A brief history of violin making in Cremona
The Italian cradle of violin making, today Cremona has more than one hundred violinmaking workshops. Stringed instruments like the violin and the viola have been crafted here since the 16th century, with new makers following in the footsteps of Antonio Stradivari and Niccolò Amati, the greatest violin luthiers.
The Amati’s & the Golden Age
Considered the inventor of the modern violin, Andrea Amati was the pioneer of the golden age of violin making (1505-1577). However, his grandson Niccolò Amati (1596-1684) soon became the pinnacle of violin making in Cremona.
Niccolò crafted the finest violins of his time, each notable for their highly arched frame. His work created an infamous resounding yet sweet sound, allowing Cremonese violins to distinguish themselves from the Maggini and Salo schools.
Niccolò’s greatest student came to be Antonio Stradivari, who eventually set the standard of violin making for years to come. Initially, Stradivari crafted violins using the same large structure as his master. However, after crafting violins in the style of Niccolò for half of his career, Stradivari began creating violins smaller in size, with an even more powerful sound.
Champion of violin making
Italy’s most notable luthier, Antonio Stradivari created an abundance of stringed instruments including violas, violins and cellos. Somewhat surprisingly, his instruments were not commonly known until the first part of the nineteenth century.
Ideal for both the vast setting of an auditorium or the more intimate space of chamber music, Stradivari’s instruments became the instrument of choice due to the powerful tone they carried. The initial maker of the violin we all know today, the question of what makes a Stradivari so spectacular is still up for debate. Several makers have attempted to replicate his style to the tiniest detail, but none quite match up to the original Strad.
Cremona owes its status as the Italian cradle of violin making to Stradivari, a maker of around 1,100 instruments, half of which still exist today.
A different approach
Another exceptional master maker was Joseph Guarnerius del Gesù. He created less than 200 violins, much fewer than his fellow makers. Interestingly, Guarneri’s violins were renowned for their inadequacy of detail. Guarneri was much more concerned with the sound his instruments generated as opposed to their appearance, prioritising the sound quality and overlooking the aesthetics.
Nevertheless, Guarneri’s work was, and remains, highly respected. In fact, violinist and composer, Niccolò Paganini owned four of the robust violins crafted by Guarneri. Paganini’s most favoured violin was ‘Il Cannone’, considered a masterpiece of Guarneri’s with its power and sonorous quality of tone.
The revival of violin making
It wasn’t until celebrations to commemorate the anniversary of Stradivari’s death in 1937, 200 years after the golden age of violin making, that the revival of violin making in Cremona began.
Instruments from all over the globe arrived in Cremona, including the first violin created by Stradivari and the last one he crafted in 1737. Alongside some forty-one Stradivari’s were instruments by Guarneri del Gesù and Niccolò Amati, plus several by less sought-after Cremonese Masters from the 17th and 18th century.
It was in June 1937 that a Cremonese concert hit global headlines. Using instruments crafted by the old masters, Corelli, Bach and Vivaldi were recited at the A. Ponchielli Theatre in Cremona by esteemed violinists.
Towards the latter part of 1938, Cremona launched their own traditional violin making school. It was after the Second World War the school really gained traction, inciting a renewed love for violin lutherie using making traditions from the founding fathers.
Since the 1960s, Cremona has inhabited one hundred workshops of ‘new masters’ and their apprentices, making and restoring violins, violas and cellos for musicians all over the world.