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Brian S. Morales
Professor P. Brewer
Music History and Literature
26 October 2014
The Great Violin Makers of Cremona
It can be said that the story of violin making begins with a small Italian city called
Cremona. Today some say that it is easier to find a violin maker in Cremona than it is to find a
lawyer. Cremona was home to some of the most recognized and renowned masters of the art of
violin making. (Owen) The legacy begins with a man named Andrea Amati. Though violins had
been built before Amatis time, it was his model that laid the groundwork for the instrument we
know today. It is his instrument that essentially rerouted the course of western music around
violin based ensembles. (Lord of the Strings)
Born in 1511 in Cremona, Andrea Amati eventually became the father of what is
considered to be the worlds greatest school of luthiers. In 1539, in the square of the church of
St. Domenico, Andrea Amati established his workshop. Gasparo da Salo, believed to be one of
the earliest violin makers, established his school in Brescia. Despite the skill of da Salo and his
star pupil, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, the Amati family dominated the world of violin
craftsmanship in the sixteenth century.
In the seventeenth century, the influence of the Amati name continued to grow.
Following the plague and famine that shattered the city of Cremona around 1630 Nicol Amati,
the grandson of Andrea Amati, was not only the sole surviving member of the Amati family, but
the sole surviving violin maker of Cremona. (Powers) Eventually, the demand for instruments
was more than Nicol could accomplish alone. He had no choice but to break family tradition by

training non-family members. In doing this, he would become the teacher of nearly every
influential violin maker of the 17th century. Andrea Guarneri, Franceso Ruggeri, and most
notably, Antonio Stradivari were all students of Nicol Amati. Many experts agree that this was
the beginning of the golden age in the history of violin making, from approximately 1650 to
1750. (Wali)
Anthony Stradivaris exact birth date and family background is unknown, but by dating
the age of his later violins, experts approximate his year of birth to be 1644. In July of 1667,
Anthony was wed to Sinorina Francesca Tiraboschi at Saint Agathas church. The couple lived
near the church of St. Domenico, home of the Amati workshop. General consensus is that
Stradivari was apprenticed by Nicol Amati. This is backed up by the earliest violin made by
Stradivari, which dates 1666 and is labeled Antonious Stradivarius Cremonensis Alumnus
Nicolaii Amati, Faciebat Anno 1666, which translated means Made by Antonio Stradivari of
Cremona, pupil of Nicol Amati. (Wali)
Stradivaris early violins showed amazing skill in woodcarving, and his later violins
showed such elegantly and perfectly executed dcor that many believe Storadivari was also
trained as a woodworker before becoming a luthier. From 1667 to 1680, Stradivari lived in the
home of Francesco Pescaroli, who was a woodcarver and inlayer. It is believed that Stradivari
learned woodcarving and inlaying from Pescaroli before beginning his apprenticeship with
Amati. It is likely that he was originally hired as a decorator of Amatis instruments before he
began crafting his own instruments. Some of the Amati violins of the mid 1650s remarkably
resemble of violins later made by Stradivari. (Wali)
Stradivaris illustrious career spanned across seven decades and during this time he
created over 1,100 violins. Though Stradivari is regarded by many to be the greatest violin maker

to ever have lived, there were many great luthiers to live and create in the 16th, 17th, and 18th
centuries. Many exquisite instruments were crafted by the hands of other violin makers during
this golden age. One of these violin makers was Giuseppe Guarneri 'del Gesu'. Guarneri only
lived to be about forty-six years old, about half the age of Stradivari. (Chiesa) One cannot help
but wonder what Guarneri might have achieved if he had lived as long as Stradivari.
In the 1640s, Andrea Guarneri began an apprenticeship with Nicol Amati. Eventually he
left the shop to start out on his own. Andreas business was passed down to his son, and
ultimately his grandson Bartolomeo Guiseppe Guarneri (eventually to be known as Giuseppe
Guarneri 'del Gesu'.) would lead the family name to greatness.
As young as age 11, Guarneri began the family craft. He worked under his fathers name
until about 1731, when he established his own shop. Guarneris early violins were strongly
rooted in Cremonese tradition. It wasnt until his later years that the idiosyncratic qualities that
characterized his style began to appear. (Chiesa) His exquisitely crafted violins provided a
comparable alternative to Stradivari violins made during this time. (Bein)
Anthony Stradivari and Guiseppe Guarneri del Gesu are two of the most well-known
and renowned luthiers of the golden age of violin making, but almost all of the craftsmen who
were pupils of the Cremonese school during this time constructed superior instruments. (Bein)
Gaicomo Gennaro is another known violin maker of this time. Though not nearly as
recognized as Guarneri and Stradivari, Gennaro was also a pupil of and assistant to Nicol
Amati. In addition to his work as a luthier, Gennaro was also responsible for care and
maintenance of the grand clock on the Torrazzo bell tower of Cremonas cathedral. For this
reason, he produced substantially fewer violins than his more famous counterparts, but his
violins did not lack in quality. (Chiessa)

Another lesser known luthier of this golden age is Franceso Ruggeri. It is believed that
Ruggeri was also a pupil of the Amati workshop. He copied Nicol Amatis pattern, but added
his own touches by slightly enlarging it and arching it more. He did not make as many violins as
some of the other luthiers of his time, but the ones he did make resembled Amatis in quality and
beauty. (Stainer)
Experts believe that the varnish used during the Cremonese golden age creates an
instrument tone that simply doesnt exist in the modern age. The formula used was lost in the
mid 18th century and even experts have been unable to completely reproduce it. (Bein) In
addition to the varnish, some other factors that create the characteristic Cremonese violins
include the selection and aging of the wood used, the technique in which that wood is carved,
and the shape it is formed into. (Bond)
For centuries, luthiers from all over the world have tried to reproduce the Cremonese
sound with little success. In the 1960s physicist and violin hobbyist William F. Fry, Professor
Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin became involved in violin research, attempting to
decode the magic behind Cremonese violins. (Wali) Modern copies of these instruments can be
made as scientific research advances, these copies are still inferior to the violins of the
Cremonese golden age. One reason given by experts is that the quality of wood may no longer
exist due to air pollution of the modern age. (Bonds) Some believe that it is more than that
though. While other luthiers of the time also had access to the formula and produced amazing
instruments, Anthony Stradivari and Guarneri 'del Gesu' perfected this at a level above their
peers and were superior in their craft. (Bein)

Works Cited
"Lords of the Strings; The Violins of Cremona." The Economist 30 July 2005: 78(US).Biography
in Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Owen, Laurinel. "Made In Cremona." Strad 111.1324 (2000): 816. MasterFILE Premier. Web.
26 Oct. 2014.
Powers, Wendy. "Violin Makers: Nicol Amati (15961684) and Antonio Stradivari (1644
1737)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of
Art, 2000. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/strd/hd_strd.htm (October 2003)
Wali, K. C. Cremona Violins: A Physicist's Quest for the Secrets of Stradivari. Hackensack, NJ:
World Scientific, 2010. Web.
Chiesa, Carlo. "Beauty From The Beast." Strad 121.1443 (2010): 24. MasterFILE Premier.
Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Bein, Robert. "STRADIVARI AND GUARNERI DEL GES A Brief History." Stradivari
Society Brief History. Stradivari Society, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Stainer, Cecie. A Dictionary of Violin Makers. N.p.: n.p., 1973. AMATI Auctioneers. Web. 24
Oct. 2014.
Bonds, Mark Evan. A History of Music in Western Culture. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice
Hall, 2003. Print.