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” A luthier , making a violin , allows the birth of the most beautiful sounds of honey and of gold that the human ear can understand.” (Yehudi Menuhin) Cremona is the world capital of the lutherie, the ancient art of the violin making and other stringed instruments. The work of the luthier is an old art , delicate and skillful: it is necessary to know the materials, paints, to know how to shape the wood, to know the music. In Cremona, the native land of Stradivari, the work of the Italian masters luthiers is a real art, that has deserved the recognition of Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The history of the Cremonese lutherie is a history of life, between passion and vocation, between art and handcraft. Over 200 luthier workshops still continue today thanks to the tradition started from famous Cremonese luthiers, such as Antonio Stradivari, the Amati and the Guarnieri, while endures to the modernity the prestigious International Lutherie School that accommodates and trains each year students from every part of the world.
History of the Cremonese lutherie: from the little handcrafted workshops to the famous violin
The Cremonese lutherie arises in the middle of the XVI century: the skillful handcraft becomes art of construction of stringed or plucked instruments. Andrea Amati, first master luthier of Cremona, spread the manufacturing of violins and created a real Italian construction style. But Antonio Stradivari is remembered as the most famous Cremonese luthier , since in 1680 acquired the supremacy in the production of luxury instruments. His hands created handcrafted masterpieces become example of perfection and standards of references for the entire lutherie’s universe. From that moment come in succession luthiers dynasties that still today continue to produce unique pieces in the world. The quality of the Cremonese lutherie products experienced a slow decline at the end of the ‘700 , but in the ‘900 conquered the international market until it became a protected art , a cultural proof that has to be safeguarded over time. The “ luthier know-how” has been inserted in 2012 in the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Today , this ancient tradition is protected from Stradivari Luthiers Consortium and from the Italian Lutherie Association that represent more than 140 artisans. To obtain the desirable brand “Cremona Lutherie” , an instrument has to be endowed with precise features: it has to be realized exclusively by hand, in pinewood, maple, ebony, willow, poplar, rosewood, mahogany or cedar. Like in all work of art is the author personal touch that makes the difference: every master luthier leaves his mark on his creation, in respect of the typical manufacturing techniques of the Cremones luthier tradition and its evolutions. The production of a violin requires about two hundred twenty hours of work. Cremonese Luthiers’ work is meticulous and detailed, they need about 12 hours to make a violin , the king of the instruments, with the noble mission to imitate the accents of the human voice.
The big masters luthiers of Cremona: tradition of artisans, generations of artists
The forefather of this family is Andrea Amati, that started his activity about 1520. The legend tells that the first violin was his direct creation. The instruments that have his label , today have an immense worth and they are guarded in the Oxford Museum in England, in the South Dakota Museum in the USA , in the city of Cremona and in two private collections. His masterpieces are divided in three collections: the one made for the King Carlo IX of France, the one for a rich marquess , and a collection of unkown destination. Antonio and Girolamo Amati, Andrea’s sons, followed their father in his workshop. Amati brothers started the trial path and produced instruments with several and original forms. The values imparted by the father remain the same: excellent choice of woods, high executive quality, application of a constant acoustic model. The baton passed then into Nicolò Amati’s hands , who controlled the scene of Cremonese lutherie for more than 50 years and fixed permanently a violin model.
Andrea Guarneri was born in 1625 and studied as master luthier in Nicolò Amati’s workshop. The son Giuseppe continued to work perfecting and modifying the style. His instruments became famous for the use of a transparent and coloured paint with a very warm result, that couldn’t be imitate from anyone else. His hair curls crown him as one of the biggest carver. The son Bartolomeo , better known as Guarnieri del Gesù , melted together Stradivari’s style with Brescian luthiers one, but led an excessive life , and was called the “ cursed luthier of Cremona”. He was the one who made the violin for excellence, the one played by Niccolò Paganini, “Paganini’s cannon”.
Certainly the luthier Antonio Stradivari is the most known in the world. He was born in 1644 . When he became adult opened the workshop with the sons Omobono and Francesco and his pupils in Piazza San Domenico, where he fabricated most of his instruments. He made some the most famous string instruments, as the “Hellier” the “Toscano” and the viola “Medicea”. It was his modification to the violin’s handle , mainly sloped on the back so to give more tension to the strings and to have more power of sound as the music of the time required. Extending the chain and the keyboard and building instruments with ebony , a stronger wood, Stradivari created the modern violin . His hands assembled immortal models, as the “Betts”, the “Ernst”, the “Greffhùle”, the “Parke”, the “Boisser”, the “Sancy”, the “Cremonese”, the “Messia”, and the “Canto del Cigno”. One Stradivari is recognised by the refined manufacture but also by the inside label , rigorously in Latin: Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno [data] (Antonio Stradivari Cremonese has fabricate in the year …). What is his strong point? His personal choice of the best woods from the acoustic point of view, selected among the others in Val di Fiemme. Today 650 of his instruments are recognised as his works and are considered the best string instruments ever created and they are played by the best executors of the world. One person paid 1.790.000 pounds (more than 3,4 million euros) to have one of his instruments . More precious than a jewel.
From shop boy to responsible of restoration in Stradivari’s workshopo he became master luthier: this is the history of excellence of Carlo Bergonzi. His unique care for the appearance of his instruments and the remarkable purity of sound are the distinctive feature of his “ luthier know-how” that was able to take the best from who came first. First Nicola and then Riccardo Bergonzi continued the family’s tradition.
With the arrival of the new millennium the love for the lutherie in Cremona isn’t disappeared. As the example of Stefano Conia who was born in Ungheria, but he moved to Italy to graduate at Lutherie School of Cremona . In his laboratory ,in the centre of the city, he teaches Construction.
From the past toward the future , the Cremonese lutherie traces an arch , as the one of the instruments that come to life from centuries in the handcrafted workshops in this magic Italian city. The passion for the music, the handcraft values , the qualities of the Italian raw materials and a history of international successes : this is the art of the “ luthier know-how” , the skilful Italian excellence that instils in the wood the life , the soul and the sound.
This post is also available in: Italiano