Showing posts with label Violin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Violin. Show all posts

8 April 2024

Giuseppe Tartini – composer and violinist

Baroque musician also contributed to science

As well as composing for violin, Tartini
established a new technique for playing
Giuseppe Tartini, who was influential in the development of music by establishing the modern style of violin bowing, was born on this day in 1692 in Pirano in the Republic of Venice.

A violinist, baroque composer, and theorist, Tartini also formulated the principles of musical ornamentation and harmony.

His birthplace of Pirano was part of Venetian territory in the 17th century but is now named Piran and is part of Slovenia.

Tartini spent most of his career in Padua, where he went to study divinity and law and became an expert at fencing. Before he reached the age of 20, he had secretly married Elisabetta Premazore, a protégée of the Archbishop of Padua, but this led to him being arrested on charges of  abduction. He disguised himself as a monk and fled the city, taking refuge in a monastery in Assisi.

Later, Tartini was allowed to return to his wife by the archbishop after news that his violin playing had attracted favourable attention had reached him.

Tartini became principal violinist and maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Sant’Antonio in 1721 and he was invited to Prague in 1723 to direct the orchestra of the Chancellor of Bohemia.

After his return to Padua in 1728 he founded a school of violin playing and composition there.

Tartini composed more than 100 violin concertos and many sonatas, including the Trillo del Diavolo (Devil’s Trill). He also composed music for trios and quartets and religious works.

His playing was said to be remarkable because of its combination of technical and poetic qualities, and his bowing technique became a model for later violinists. He was invited to go on a concert tour of Italy in 1740.

Tartini contributed to the science of acoustics with his discovery of the Tartini tone, which was a third note, heard when two notes are played steadily and with intensity.

He wrote a treatise on music, Trattato di musica, in 1754 as well as a dissertation on the principles of music harmony and a treatise on ornamentation in music.

Tartini died in Padua in 1770 at the age of 77.

Giotto's frescoes lining the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua considered among the world's great artworks
Giotto's frescoes lining the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
considered among the world's great artworks
Travel tip:

The elegant city of Padua, where Tartini was principal violinist and maestro di cappella at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, is an important centre for pilgrims. The Scrovegni Chapel contains frescoes by Giotto, considered to be among the greatest works of art in the world. Dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita (Saint Mary of the Charity), the chapel was decorated with frescoes by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. He was commissioned to paint the frescoes by Enrico degli Scrovegni, who was hoping to atone for the sins of usury committed by himself and his dead father. The frescoes narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ and the stunning scenes cover the interior walls of the chapel. On the wall opposite the altar is Giotto’s magnificent Universal Judgment, which tells the story of human salvation and includes the figure of Enrico degli Scrovegni offering up a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary in a desperate bid to save his father from hell. For more information visit

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua is
visited by some five million pilgrims each year
Travel tip:

The enormous Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova, sometimes known as the Basilica del Santo, where Tartini was principal violinist and maestro di cappella, is one of the most important places of Christian worship in the world. An estimated five million pilgrims visit the basilica every year to file past and touch the tomb of their beloved Sant’Antonio, a Franciscan monk who became famous for his miracles. The magnificent church, in Piazza del Santo, is an architectural masterpiece created between the 13th and 14th centuries, but it was later enriched with works of art by masters such as Titian, Tiepolo and the sculptor Donatello. 

Also on this day:

1492: The death of Medici ruler Lorenzo the Magnificent

1848: The death of composer Gaetano Donizetti

1868: The birth of equestrian pioneer Federico Caprilli

1929: The birth of historian Renzo De Felice

(The portrait of Giuseppe Tartini, by an anonymous artist, is housed in the Museo del Castello Sforzesco in Milan)


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 


27 October 2021

Niccolò Paganini - musician and composer

Extraordinary talent aroused bizarre suspicions

Niccolò Paganini is widely regarded as one of history's greatest violinists
Niccolò Paganini is widely regarded
as one of history's greatest violinists
The musician and composer Niccolò Paganini, widely regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time, was born on this day in 1782 in Genoa.

Paganini’s ability was so far ahead of his contemporaries that to some observers it defied comprehension. He possessed unusually long fingers, a memory that enabled him to play entire pieces without the need for sheet music, and could play at up to 12 notes per second.

This, combined with his appearance - he was tall and thin, with hollow cheeks, pale skin and a fondness for dressing in black - and a habit of making wild, exaggerated movements as he played, gave rise to outlandish theories that he was possessed by the Devil, or even was the Devil himself.

He also pursued a somewhat dissolute lifestyle, drinking heavily, gambling and taking advantage of his fame to engage in numerous affairs.  

The suspicion of demonic associations stayed with him all his life to the extent that after his death at the age of 58 it was four years before his body was laid to rest because the Catholic Church would not give him a Christian burial, their reticence not helped by his refusal to accept the last rites.

Only years later was it concluded that his long fingers were probably the result of a genetic disorder called Marfan syndrome, while the speed of his playing and jerky movements could have been symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, another inherited condition, whose sufferers have increased flexibility but a lack of coordination.

Paganini has such an accurate memory that he could play without sheet music
Paganini has such an accurate memory
that he could play without sheet music
Paganini was born the third of six children. His father, Antonio, was a trader, albeit not a prosperous one, and would supplement his income by playing the mandolin. Niccolò soon learned to play the instrument and had moved on to the violin by the age of seven.

It was soon clear he was blessed with prodigious talent and was soon offered scholarships to study with local teachers in Genoa. His ability quickly outpaced what they could offer him, prompting his father to take him to Parma in search of more advanced tuition.

His progress was interrupted in 1796 when northern Italy was invaded by France and Paganini’s family left the city to move inland along the Polcevera river to Bolzaneto, where they owned another property. Paganini occupied himself by learning to play the guitar, again to an extraordinary standard, although it was an instrument he played largely for his own amusement and for close friends, rather than give public performances.

He embarked on his first solo violin tour at the age of 15, appearing at various places around Italy, but being away from home was not good for his mental health and it was thought that this pushed him towards drinking and gambling as an escape. 

After he recovered, he was appointed first violin of the Republic of Lucca, at that time one of the most powerful city states in Italy, but in 1805 Lucca was annexed by Napoleonic France, and the region was ceded to Napoleon's sister, Elisa Baciocchi.  Paganini stayed, becoming a violinist to the Baciocchi court.  It was during this time that he composed perhaps his most famous work, his 24 Caprices for solo violin.

Paganini's violin Il Cannone Guarnerius
Paganini's violin Il
Cannone Guarnerius
Eventually, he decided to return to touring, giving concerts around Genoa and Parma, where he had attracted large audiences previously. He was still not well known outside Italy, even after beginning to make appearances at La Scala in Milan, gaining admirers among their international clientele. 

It was not until after Pope Leo XII had conferred upon him the Order of the Golden Spur, the papal equivalent of a knighthood, in 1827, that his fame spread across Europe. The following year, he was invited to play in Vienna, followed by a prolonged tour that saw him perform in almost all the major cities of Germany, Poland and Bohemia. Later, he performed in Paris and London.

Still, his phenomenal ability attracted suspicion. In Vienna, an audience member claimed he had seen the Devil on stage with Paganini. A story circulated that the sound of a woman’s scream could be heard emanating from his violin while he played, the consequence, it was said, of his murdering a woman and making strings from her intestines, while imprisoning her soul within the body of the instrument. 

Given such stories, it was hardly surprising that he made few friends. Two exceptions were Gioachino Rossini, the Italian composer he first met in Bologna in 1818 and for whom he once conducted an opera performance after the sudden death of the regular conductor, and Hector Berlioz, the French composer whom he compared with Beethoven and supported with large sums of money towards the end of his life.

Among his many romantic associations, the most enduring involved a singer from Como, Antonia Bianchi. After meeting in Milan in 1813 they gave concerts together throughout Italy. They had a son, Achille Ciro Alessandro, born in Palermo in 1825, but they were never married and split up in around 1828. 

Paganini began learning the violin at the age of seven
Paganini began learning the violin
at the age of seven
Paganini’s health was never good. He was diagnosed with syphilis in 1922 and the treatment for it, which involved mercury and opium, did as much damage as it cured. In 1834 he developed tuberculosis while in Paris, which left him prone to infection and bouts of depression.

Touring soon became impossible and he returned to Genoa initially, giving lessons to a small number of pupils, including Camillo Sivori, who would go on to assume his mantle as Italy’s finest violinist. 

Restless, he went back to Paris in 1836 and unwisely invested much money in a casino, which failed so badly he was forced to auction off many of his prized collection of violins and guitars, including several made by Antonio Stradavari in Cremona, in order to recoup his losses. He left Paris for Marseille in 1838 and from there went to Nice, which is where he died in 1840, apparently from internal bleeding as a result of cancer of the larynx. It was the Bishop of Nice who arranged for a local priest to visit him and perform the last rites, but Paganini refused to accept his life was nearing its end and dismissed the priest.

The local church refused to bury him on consecrated ground and his embalmed body remained in the house where he died for more than a year and in the Nice area for almost four years while his son, Achille, pleaded with the Catholic Church to allow his body to be moved back to Italy. Ultimately, Achille’s entreaties were answered by Pope Gregory XVI and Paganini’s body was finally laid to rest at La Villetta cemetery in Parma.

The Fratello Minore fortress above the Polcevera valley outside Bolzaneto
The Fratello Minore fortress above the
Polcevera valley outside Bolzaneto
Travel tip:

Bolzaneto, where the Paganini family had a house while Niccolò was growing up, was once a hamlet located outside the city of Genoa in the Polcevera valley. Today it is a suburb of Genoa, surrounded by many small industries and business firms. On the mountains behind Bolzaneto, at the left side of Polcevera valley, are two fortresses, which are part of the external fortresses of Genoa: the Fort Diamante and a smaller fortress known as Fratello Minore. Close to the Bolzaneto exit of the A7 motorway that runs from Genoa to Milan is what used to be Bolzaneto’s castle, built in the early 14th century but subsequently destroyed in clashes between the Guelphs and Ghibbelines before being rebuilt and destroyed several times thereafter, finally as a grand residence at the beginning of the 20th century.

Paganini's tomb memorial at the La Villetta cemetery in Parma
Paganini's tomb memorial at the
La Villetta cemetery in Parma
Travel tip:

La Villetta, the monumental cemetery at Parma where Paganini’s body was finally buried and an elaborate memorial erected, takes its name after the farm that Duchess Marie Louise of Austria, the second wife of Napoleon, chose as the site for the city's burial ground during her rule of the city from 1816 to 1847. Designed by the engineer Giuseppe Cocconcelli in neoclassical style, it contains the tombs among others of the poet Angelo Mazza and the composer Ildebrando Pizzetti. Paganini’s tomb, housed under a domed portico supported by eight Doric columns, is on the left side of the entrance, opposite the main chapel dedicated to San Gregorio Magno.

Also on this day:

1952: The birth of Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni

1962: The death in a plane crash of industrialist Enrico Mattei

1967: The birth of mountaineer Simone Moro


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


25 October 2018

Camillo Sivori – virtuoso violinist

Paganini’s successor was also a talented composer

Camillo Sivori was the protégé of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
Camillo Sivori was the protégé
of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
Ernesto Camillo Sivori, a virtuoso violinist and composer, was born on this day in 1815 in Genoa.

Remembered as the only pupil of the great virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini, Sivori began his career as a travelling virtuoso at the age of 12, having by then also studied with other violin teachers.

He was acclaimed as ‘Paganini reincarnated’, or even, ‘Paganini without the flaws’, by music critics during a lengthy tour of Europe that he made between 1841 and 1845.

During his travels he met some of the best-known composers of the day, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Berlioz and he took parts in hundreds of concerts.

After being compared to other celebrated violinists, his status as Paganini’s successor was confirmed, even though the great man had died in 1840 and was still remembered in the musical world.

Sivori had met Paganini, who was also from Genoa, when he was seven years old and had made such a favourable impression on him that Paganini gave him lessons between October 1822 and May 1823.

Sivori met Paganini when he was only seven years old
Sivori met Paganini when he was only
seven years old
Paganini also wrote pieces of music for his pupil ‘to shape his spirit’ and even provided guitar accompaniment when Sivori performed these pieces privately.

When Paganini left Genoa he continued to follow Sivori’s progress, writing in 1828 that Sivori was ‘ the only one who may call himself my pupil.’

Shortly before he died, Paganini summoned Sivori and gave him a violin, by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, Il Cannone, which was a replica of his own favourite violin by Bartolomeo Guarneri del Gesù, a member of one of the great families of luthiers from Cremona.

Sivori was entrusted by Mendelssohn with performing the English premiere of his Violin concerto, Op. 64 in 1846.

Sivori’s fame reached America and he visited many north American cities and also travelled to south America between 1846 and 1850.

A replica of Paganini's Guarneri  violin is in a Genoa museum
A replica of Paganini's Guarneri
 violin is in a Genoa museum
He made a great impression in London and Paris, a city where he lived for a few years, because of his technique and breathtaking displays of virtuosity. As late as 1876 Verdi invited him to perform his E minor quartet at its Paris premiere.

Sivori wrote 60 works of his own that inventively married virtuosity with melodic beauty, including two violin concertos.

The violinist lived for many years in Paris but died in his native Genoa in 1894 at the age of 78.

The bustling port of Genoa, where Sivori was born
The bustling port of Genoa, where Sivori was born
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Camillo Sivori was born, is the capital city of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there.

The harbour at Portofino, one of the pretty seaside villages of the Italian Riviera
The harbour at Portofino, one of the pretty seaside
villages of the Italian Riviera
Travel tip:

The region of Liguria in northwest Italy is also known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.

More reading:

Why the violins of Antonio Stradivari are still worth millions

The luthier who set the standard for Stradivari

How Francesco Maria Veracini became one of the great violinists of the 18th century

Also on this day:

1647: The death of Evangelista Torricelli, inventor of the barometer

1902: The birth of Carlo Gnocchi, brave military chaplain


1 February 2018

Francesco Maria Veracini – violinist

Virtuoso performer was prolific composer

Francesco Maria Veracini was one of the 18th century's leading violinists
Francesco Maria Veracini was one of the
18th century's leading violinists
One of the great violinists of the 18th century, Francesco Maria Veracini, was born on this day in 1690 in Florence.

He was to become famous throughout Europe for his performances and for a while he was Handel’s biggest rival as a composer.

Veracini was born into a musical family, although his father was a pharmacist and undertaker. His grandfather, Francesco, had been one of the first violinists in Florence and had a music school business, which he eventually passed on to his son, Antonio, who was Francesco’s teacher. Veracini grew up in Florence but by 1711 he had established himself in Venice where he played in church orchestras.

In 1712 on February 1, his 22nd birthday, he performed a violin concerto of his own composition in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in honour of the visit to Venice of the Austrian ambassador. This is the first recorded public performance by Veracini playing one of his own compositions. At about that time, one of his performances so impressed the violinist, Giuseppe Tartini, that he decided to take time off to study better use of the bow in Ancona.

The violinist Pietro Locatelli is thought to have studied with Veracini at this time.

Veracini performed in London in 1714 and then went to Germany, where he obtained a court position in Dresden at an impressive salary.

Via Palazzuolo in Florence, where Veracini was born
Via Palazzuolo in Florence, where Veracini was born
There was much friction between the court musicians and in 1722 Veracini fell to the ground from a third-floor window, suffering a number of injuries. It was never established whether this was a suicide attempt following a quarrel with another musician or whether, as Veracini claimed later, someone had tried to murder him and he jumped from the window to escape.

He survived the incident but rumours of his madness were circulated subsequently. He seemingly lived something of a charmed life, some years later escaping a shipwreck in which his two treasured Stainer violins - which he called St Peter and St Paul - were lost.

Veracini returned to London in 1733 and performed in many different theatres. His operas were produced at the Opera of the Nobility, who hired the great castrato opera singer, Farinelli, and were the main rivals to Handel’s theatre.

He went back to Italy for good in 1750 and continued to compose, conduct and play the violin until he was well into his 70s.  He was appointed maestro di cappella for the churches of San Pancrazio and San Gaetano in Florence. Although he composed music for operas, he is perhaps best known for his violin sonatas. Veracini died in Florence in 1768.

A plaque marks the house in Via Palazzuolo where the violinist was born in 1690
A plaque marks the house in Via Palazzuolo where the
violinist was born in 1690
Travel tip:

There is a plaque commemorating Veracini at the house where he was born at number 30 Via Palazzuolo in Florence in the parish of San Salvatore, a few minutes from the city centre. Nearby is the church of San Salvatore di Ognissanti, known simply as Chiesa di Ognissanti, which is located in a piazza of the same name.

The Frari church in Venice, where Veracini gave his first public performance of one of his own compositions
The Frari church in Venice, where Veracini gave his first
public performance of one of his own compositions
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, where Veracini first played one of his own compositions, is a huge, plain Gothic church in Campo dei Frari in San Polo and is known simply to Venetians as the Frari. The church houses the tombs of Monteverdi, Rossini, and Titian and has works of art by Titian, Bellini, Sansovino and Donatello. The church is open daily from 9.00am to 5.30pm and on Sundays from 1.00 to 5.30pm.

More reading:

Farinelli, the castrato who became music's first superstar

How Pietro Locatelli's playing left listeners astonished

The brilliance of Andrea Zani, 18th century violinist and composer

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of Corradino d'Ascanio, designer of the Vespa scooter

1922: The birth of opera singer Renata Tebaldi

(Picture credits: Via Palazzuolo and plaque by Sailko)

3 December 2016

Nicolò Amati - violin maker

Grandson of Andrea Amati produced some of world's finest instruments

A portrait of Nicolò Amati by French artist Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux
A portrait of Nicolò Amati by French
artist Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux
Nicolò Amati, who is acknowledged as the greatest in the line of Amati violin makers in the 16th and 17th centuries, was born on this day in 1596 in Cremona.

The grandson of Andrea Amati, who is credited by most experts with being the inventor of the violin in its four-stringed form, Nicolò followed his father, Girolamo, and uncle, Antonio, into the family business.

Girolamo and Antonio went their separate ways in around 1590, Antonio setting up a different workshop, which was thought to specialize in lutes.

Initially, Nicolò made instruments that were very similar to those created by Girolamo but later began to add refinements of his own, the most significant of which came between 1630 and 1640 when he created the Grand Amati design.

This model, slightly wider and longer than the violins his father had produced, yielded greater power of tone than the smaller instruments and soon became sought after.

The bubonic plague outbreak that swept through Italy between 1629 and 1633 claimed the lives of both Girolamo and Nicolò's mother, Laura, and that of his main rival in violin manufacture at the time, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, from the Brescian school.

With Antonio also dead, although a few years earlier, and none of Girolamo's other sons having entered the business, Nicolò was left as one of the only active luthiers in the Cremonese tradition.

A 1662 violin made by Nicolò Amati in the Grand Amati design
A 1662 violin made by Nicolò Amati
in the Grand Amati design
He struggled in the years immediately following the plague outbreak, when Europe was gripped by famine and owning luxury violins was not a priority even for the wealthier nobleman. But gradually returned to normal and the success of the Grand Amati model created a demand Nicolò was unable to meet on his own.

As a result, he took the decision for the first time to take on assistants from outside the family and appointed a number of apprentices, including Andrea Guarneri, Giacomo Gennaro and the German Matthias Klotz, who all went on to become great violin makers in their own right.

While there is no clear documentation of his having worked in Nicolò's shop, the brilliant Antonio Stradivari was clearly a student of his style and methods, as were Francesco Ruggiero, Giovanni Battista Ruggiero and the Austrian Jacob Stainer.

Nicolò's son, Girolamo, often known by his Latinized name Hieronymous II, continued in the family line, although without the same level of success as his forebears.

Thomas Bowes still plays a 1659 Nicolò Amati violin
Thomas Bowes still plays a
1659 Nicolò Amati violin
As well as producing a sweet, mellow tone, Nicolò's violins were characterized by their elegance and quality craftsmanship and fetch large prices when they appear in auction houses today, even if not quite in the league of the Stradivarius instruments.

In 2013, the London auctioneers Ingles and Hayday sold a 1658 violin by Nicolò Amati for £432,000 ($654,590; €508,775).

The distinguished English violinist and orchestra leader Thomas Bowes is a prominent performer who uses a Nicolò Amati violin, the one he plays being manufactured in 1659.

Travel tip:

As well as being known universally as the city of the violin, with a number of manufacturers based there today, Cremona is also associated the with composer Claudio Monteverdi.  The Baroque musician, whose 1607 work L'Orfeo is recognised as the first full-length opera, was born in Cremona and studied music at the city's 12th century Romanesque Duomo.

Piazza della Loggia in the historic centre of Brescia
Piazza della Loggia in the historic centre of Brescia
Travel tip:

Brescia, a city in Lombardy situated between Lake Garda and the smaller Lago d'Iseo, is often overlooked by visitors to the area and first impressions are often coloured by the somewhat seedy nature of the streets in the immediate vicinity of the railway station.   However, the historic centre contains some of the best preserved Roman buildings in northern Italy as well as a medieval castle, two cathedrals and the beautiful Renaissance square, Piazza della Loggia.

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