Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Violin Maker of Piacenza, Milan, Cremona, Parma & Turin

Written by Andy Fein & Angie Newgren

Italy's Po River Valley figures prominently in the history of great violin-makers, as well as the Fein family history.

The towns of Cremona, Piacenza, Parma, Milan, and Turin are all beautiful towns along the Po, or one of its many tributaries. In 1944 and 1945, Bert Fein, Andy's father, along with thousands of other brave soldiers of the U.S. Tenth Mountain Division, and joined by local Appenine fighters, pushed the Nazi army out of the Appenine Mountains and other strongholds along the Po River.

About 230 years earlier, in the small village of Beligno, at the foot of the Appenine Mountains, Giovanni Battista (J.B.) Guadagnini was born on June 23, 1711. J.B.'s father Lorenzo was a violin maker, the first in a long line of violin makers that stretched into the twentieth century.


The earliest known violins by J.B. Guadagnini are labeled from the 1740s when J.B. was making instruments in Piacenza. He was about thirty years old. Thirty is pretty late for a violin maker of that era to start labeling his own instruments. What was he doing before then?

Several theories exist:
  1. He could have been working in another field. That seems doubtful. His earliest instruments already show well developed skills.
  2.  He was working for his father. This seems doubtful too. There are surprisingly few violins from this period with Lorenzo Gudagnini's label. If he had a young and energetic son in his workshop it would seem that there would be more violins produced.
  3.  A hint might be from some of J.B. Guadagnini's labels where he adds "Cremonensis" and "alumnus Antonii Strradivari". It's very possible that J.B. Guadagnini spent his early years working in the Stradivarius workshop and learning directly from Stradivarius.

J.B. Gudagnini must have had a great desire to sample the life and cuisine up and down the Po Valley. Besides Piacenza, J.B. worked in Milan (on a tributary of the Po), Cremona, Parma, and Turin.

Here are the general dates he worked in each town:
  • Piacenza: ~1739 to 1749
  • Milan: 1749 to 1758
  • Cremona: 1758
  • Parma: 1759 to 1770
  • Turin: 1770, until his death in 1786.

It was in Turin that J.B. Guadagnini met and developed good business relations with Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salube. Count Cozio was an avid violin collector and connoisseur . In 1775, the Count purchased the remainder of Antonius Stradivarius' workshop. The purchase included tools, forms and all the remaining instruments, including the Messiah Stradivarius of 1716.

In 1783, three years before his death, J.B. made a violin known as the "Maazel" Guadanini of 1783. This violin has been owned by Maestro Lorin Maazel for the past 66 years. Maazel was born in Paris but was raised in the U.S., where he started violin lessons and 5 and conducting lessons at 7. He grew up to have many accomplishments as both a conductor and performer, and also as a composer. Lorin Maazel has worked as a music director for the New York Philharmonic, the Munich Philharmonic, and many more. He has conducted over 150 orchestras in 5,000 opera and concert performances. He also has made over 300 recordings.

Lorin Maazel, with his 1783 J.B.Guadagnini violin.


Photos from the Tarisio website:
The "Maazel" Guadagnini Violin of 1783

Now, 66 years after he first acquired this violin, at age 15, Lorin Maazel is handing off his instrument. Tarisio is auctioning off this instrument to the highest bidder. The auction started in late September and goes until November 10, 2011. The violin is being taken around the world for public and private viewings.

The money will be donated to the Castleton Festival Foundation. Established by Lorin and Dietlinde Turban Maazel in 1997, the Castleton Foundation is a charity to help young musicians (vocal and instrumental), and conductors develop professional music careers. The winning bid for the Maazel Guadagnini violin is estimated to be between $800,000.00 and $1,200,000.00

Tarisio is also holding an auction for a Guadagnini cello. The "Huxham" Guadagnini of 1783 is another instrument made by J.B. Guadagnini, and also made in the same year as the "Maazel". The bidding ends on Novmber 9th 2011. It is also estimated to have a winning bid be between $800,000.00 and $1,200,000.00. However, it is not associated with the Castleton Foundation.



J.B. Guadagnini made many beautiful violins. Here are a few photos of his work over the years:

J.B. Guadagnini Violin 1747
J.B. Guadagnini Violin 1757
J. B. Guadagnini Violin 1760
J.B. Guadagnini Violin 1766 Front
J. B. Guadagnini Violin 1766 Back

J.B. Guadagnini Violin 1776
One of our favorite violinists, Lara St. John, plays on the 1779 Salube J. B. Gudagnini violin. she had previously played on a Stradivarius violin. She says"The Guadagnini simply sounds better."
Lara St. John & her 1779 'Salube' J. B. Guadagnini violin

Here's a link to a great article about Italy's Po River Valley.

 Violinist Tang Tee Khoon with a  1750 J.B. Gudagnini violin


For more information about the Po Valley during WWII.  

November 11, 2011. An update on the Maazel Guadagnini- This beautiful violin sold at Tarisio's auction  for $1,080,000. Maazel Guadadgnini violin of 1783

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