Showing posts with label Antonio Stradivari. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Antonio Stradivari. Show all posts

21 August 2023

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri – violin maker

Luthier’s surviving instruments are now worth millions

Guarneri made violins in  18th century Cremona
Guarneri made violins in 
18th century Cremona
Bartolomeo Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri, who is regarded as the greatest of the Guarneri family of violin makers, was born on this day in 1698 in Cremona in Lombardy.

He was the son of Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri and the grandson of Andrea Guarneri, who were both respected violin makers in the city. He learned the craft of violin making in his father’s shop, who in turn had learned from his father, Andrea, who had worked alongside the celebrated violin-maker Antonio Stradivari in the workshop of Niccolò Amati.

Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri became known as Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri because of the religious symbols on the labels he used on the instruments he produced late in his career.

Although Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ was younger than Stradivari, he became his rival because of the respect and reverence accorded to the violins he produced. These instruments have now become the most coveted of all by violinists and collectors.

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ diverged from the family tradition and created instruments in his own style, which were said to have a darker, more robust and sonorous tone than the violins produced by Stradivari.

The violin known
as Il Cannone
Fewer than 200 of the violins he produced have survived and because of their quality they sell for millions of pounds when they come on to the market.  In March this year, a 292-year-old Guarneri violin sold for  $9.44 million (£7.71 million; €8.68 million) at a saleroom in New York, making it the third most expensive instrument to ever be sold at auction.

Guarneri's instruments date from the 1720s, but instruments bearing his ‘del Gesù’ label did not appear until after 1731. His famous ‘King Joseph’ violin was produced in 1737 when he was at the peak of his craftsmanship and his later instruments display the most characteristic qualities of his unique vision.

The violinist Niccolò Paganini was one of the most celebrated players of Guarneri’s instruments. He owned a famous violin known as Il Cannone, the Cannon, which Guarneri had made in 1743, and he played it for most of his career. The name Il Cannone was Paganini's invention, bestowed upon the instrument, which had been a gift to him from an admirer, because of its power and resonance. 

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri died in Cremona in 1744, at the age of just 46.

In Paganini’s Ghost, a 2009 crime novel by Paul Adam, a fictitious retired Cremonese luthier has to mend Il Cannone for a young virtuoso violinist who is due to play it in the city. He later finds himself caught up in a murder investigation after a scrap of sheet music by Paganini is found in the murder victim’s wallet.

The Piazza del Comune in Cremona is one of  Italy's best-preserved mediaeval squares
The Piazza del Comune in Cremona is one of 
Italy's best-preserved mediaeval squares
Travel tip:

Cremona is an historic city in Lombardy that claims to be the birthplace of the modern violin, invented in 1566 by Andrea Amati from the viol, or medieval fiddle. The composer Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567 and the composer Amilcare Pochielli was born there in 1834. The bell tower of the Cathedral of Cremona, the Torrazzo di Cremona, which measures 112.54 metres in height is the third tallest brickwork bell tower in the world.  The cathedral overlooks the Piazza del Comune, the city's historic main square, sometimes known as Piazza del Duomo, which is among the best-preserved mediaeval squares in Italy. Next the the cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, is the beautiful octagonal Romanesque baptistry. Opposite are the Palazzo Comunale - the town hall - and the Loggia dei Militi, once a meeting place for important figures from the city and surrounding countryside.

Genoa's Palazzo Doria-Tursi
houses Paganini's Cannone
Travel tip:

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’s’ famous Cannone violin, which was played by Paganini for most of his career, was donated to Paganini's his home city of Genoa in the violinist’s will and is now on display in the Paganini Rooms in the Palazzo Doria-Tursi in Genoa, part of the Strada Nuova Museums in the city. The violin is used in concerts, when the honour of playing it is bestowed on the winner of the international Paganini prize, a competition for young violinists.The Palazzo Doria-Tursi is in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi in the centre of the city.  The palazzo's large loggias facing the street were added in 1597, when the building was acquired by Giovanni Andrea Doria for his younger son Carlo, Duke of Tursi, giving the palazzo its present name.

Also on this day: 

1862: The birth of adventure novelist Emilio Salgari

1943: The birth of actor Lino Capolicchio

1969: The death of footballer Giuseppe Meazza 


12 May 2020

Giovanni Battista Viotti – violinist and composer

Brilliant musician wrote the melody for the Marseillaise

Giovanni Battista Viotti spent much of his  career in Paris and London
Giovanni Battista Viotti spent much of his
career in Paris and London
Violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, who was to become court musician to Marie-Antoinette and composed 29 violin concertos, was born on this day in 1755 in Fontanetto Po in the region of Piedmont.

Among Viotti’s many compositions for the violin, string quartets and the piano, his violin concerto No. 22 in A Minor became particularly well known. 

He is also credited with having composed the original music of La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, 11 years before it was officially published by another composer.

Viotti’s musical talent was spotted early and he was taken into the household of Principe Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin, where he received a musical education.

This prepared him to become a pupil of the virtuoso violinist and composer Gaetano Pugnani, while still a teenager, funded by the prince.

Viotti served at the Savoy court in Turin from 1773 to 1780, before travelling with Pugnani in Germany, Poland and Russia.

He went to France alone, where he made his debut as a violinist in 1782 in Paris.  He was an instant sensation and became court musician to Marie-Antoinette at Versailles.

Viotti established himself in France as a teacher and an opera impresario. He founded a new opera house, the Theatre de Monsieur, under the patronage of Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, comte de Provence, the King’s brother, whose title at court was ‘Monsieur’. Viotti put on the operas written by his friend, Luigi Cherubini, who he had introduced into French society.

Luigi Cherubini was a friend of Viotti, who introduced him to French society
Luigi Cherubini was a friend of Viotti, who
introduced him to French society
In 1792, after royal connections had become a dangerous liability because of the French revolution, Viotti went to London, where he put on Italian operas and played his own compositions for the violin in concerts.

He became a big success as a solo violinist, manager of Italian opera and an orchestra leader and director.  He was invited to perform in the houses of London’s elite, including the Prince of Wales.

When Britain went to war with France, Viotti came under suspicion of having Jacobin sympathies and was ordered to leave the country. He moved to Germany for three years, but returned to London to resume his wine business in 1801 and continued to perform and to compose music.

When his wine business failed, he went back to Paris, where he was director of the Italian opera from 1819 to 1822.  He then returned to London, where he died in 1824 at the age of 68.

Viotti is considered to be the founding father of the 19th century French violin school. Some of the people he taught had an influence on future virtuoso violinists, including Niccolò Paganini.

Viotti had owned a violin made by Antonio Stradivari and had commissioned at least one replica, which was bought by the Royal Academy of Music in 2005. The instrument is meant to be heard as well as seen and is played sparingly at occasional events.

His violin concertos are said to have been an influence on Ludwig van Beethoven.

Recent research has suggested that one of his compositions has a very strong resemblance to the music for the French hymn, La Marseillaise, which was published 11 years later.

Viotti is remembered every year at the Viotti International Music Competition and the Viotti Festival held near his birthplace in the province of Vercelli.

The Oratory of San Sebastian, built in the 11th century, is a feature of the small town of Fontanetto Po
The Oratory of San Sebastian, built in the 11th century,
is a feature of the small town of Fontanetto Po
Travel tip:

Fontanetto Po, where Giovanni Battista Viotti was born, is in the province of Vercelli in the region of Piedmont, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Turin and about 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of Vercelli. One of the main sights is the Oratory of Saint Sebastian, which was built in the 11th century and refurbished in the 15th century and still has some mid 15th century frescoes inside.

Piazza Cavour in the Piedmont town of Vercelli, where Viotti is a celebrated figure
Piazza Cavour in the Piedmont town of Vercelli, where
Viotti is a celebrated figure
Travel tip:

Vercelli is a city in Piedmont situated between Milan and Turin. It is one of the oldest towns in northern Italy, founded in around 600 BC. Vercelli had the world’s first university funded by public money, which was established in 1228 and was the seventh university in Italy, but it closed in 1372. The city has an amphitheatre from the Roman period and seven towers. The main local dish is called panissa and is made from risotto rice and beans, with pork and red wine.

Also on this day:

11 November 2018

Andrea Zani – violinist and composer

Musician who ushered in the new classical era

Much of Andrea Zani's music has survived and there are many recordings available
Much of Andrea Zani's music has survived and there
are many recordings available
Andrea Teodora Zani, one of the earliest Italian composers to move away from the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1696 in Casalmaggiore in the province of Cremona in Lombardy.

Casalmaggiore, nicknamed ‘the little Venice on the Po’, was a breeding ground for musical talent at this time and Zani was an exact contemporary of Giuseppe Guarneri, the most famous member of the Guarneri family of violin makers in Cremona. He was just a bit younger than the violinist composers, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli.

Zani’s father, an amateur violinist, gave him his first violin lessons and he later received instruction from Giacomo Civeri, a local musician, and Carlo Ricci, who was at the time court musician to the Gonzaga family at their palace in Guastalla.

After Zani played in front of Antonio Caldara, who was Capellmeister for the court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles in nearby Mantua, he was invited to go to Vienna to be a violinist in the service of the Habsburgs.

Antonio Caldara sponsored Zani's work for many years
Antonio Caldara sponsored
Zani's work for many years
A lot of Zani’s work has survived in both published and manuscript form, some of it having been recovered from European libraries. His early works show the influence of Antonio Vivaldi, but his Opus 2, published in 1729, is considered of historical importance because it shows no ambiguity of genre and has cast off Baroque elements in favour of a more classical style.

After his sponsor, Caldara, died in 1736, Zani returned to Casalmaggiore, where he remained for the rest of his life, leaving the town occasionally to make concert appearances.

Zani died at the age of 60 in 1757 after being injured when the carriage in which he was travelling to Mantua accidentally overturned.

The church of Santa Maria Assunta in Castelmaggiore, near Bologna
The church of Santa Maria
Assunta in Castelmaggiore 
Travel tip:

Casalmaggiore, where Andrea Zani was born, is a town in the province of Cremona in Lombardy. It is believed the town was founded by the Romans as a military camp. Around the year 1000 the town had a fortified castle owned by the Este family. Casalmaggiore was also the birthplace of the composer, Ignazio Donati.

Exhibits at Cremona's Museo del Violino
Exhibits at Cremona's Museo del Violino
Travel tip:

Cremona, the nearest city to Andrea Zani’s home town, is well known as a centre of violin production. The Museo Stradivariano in Via Ugolani Dati in Cremona has a collection of musical items housed in the elegant rooms of a former palace. Visitors can see how the contralto viola was constructed in accordance with the classical traditions of Cremona, view instruments commemorating Italian violin makers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and look at more than 700 relics from the workshop of Antonio Stradivari, who produced violins that are nowadays worth millions. Another museum dedicated to the city's luthiers is the Museo del Violino in Piazza Marconi.

More reading:

Why Antonio Stradivari is considered history's finest violin-maker

Nicolò Amati, the greatest of a dynasty of Cremona luthiers

Success and sadness in the life of Antonio Vivaldi

Also on this day:

1869: The birth of Victor Emmanuel III, Italy's wartime monarch

1932: The birth of controversial broadcaster Germano Mosconi

1961: The birth of Montalbano actor Luca Zigaretti


14 April 2018

Gasparo da Salò – violin maker

Founder of the Brescian school of stringed instrument craftsmen

The bust of Gasparo da Salò in Salò
The bust of Gasparo da Salò in Salò
One of Italy’s earliest violin makers, Gasparo da Salò, died on this day in 1609 in Brescia.

He developed the art of string making to a high level and his surviving instruments are still admired and revered.

Da Salò was born Gasparo Bertolotti in Salò, a resort on Lake Garda in 1542.

His father and uncle were violinists and composers and his cousin, Bernardino, was a violinist at the Este court in Ferrara and at the Gonzaga court in Mantua.

Bertolotti received a good musical education and was referred to as ‘a talented violone player’ in a 1604 document about the music at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

Bertolotti moved to Brescia on the death of his father and set up shop in an area where there were other instrument makers.

He became known as Gasparo da Salò and his workshop quickly became one of the most important in Europe for the production of every type of stringed instrument that was played at the time.

An example of a Gasparo violin
An example of a
Gasparo violin
His business was so successful that he was able to acquire land and property and provide financial assistance to members of his family.

It is not known whether da Salò was the first craftsman to produce a violin in its modern form. But he built violins that conform to the measurements of the modern violin and developed instruments with a powerful tone that decades later were studied by Antonio Stradivari. He built violas of different sizes as well as cellos and double basses.

About 80 of his instruments are known to have survived to the present day and are in museums. One of his most famous double basses is in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.

After his death on 14 April 1609, Gasparo da Salò was recorded as buried at a cemetery in Brescia, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.

Travel tip:

Salò, where Gasparo Bertolotti was born, is on the western shore of Lake Garda. Mussolini formed a short-lived republic there in 1943, but the resort recovered after the World War II to become a popular tourist destination and now has a museum commemorating the resistance against Fascism.
Brescia's elegant Piazza della Loggia
Brescia's elegant Piazza della Loggia

Travel tip:

Brescia in Lombardy, where Gasparo da Salò worked and died, is of artistic and architectural importance. Brescia became a Roman colony before the birth of Christ and you can see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. The town came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century and there is a Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda.

More reading:

Antonio Stradivari - maker of the world's most valuable violins

How the Amati family helped make Cremona famous for violins

Muzio Clementi - father of the piano

Also on this day:

1488: The assassination of Girolamo Riario, papal military leader

1920: The birth of Lamberto Dalla Costa, the fighter pilot who became Italy's first Olympic bobsleigh champion


18 December 2015

Antonio Stradivari – violin maker

Craftsman from Cremona produced the world’s best stringed instruments

The man who produced violins worth millions, Antonio Stradivari, died at the age of 93 on this day in Cremona in 1737.

Stradivari was an ordinary man who worked as a luthier, a maker of stringed instruments, but experts now consider him to be the greatest ever in his field.
Cremona is the birthplace of the world's greatest violin maker, Antonio Stradivari.
A street violinist in Cremona,
home of Antonio Stradivari

He is believed to have produced more than 1,100 instruments, often referred to as 'Stradivarius' violins.  About 650 of them are still in existence today and in the last few years some of his violins and violas have achieved millions of pounds at auction.

The Stradivari family date back to the 12th century in Cremona and it is believed Antonio was born there in 1644.

It is thought he was apprenticed to the violin maker Nicolò Amati. The label on the oldest violin still in existence, known to have been made by Stradivari, bears the date 1666.

He had enough money to buy a house for himself and his family in Cremona by 1680. He used the attic as a workshop and kept producing better and better instruments until his reputation spread beyond Cremona.

In 1688 a Venetian banker ordered a set of instruments to present to King James II of England, though what happened to them still remains a mystery.

In the 1690s Stradivari’s style changed and he started to use a darker varnish and different methods to achieve even better results. The high quality of the instruments he produced between 1700 and 1720 have made experts call this his golden period.

Some of his instruments are still played by violinists today and many of the top orchestras have, what are now referred to as ‘Strads’, in their collections.

In 2011 a violin made by Stradivari in 1721, which had been discovered still in pristine condition, sold in London for £9.8 million, the equivalent of 14.1 million dollars.

Antonio Stradivari died on 18 December 1737 and was buried in his local church of San Domenico in Cremona.

Il Torrazzo, Cremona's famous bell tower,
at 112 metres is the tallest in Italy
Travel tip:

Cremona is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. As well as violins, Cremona is also famous for producing confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in the city’s famous torrone (nougat). The concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was created in the city to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when Cremona was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

Travel tip:

There is a Museo Stradivariano in Cremona in Via Ugolani Dati. The collection of items in the museum is housed in the elegant rooms of a former palace. Visitors can see how the contralto viola was constructed in accordance with the classical traditions of Cremona, view instruments commemorating Italian violin makers in the 19th and early 20th centuries and look at more than 700 relics from Stradivari’s workshop.