s playing is uncertain. It appears he was constantly searching for the perfect bow and owned many as a result. Yet it seems certain that Ysaye found this a compelling bow, which is why he bought it and chose to keep it. It has remarkable playing qualities.
Stefano Scarampella and the Later Mantuan School Part I
Stefano Scarampella worked in ways that are both incredibly disctinctive and incredibly easy to pastiche. I’ve seen an enormous number of fake Scarampellas ranging from enterprising violins made by kids straight out of violin making school, to the emulations of his work created by the Mantuan makers that he trained. There is nothing superficial about Scarampella’s genuine work however, and just as del Gesu managed to mix profundity with an over-quick method of working, the same sense of greatness inhabits Scarampella’s best violins.
Stefano Scarampella and the Later Mantuan School Part II
Oreste Martini and Mario Gadda were the most talented of Scarampella’s pupils, yet the 1920s brought about a nationalist-led celebration of Italy’s national crafts encouraging these makers towards a more refined approach to violin making with the aim of reconquering the mastery of ages past. Neither maker ever escaped entirely from the idiosyncracies of their master, and found strong markets for emulating his work.