Today, fine violins can be found all over the globe. But several hundred years ago, the best instruments in the world were made and played in Cremona.
Cremona, Italy in the 16th through 18th centuries was where the finest violins and other stringed instruments in the world were made. Thanks to the supply of just-right spruce and maple wood and a burst of innovation in this era, fine violin makers the likes of Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati were able to create instruments that endure in value and playability today.
Appropriately enough, the respected Museo del Violina (Museum of the Violin) is located in Cremona. Featuring fine stringed instruments, a performance venue, scientific laboratories, and playing host to the Concorso Triennale (a once-every-three-years competition of violin makers), the museum honors and preserves the remarkable place this northern Italian city holds in the history of music making.
The list of acclaimed Cremonese luthiers is long. Most prominent are Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati (the latter two having multiple generations of families who built violins, cellos, basses and sometimes bows). But other violin-maker names associated with Cremona include: Francesco Ruggieri, Gio Batta Morassi, Giovanni Francesco Pressenda, Francesco Bissolotti, Jacob Stainer, Carlo Bergonzi, Lorenzo Storioni, and Giovanni Battista Rogeri. Among these, some trained in Cremona but moved elsewhere to establish violinmaking studios.
Featured at the museum are rooms dedicated to the origins of the instrument itself. The first is a reconstruction of the Renaissance rebec and a 15th century viol. What follows are a recreated violin making workshop; an immersive sensory experience of the smell, touch, and sounds of violins; a map of where various family luthiers were once concentrated; tools used by Stradivari (700 in all); a look at 20th century violinmaking, centered around a 1937 national competition; another room dedicated to the Trienniale competitions; a center for the “friends of Stradivari” international network of violin owners and scholars of Cremona lutherie; and the Guiseppe Fiorini conference room, which shows clips from concerts in the museum’s Auditorium Giovanni Arvedi, a sinuous and serpentine architectural and acoustical concert venue triumph with a central stage.
The room containing actual, highly-valued instruments from the workshops of Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati holds the following instruments:
- Andrea Amati – violin “Carlo IX” 1566
- Girolamo Amati – viola “Stauffer” 1615
- Nicolò Amati – violin “Hammerle” 1658
- Antonio Stradivari – violin “Clisbee” 1669
- Giuseppe Andrae Guarneri – violin “Quarestani” 1689
- Antonio Stradivari – cello “Stauffer – ex Cristiani”, 1700
- Antonio Stradivari – violin “Il Cremonese”, 1715
- Antonio Stradivari – violin “Vesuvius” 1727
- Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesù” – violin “Stauffer” 1734
The museum advises that this room is unembellished, holding little more than the instruments themselves. “We shall add nothing and leave you to the contemplation of this musical treasure chest on the notes of a moving piece of music.” Which, given the museum’s mission and focus, seems completely appropriate.
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