Arts & Culture | Violin Makers | Early Baroque | Classical
The Italian city of Cremona has been celebrated since the sixteenth century for the manufacture of stringed instruments. The first famous family of makers there was the Amati. Andrea Amati (c. 1505–80) founded a dynasty that included his sons Antonio (c. 1538–95) and Girolamo (1561–1630).
But it is the latter’s son Nicolo (1596–1684) who is usually regarded as the most outstanding of the Amatis. His instruments tend to be rather larger than those of the preceding generation and as a result have a more powerful tone.
Andreas Guarneri (c. 1625–98) trained under Nicolo Amati, living in his house as an apprentice. His older son Pietro (1655–1720) moved to Mantua, but the younger, Giuseppe (1666–c. 1740), remained in Cremona and inherited Andreas’s workshop. It is Giuseppe’s son Giuseppe Antonio (1698–1744), known as ‘Del Gesù’ from his habit of labelling his instruments ‘IHS’ (Iesus hominum salvator, ‘Jesus, the Saviour of Mankind’), who is recognized as the most outstanding scion of this house.
No other violin maker, before or since, has ever achieved the status of Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737). Known by the Latinized version of his name, ‘Stradivarius’, it is believed that he may have studied with the Amati family, since his early instruments are held to reflect that maker’s influence. Some 650 of his instruments survive – mostly violins, but also violas and cellos. Although any instrument by the great Stardivari is bound to have a special aura, the golden period of his creativity is generally seen as the first two decades of the eighteenth century. Stradivariuses typically display an orange-brown varnish, flamed-maple backs and, most importantly, a rich, powerful sound.
While it is often the case that woodwind instruments wear out with use and gradually become overtaken by technology, stringed instruments usually age well. They hold their value through the years and they can be adapted to meet a new owner’s demands. The older-style Baroque violins were largely refitted by late eighteenth-century makers, so violinists could keep up with the revolutions going on in music. In consequence, none of the Stradivariuses now in the hands of modern-day violinists look or sound the way they did when they left Stradivari’s workshop.
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