Four centuries of violin making

17 Sep 2018 - John Dilworth

Why Cremona?

The classical violin, one of the great cultural symbols of Western civilisation, is an almost entirely Italian phenomenon. In the pages of this book — perhaps the most comprehensive survey published to date of fine concert and collectible stringed instruments — there appear only a handful of non-Italian makers. Why this should be is an intriguing question. Many products today are still synonymous with particular lands: French wine, Swiss cheese, Persian carpets, Chinese ceramics, Scottish whisky. Despite the globalisation of trade, airport shops are filled with representative goods to take back as souvenirs.

So it was in the 18th century when English gentlemen finished their education with the ‘Grand Tour’. This European adventure, intended to acquaint the young men of the aristocracy with the customs and traditions of the Continent, seems to have had its main purpose in the acquisition of adornments for their stately homes. Among the most sought-after trophies were Canaletto paintings and Amati violins from Cremona.

The localised development of such technically and artistically refined objects usually depends on quirks of geography — raw materials and skills handed down within a small community — or, less often, on the effort of a single originating genius.

Both these conditions apply to the Italian violin. The violin itself was to all intents and purposes an Italian invention; the template for the instrument as we recognise it today was probably first laid out some time in the mid-16th century by Andrea Amati of Cremona, the original genius of the violin. Whereas Canaletto was the product of an existing and already highly evolved artistic environment, we know little of Andrea Amati’s background. Documentary and iconographical sources trace the violin itself back as far as 1520, by which time Amati, who was born about 1505, was probably already being trained as an instrument maker. His labels are recorded from 1542, although these early instruments have not survived. Amati’s teacher was probably Giovanni Leonardo da Martinengo, a Jewish convert to Catholicism living in the relatively liberal city of Cremona.

Situated in Lombardy and commanding the Po river southeast of Milan, Cremona was a strategic and commercial centre fought over repeatedly by the forces of France, Spain, and later, Austria. Far from being an isolated medieval fiefdom, the city was a cultured and wealthy place, populated by artists and merchants as well as musicians, including Claudio Monteverdi, who was born in Cremona in 1567. As early as 1551, a Bohemian traveller noted the presence of viol players and fiddle makers as a distinctive characteristic of the city. Not only were arts and ideas the currency of Cremona, but also raw materials. The alpine valleys not far to the north provided an ample supply of timber, and specifically the slow-growing straight- and close-grained resonant spruce that is vital for stringed instruments.

There is a great deal of speculation over the form and development of the early violin. A clue to the instrument’s evolution from the medieval rebec and fiddle, and the then-current viola da braccia, is provided by the frescoes of Gaudenzio Ferrari in the cathedral of Saronno (north-west of Cremona), dated to circa 1535, and his Madonna of the Orange Trees in the church of Vercelli (west of Cremona), dated 1529-30. But there is no surviving identifiable precedent for the exquisitely refined instruments that Amati made to the commission of Charles IX of France and Pope Pius V from about 1566 onward. Technically, he may have added a fourth string to a louder, outdoor cousin of the viol that was intended to accompany dance music. Artistically, he changed everything.

Each detail of Andrea’s surviving violins, violas and cellos is fashioned with an artist’s eye. Bowed instruments of any sort from this period have an ad hoc appearance, however charming they may now seem. Amati’s brilliance raised the status of the violin from a farmhand’s entertainment to an embellishment fit for a royal court. Nor was his design merely cosmetic; it was a masterful demonstration of woodworking skills, subtly engineered to provide a delicate yet strong, resonant, and above all, durable object.

For nearly two hundred years, the Amati family preserved the precise methods and techniques laid down by Andrea — a process largely unknown to the growing numbers of violin makers outside Cremona. In Venice, Bologna and Brescia, various makers contributed their interpretation of the newly popular instrument, but none had a design or a technique as refined as Amati’s.

The Amati Dynasty

By the time Andrea’s sons, Antonio and Girolamo had taken over the business — Andrea himself having died in 1577 — there were signs of competition from the viola da gamba and cittern makers of Brescia. Gasparo da Salò worked in Brescia contemporaneously with the Amati brothers, and surviving tax records from 1588 show that he exported his violins to France, just as the Amatis did. His instruments are rugged, dark-toned and visually striking, but reveal little of the consistency and delicacy of an Amati.

During the 17th century, violin making began to spread throughout northern Europe, taking hold particularly in the Netherlands, where a surprising number of makers flourished in this still-early period. But none showed the perfectionism of the Amatis or an understanding of the importance of both the internal structure and the external architecture of sound production. Every detail of an Amati violin received painstaking attention, whether from a woodworking, artistic or tonal point of view.

Persisting with their dogged and expensive perfectionism, the Amatis established an unapproachable reputation. Cremona itself quickly became a byword for the best of violins. By the mid-1600s, the name was already in use in England as a poetic synonym for the violin — an early example of a trade name becoming a generic description of the product. Makers elsewhere, rather than attempting to duplicate the quality of imported ‘Cremonas’, contented themselves with creating ordinary and affordable instruments for a humbler market.

That Cremona’s pre-eminent reputation endured is due more to chance and exceptional circumstances than may appear. In 1630-31 a plague swept northern Italy. The death of Giovanni Paolo Maggini brought violin making in Brescia to a halt long enough to curtail its reputation as a centre for the still relatively new instrument. Today, early Brescian violas remain the first choice of soloists, but few made there after the mid-17th century approached the quality of the greatest Cremonese instruments.

In Cremona, Andrea’s grandson Nicolò Amati was one of the plague’s fortunate survivors. Without Nicolò, Cremona’s violin-making reputation — built up to that point entirely on the work of the Amati family — would likely also have ended. Nicolò became a vital link in the story of the Italian violin not merely because of his superb craftsmanship and his resistance to the plague virus. With as yet no sons to assist him, he looked outside the family for help. Andrea Guarneri and Giacomo Gennaro were the first of a line of makers who began to expand the ranks of luthiers privy to the Amati method, and the family trade became a fully-fledged business.

Far from being wiped out by the plague, violin making in Cremona flourished. Any competition there might have been from Brescia had ended, and demand was outstripping supply. Andrea Guameri remained a loyal employee of Nicolò Amati until Nicolò’s son Girolamo came of age. But in the second half of the 17th century, Gennaro and other makers, such as Francesco Rugeri, began producing subtle copies of Amati instruments right under Nicolò’s nose, sometimes complete with authentic-looking Amati labels.

Despite previous assumptions, there is no hard evidence placing Rugeri inside the Amati house as an apprentice. Rather it seems, from certain idiosyncrasies in his technique, that Rugeri developed his working method at a slight distance from Amati himself. This also appears to have been the case for another, younger craftsman named Antonio Stradivari.

Cremona’s Second Genius

Stradivari was the second great genius of Cremona, an exceptional circumstance that secured the town’s reputation for good. It often takes only one individual of unique ability to originate and sustain a particular school of work. For another to appear with a complementary and equal talent is rare, but can raise the bar beyond the reach of any rival. Few other schools of violin making can

boast even one exceptional genius. Jacob Stainer of the Tyrolean town of Absam is one example, and, possibly Domenico Montagnana of Venice, whose cellos are unrivalled, is another. Cremona alone provided the world with two: Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari.

Even more surprising and serendipitous is the fact that Stradivari seemed to have relatively little, if any, direct contact with Nicolò Amati. His origins are still mysterious, but by 1666 he was making violins in Cremona with a distinctive and quite individual style. Certain technical aspects of his work clearly differentiate even his earliest designs from those of Amati, and in fact show small but significant connections with the instruments of Rugeri. For example, in violins made by the Amati family and their pupils, a small tapering hole, sometimes plugged with a wooden pin, invariably marks out the centre of the interior of the back plate. The hole’s function is uncertain, but it evidently was an integral part of the construction technique. This feature is absent from the violins of Rugeri and Stradivari.

Stradivari’s long-supposed apprenticeship with the Amatis is based only on superficial observation of his works high level of craftsmanship, and on a single surviving Stradivari label — that of his earliest-known violin of 1666 — naming Nicolò Amati as his teacher. However, the differences in style and technique between Stradivari and Amati are evident from the beginning, and one suspects that this label was no more than a piece of opportunism that was widely practiced at the time by Rugeri and others.

Whatever his influences, Stradivari slowly but spectacularly took the violin to new heights, experimenting restlessly with form, dimensions, appearance and tone throughout the last half of the 17th century. For the previous century, Cremonese violins had been marked by their consistency and conservatism. Refinements to Andrea’s original patterns came slowly, in fractional increments that make it relatively hard to distinguish an Andrea Amati of 1574 from a Nicolò Amati of 1674. The Brothers Amati and then Nicolò did manipulate the arching and form subtly but significantly to refine the sound, but at the same time they diminished its power.

Stradivari made dramatic, even revolutionary changes. He courted aristocratic patrons relentlessly, and found them with his intricately decorated and inlaid instruments such as the Greffuhle, Hellier and Rode violins. The single precedent for these richly ornamented instruments is a Nicolò Amati violin of 1656, the Youssoupoff, which bears a decorative motif strikingly similar to the Stradivaris. This has prompted speculation that Stradivari himself may have initially been trained as an ‘ebeniste’ or inlayer, and that his initial contact with the Amatis and violin making was in the decorative work on the 1656 violin, when he would probably have been starting his apprenticeship. The earlier decorated instruments of Andrea Amati are not actually inlaid but painted and gilded, in all probability by an artist outside the workshop. Stradivari’s decorated instruments are inlaid with ivory and ebony filigree, the calling card of an exceptionally gifted craftsman.

Whatever the case, Stradivari’s lavish work drew even more attention to Cremona. After 1700 he settled into his so-called ‘Golden Period’, characterised by a consistently flatter-arched design based on three surviving patterns, designated ‘P’, ‘PG’ and ‘G’ by the master himself, which still survive in the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona. Stradivari also brought his cello design to perfection with the ‘B’ form model first produced in 1710. His varnish by now was a rich and brilliant red, contrasting with the subtle golden hues of the Amatis, and his style a new and masculine form for the violin, producing a more powerful and focussed sound.

By now in middle age, with two sons, Francesco and Omobono, to support him (and possibly a third, the previously unnoticed Giovanni Battista Martino, who died in 1727), Stradivari might have been looking forward to retirement. But he worked on doggedly until his death in 1737 at the age of 91, thoroughly eclipsing all other makers, including Francesco and Omobono, who survived their father by only a few years. One of the makers who succumbed to Stradivari’s dominance was Girolamo Amati II, the last of the Amati violin makers. He died in straitened circumstances in 1740, having left Cremona altogether for several years around the turn of the century.

Stradivari arrived in Cremona almost like a cuckoo in the nest, and his growing stature in life and eventual death seemed to suck all the energy out of violin making in the city. Great makers like Carlo Bergonzi and Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù’— who was later to achieve an almost mythical status on a par with Stradivari himself — were not prolific, although their instruments were tonally far advanced over other rivals.

Without Stradivari’s leadership, the few surviving makers in Cremona seem quickly to have abandoned the self-discipline and exacting standards of craftsmanship on which the city’s reputation had been built. It is easy to imagine a certain ‘fear of Stradivari’ amongst his fellow makers. Everything made by the town’s small circle of luthiers would have been subject, at least in theory, to his hawkishly critical eye. The early work of Bergonzi and del Gesù is of a very high quality, conscientious and cleanly executed, and strongly influenced by Stradivari’s designs.

After Stradivari’s death, the change is remarkable. Del Gesù’s later instruments eventually became as sought-after as those of Stradivari, but their relaxed, almost haphazard style of craftsmanship marks a distinct shift in approach and aesthetic. They are impetuous, improvised and dramatic variations on the two-hundred-year history of Cremonese violin making, an escape from the traditional disciplines of workmanship and the values of Stradivari and the Amatis. Del Gesù’s scrolls in particular are thrown off without a second look — the painstaking symmetry and geometrical elegance of the Amatis is discarded entirely.

But where sound was concerned, del Gesù took no short-cuts, and produced a tonal quality that was darker but equal in power to Stradivari. These instruments, still second-to-none in tone, provided a different palette with which violin virtuosi could experiment from the early 19th century onward. But del Gesù left no children to carry on his work, and when he died in 1744, and Bergonzi succumbed three years later, the rest of the world finally had a chance to catch up.

Violin Making Outside Cremona

The Amati family and Antonio Stradivari had succeeded in making Cremona synonymous with fine violin making. If you wanted a violin in the 18th century, and you wanted the best, you went to Cremona. Only Jacob Stainer enjoyed any sort of a comparable reputation at that time. During a fair proportion of the century, Stainer’s designs, although plainly derived from those of Amati, offered an alternative template for makers throughout northern Europe and Italy itself. For a short time he was the gold standard —even Mozart played on a Stainer violin — and the lighter, more silvery tone of his instruments seemed better suited to the periods compositional and performance requirements, which were adapting from grand palace ballrooms or outdoor festivals to more intimate chamber recitals.

Stainer’s influence extended briefly to makers in Venice and Florence, but was more marked in England and of course Germany. What is perhaps most remarkable is Stradivari’s foresight in engineering a new violin for the grand stage, for the fireworks of 19th century performance, which ended the fashion for Stainer’s work. There must have been a need for more volume and power in violin tone by 1700, as the other makers in Cremona – Guarneri, Bergonzi and Girolamo Amati II — all quickly followed Stradivari’s lead, but it does not seem to have been fully exploited for another fifty years.

Outside Italy, it made little sense for instrument makers to try to compete with the products of Stainer or of Cremona. Because the local clientele would naturally tend to be the less affluent musician, provincial makers offered a cheap alternative. Still, this didn’t prevent them from aspiring to the obvious workmanship and artistry of Amati.

The success of Cremona was to rub off on to all Italian work. Many makers slipped sly references to Cremona onto their labels; spurious pupils of Amati seemed to be everywhere. The address of Montagana’s workshop in Venice was ‘at the Sign of Cremona’. In the same period, Pietro Dalla Costa of nearby Treviso sometimes remarked on his labels that his instruments were ‘exact copies of Amati’. Giovanni Battista Guadagnini of Piacenza, now seen as a great maker in his own right, claimed Cremona as his hometown on labels made after he spent less than a year in the city. By extension, any Italian violin came to be viewed as better than any English, French, Dutch or German instrument, just as French wine is generically assumed to be superior to any other.

But Italy’s reputation for bowed string instruments was built up in an oddly reflexive way. Although Venetians, Bolognese and Brescians were also among the pioneers of violin making, only in Cremona did the craft survive and flourish into the 17th century. When the trade in violins grew in the second half of the century following the plagues, Italy was re-populated by German-trained makers. Virtually all the successful schools of violin making in the 18th century — Naples, Bologna, Venice, Rome and Turin — were sparked into life by immigrant craftsmen, often with direct connections to the small Tyrolean town of Füssen, a traditional centre of skilled woodworking and lute making. Matteo Goffriller, the first of the great Venetian violin makers, came to Venice from Brixen (known to Italian speakers as Bressanone) in the northern Trentino region. In Venice, he joined the shop of the Füssen—trained maker Martin Kaiser. Enricus Catenar brought violin making from Füssen to Turin, and influenced the very stylishly Italian Giofreddo Cappa. Christoper Rittig and Martinus Heel settled in Genoa. Alessandro Gagliano probably learned his craft in Naples from another of the Füssener Kaiser family, and the Augsburg-born David Tecchler established the Roman school.

This repeated an earlier migration: only a few generations previously, the celebrated Füssen-born lute makers Tieffenbrucker and Maler established workshops in Venice and Bologna. Violin making re-entered Italy via the scenic route, but soon the new professionals had fully acclimatised themselves to their new home, and their lutherie became Italianised.

Of the other great traditions, only Milan, Florence and Mantua can be said to be purely Italian, owing their existence respectively, to the Grancino family, Giovanni Battista Gabbrielli, and Pietro Guarneri, the son of Andrea Guarneri of Cremona. Once established, however, the various schools of violin making flourished and developed in a way that outstripped any of their non-Italian rivals.

It is difficult to say what qualitative differences mark out an instrument made by a Füssener in Italy from instruments made by Füssen-trained makers elsewhere, but there is a consistency amongst Italian instruments that is lacking in others, despite their marked individuality ofstyle. This may be a legacy ofthe Amatis, but factors such as the placement of the soundholes and the proportions of the body, which make the instrument comfortable and playable for the modern musician, are generally better observed by makers in Italy. David Platner and Alessandro Gagliano, both strongly influenced by north-Alpine traditions at first, placed their soundholes very low on the body, creating an awkward string-length and bridge position for present-day players. On the other hand, the Albani family, which worked in the Tyrolean town of Bolzano, made beautiful and elegantly proportioned instruments from the middle of the 17th century onwards. Bolzano, with a mixed population of Italian and German speakers, is the same region from which Matteo Goffriller came. Albani instruments are still commonly described as Italian, and are often mistaken for pure Venetian work.

Italian violin making developed and spread quickly. Throughout the 18th century there is little to differentiate the Italian makers from the relatively few other makers abroad, aside from a stylish approach that probably reflects the Italian makers’ extra efforts to earn the premium prices their instruments could command. Even when the conscientious work of the Grancinos in Milan degenerated into the clumsy later efforts of the Testore family, the instruments seem to have retained a certain tonal advantage. The prolific Gagliano family, quick to incorporate Stradivari’s advances into their work in the mid-18th century, also produced many violins of a rapidly and sometimes thoughtlessly worked type. These instruments nevertheless still command great interest from players as well as collectors.

The Question of ‘Italian Tone’

The question of ‘Italian tone’ is much disputed. Players and dealers will insist that Italian instruments possess unique qualities that cannot be found elsewhere. The truth is probably a bit more mundane. There are more old Italian instruments of the best class and quality in existence than any others purely because of the unique length of the history of the craft in that country. Given that old violins with a fully ripened tone are generally more desirable than immature instruments, an old, well-played-in, and fine-sounding violin is more likely to be Italian than from any other tradition.

At the same time, German and English makers in the 18th century did themselves no favours by addressing the cheaper end of the market. The hastily made and poor-sounding instruments that were produced in large numbers have tarnished the reputation of non-Italian makers, and in particular Jacob Stainer, whose instruments they attempted to copy. In truth, outside the outstandingly great Italian makers, headed by the triumvirate of Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri, the instruments of few other Italian makers are intrinsically superior to those of the better makers in other countries. ‘Italian sound’ is more likely the product ofa deeply rooted tradition  of craftmanlike instruments, which on the whole have been treasured and well played-in throughout their long lives, rather than the result of some lost art or secret knowledge.

Myths surround every aspect of the violin. Romantic writers sought to explain the phenomenon of Cremona in all sorts of ways. Their speculation ranged from the ingredients of the varnish to the nature of the wood, but in modern times real scientific work has gradually replaced guesswork. Dendrochronology, the technique of deducing the age of a piece of wood by comparing relative tree-ring patterns with established chronologies, has provided a much clearer picture of the role of wood in the history of violin making. When these findings are combined with studies of wood samples taken from master instruments, one thing that emerges clearly is that the spruce used by the old masters was freshly cut, naturally seasoned, free of mysterious additives, and available to makers throughout Europe. Wood from the very same alpine tree has been found in instruments made in Amsterdam, London and Venice. It is probably best to view with scepticism many of the theories put forward to explain the superiority of Italian violins in terms of secret wood treatments and unusually long seasoning. Old wood does not make great violins.

Much importance is attached to the Italian varnish in setting these instruments apart from their northern rivals. It is certainly true that the Cremonese varnish still remains the universally acknowledged paradigm, but it covers a wide variety of colours, applications and finishes. It is very hard to define a single varnish that includes virtually all the possibilities — from a thin, pale golden covering to a thick, deep red — but that is how Cremonese varnish can appear. The uniting traits are that it is always soft and tender in texture, and has an extraordinary ability to transmit and reflect light in different ways in different environments and from different aspects, while still showing off the grain and figure of the wood beneath to its absolute best.

Varnish of this quality was not necessarily the exclusive property of the Cremonese. Indeed, the evidence is that it was a common preparation of easily available oils, resins and pigments that was widely used throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Makers as far away as Henry Jaye in London had access to a vivid red oil varnish in the 1620s. In fact, the most beautiful red varnish came relatively late to Cremona. Francesco Rugeri used a deep red in the late 1660s, and was probably the first Cremonese to do so. The strong red tone appears in Stradivaris only after 1700. Ironically, it may have been the Füssen makers who brought red-coloured varnish with them and set the fashion first in Venice, Bologna and Naples.

What the cautiously conservative Cremonese did do was to persevere with a traditional oil varnish. Elsewhere, this sort of preparation was already falling out of use in the 17th century, replaced by harder and more durable recipes that were somehow less rich and subtle in texture. Having worked in their own unique way for a hundred years and more, the Cremonese were unwilling to change with fashion, and benefited thereby. Although in most cases only a small fraction of the original varnish remains on old instruments, it may have some tonal effect. The varnishes that most non-Italian makers embraced in the 18th century were usually hard, spirit-based recipes using shellac and other resins imported from Asia. A hard lacquer-type varnish can certainly have an adverse effect on tone. The softer, oil-based recipes to which the Italians remained loyal, using largely locally produced ingredients such as linseed or walnut oil and turpentine resins, may allow the wood to resonate a bit more freely.

The Decline and Renaissance of Italian Violin Making

By the second half of the 18th century, following the deaths of Stradivari and del Gesù, Cremona itself was moribund as a centre of violin making. Nevertheless, its renown was still growing and feeding Italy’s reputation for bowed instruments in general. This spurred serious attempt to revive the tradition by makers such as Lorenzo Storioni, whose connection with the great makers was tenuous at best. But a secondary flowering of the Cremonese school did take place in the late 18th century, producing makers like Giovanni Battista Ceruti and Giovanni Rota, whose reputations are growing still. The efforts of collectors and dealers, like the legendary Luigi Tarisio and Count Cozio di Salabue, stimulated public interest in Italian violin making and groomed later makers such as G.B. Guadagnini and the Mantegazzas.

When Joannes Franciscus Pressenda and Giuseppe Rocca brought a new energy and impetus to Italian making in Turin in the 19th century, it must have seemed to the outside world that Italy’s supply of great violin makers was inexhaustible. In fact, the effect of the later Turin makers may also have been to show the rest of the world that it was still possible to build good violins.

Around the same time, singularly talented makers emerged elsewhere, and for the first time the pool of great makers appeared to broaden. Joseph Contreras of Madrid benefited hugely from the presence of many Stradivari instruments in that city, and he sparked a brilliant Spanish school of violin making in the late 18th century. Vincenzo Panormo, born in Sicily in 1734, achieved his greatest reputation and effect in London. Nicolas Lupot was born in Stuttgart but worked in Paris, paving the way for J.B. Vuillaume, the best-known and most prolific of all.

All these craftsmen played a part in defining the 19th century violin, albeit based entirely on the designs of Stradivari and, to only a slightly lesser extent, del Gesù. As part of their craft, these makers, and in particular the entrepreneurial Vuillaume, became dealers, researchers and historians. There was a general realisation by makers that something had been lost in the previous century, whether it was a secret recipe or a particular approach, that needed to be rediscovered. A new breed of copyists and even forgers took over from the artisans of the past who had unselfconsciously produced instruments in their own idiosyncratic style. The pool of old and valuable instruments had increased to such an extent that there was more profit to be made in dealing and imitating old violins than in making new ones. The emphasis of the violin makers business shifted decisively towards old instruments as collectible and valuable items as much as tools of the working musician.

Violins had long been valued both as antiques and mature instruments. Old lutes with a ripe tone were prized more highly than new ones even in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the same notion quickly attached to violins. The sound of stringed instruments unarguably improves with age, but an instrument must be made with a certain delicacy in order to resonate freely. And if made too lightly or carelessly, the instrument will not last long enough to benefit from the effects of time. One of the most important aspects of Andrea Amati’s design for the violin was its strength and durability. Fragile old lutes quickly became irreparable, but violins with their strong, architecturally arched plates and protective overhang around the ribs are not only resilient, but almost endlessly repairable. The rib margin allows the plates to be removed relatively easily, repairs made, and the parts reassembled with considerable tolerance for the shifting tensions and dimensions of such a highly stressed wooden structure. Old violins have survived for far longer than lutes or viols. There are practical limits to the number of times a violin can be rescued from accidental damage, but so far there is no evidence that one can be played-out or exhausted.

Such enduring quality is obviously a stimulus to investment. As the value of old violins steadily increased, interest shifted from the new products of the workshop to the stock of the dealer’s showroom. Demand reached new heights when the great Italian players Viotti and Paganini became celebrities, in all the modern senses of the word, throughout Europe. Viotti, the ‘father of modern violin technique’, played throughout Europe in the late 18th century and settled in London, where

he died in 1829. Paganini came soon after, playing his first concerts to astonished audiences outside Italy in the 1830s. Both men were closely identified with the Stradivari and Guarneri instruments they played, and they stimulated a new market for Cremonese violins. Collecting and acquiring old instruments simply for their status and investment value developed. With this, the unique position of the Italian violin as a supreme instrument of music, a piece of individual craftsmanship of unrivalled beauty, a historical and collectible object, and to top it all, a copper-bottomed investment, was secured. The names every investor, player and collector knows and looks for are Italian, and the most resonant of them all are Stradivari and Cremona.

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