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Baroque Violins, Violas, and Cellos


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Violin based on the Stradivari 'P' form, body length of 350mm, string length of 320mm.

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The Cremonese Tradition

All of my violin-family instruments are built in the Cremonese tradition and based in particular on the work of Nicolo Amati and Antonio Stradivari. This narrow choice of models is very different from my approach in viol making and probably bears some explaining.

The superiority of Cremonese instruments over all others was recognized in the form of royal commissions by 1540 and this judgment has survived-I think quite justifiably-up to the present. Classic Cremonese instruments, beginning with those of Andrea Amati, are not only more beautiful and more finely made than others, but consistently sound better as a group. There were other great makers-one thinks in particular of Jacob Stainer who may have apprenticed in Cremona-but nothing to rival the output of Cremona as a whole.

There are several reasons why fine violin making began and stayed in Cremona. The single most important was the brilliant maker Andrea Amati (b. 1505), who essentially invented the violin as we know it and immediately brought it to an unsurpassed level of perfection.

The second is that his working methods, which define the Cremona violin, stayed completely within the Amati family for three generations, from about 1540 until about 1635. It was only then that apprentices of the grandson Nicolo Amati, who included Andrea Guarneri and Francesco Rugeri, learned the tradition and went on to found their own shops.

The Cremonese tradition was tightly held by a handful of master-families, the Amati, Guarneri, Rugeri, Bergonzi, and Stradivari. Most lived in the same parish, many on the same street. While each shop had its own style, all Cremonese instruments share fundamental concepts and construction methods not found in any other early violin making center. Other European makers certainly built violins, but because they did not know how the Cremonese instruments were made, they could only copy their superficial aspects.

Among the Cremonese instruments, those of Antonio Stradivari are a special case. This is not necessarily because he is the 'best' (a one-sided 19th-century judgment) but because a large number of his original forms, drawings, and tools were collected in the 18th century and have been preserved (in the Museo Civico in Cremona). This material is unique and infinitely fascinating for any violin maker. It makes it possible to follow in Stradivari's working methods with a high level of certainty.

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Violins

In all my violins, I strive for power, easy speech, a round flexible sound, and a generous response to the full range of bow pressure.

I currently make the following violin models:

  • Violin based on the 'Alard' by Nicola Amati of 1649.
    This instrument (now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) is a classic 17th-century Cremonese masterpiece that challenges the maker to emulate one of the most sophisticated violins ever built. Copies of this high-arched instrument sound remarkably big and full while retaining the Amatese subtilty and easy speech.

  • Violin in the style of Stradivari based on the Stradivari 'G' form of about 1710.
    This large form (just a millimeter shy of Stradivari's early 'long Strad' B form of 1692), yields a long, broad, deep instrument with quite a long stop of 199 millimeters. Stradivari used this form in his maturity for a number of famous instruments including Il Cremonese of 1715. It produces an extremely long and wide violin that tends toward a loud, dark sound.

  • Violin based on the Stradivari 'P' form of 1705.
    This form produces a big instrument but with a less blunt, somewhat more graceful appearance than the 'G' form. Tonally, it tends more toward the brighter side, perhaps more readily speaking.

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  • Violas and Tenors

    I currently make three viola models based on Stradivari's forms of 1672 and 1690, and on a Pietro Mantegazza dated 1793. The Stradivari 1672 form is the longest and broadest of the three. The 1692 Stradivari 'CV' model, which Stradivari developed for the grand duke of Tuscany, yields a slightly more handy instrument that may be better suited for a smaller player. The Mantegazza instrument is very close in size to the Stradivari 'CV' model and is particularly interesting with regards to setup, as the original is in unaltered condition.

    Body lengths of the two Strad and the Mantegazza models are 409, 410, 409 millimeters respectively, string lengths of all the instruments come in about 368 millimeters, only marginally shorter than a mid-sized modern viola.

    I make a large tenor based on the famous Andrea Guarneri tenor of 1664 (currently in the National Music Museum, Vermillion SD). The original, which is in virtually untouched condition, is probably the single best preserved Cremonese instrument in existence.

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    Violoncellos

    All my 'cellos are based on a reconstruction of the Stradivari form B and on his extant form B drawings. Stradivari used this form in the construction of his most famous 'cellos including the Piatti and Duport. This form was later cut down by his sons but can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty from extant instruments. This model yields a beautiful large instrument, body length of 75.9 cm and a string length of 68.6 cm, about a centimeter shorter than the modern standard.

    This cello was arguably Stradivari's most original and successful design. It yields a volume of sound comparable to bigger 17th-century Italian basses while offering far better playability.

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