Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Guarnerius Family of Violin Makers. Scions of Cremona

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

We think of Cremona as the center of the world for violin making. After all, the greatest names in violin making worked there. Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Amati, Gudagnini, Bergonzi, and a few others. One of the earliest violin makers in Cremona was Andreas Guarnerius. A great violin maker and founder of a dynasty that would reach its apex in just two generations.

The scroll of the 'Primrose' Andreas Guarnerius viola of 1697

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eugene Sartory:
Violin Bows of Sartorial Splendor

Mirecourt, France has been the birthplace and springboard of most of France's great violin makers and bow makers. The typical route to glory starts with birth and childhood in Mirecourt (often with a father or elder brother already working in the field), an apprenticeship that begins at a young age, and then a quantum leap to Paris, where the artiste either grabs the gold ring or slinks back to Mirecourt, to hang his head in shame.

Eugene Nicolas Sartory was no exception to this plan. Born in Mirecourt in 1871, he apprenticed with his father, a bow maker, for a short while, before heading off to Paris. He grabbed that gold ring and held on tight!

E.SARTORY A PARIS violin bow

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Killer Music Scores:
Video Game Music Composition

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 Angie Newgren, and Debra Krein

A few months ago, I was driving along listening to the radio show Performance Today with my two boys in the back seat. Normally, they're your average overly-rambunctious eight- and eleven-year-old boys. But on this occasion, they were listening intently to Fred Child's broadcast. Fred had Emily Reese on as a guest and they were discussing and playing video game music. Emily hosts a podcast, called Top Score, about the music and composers of video game music.

Be Quiet, Fred!!
As the music was playing, the boys sat in the back seat in complete silence. Fred began to comment over a piece, and from the back seat I heard, "Be quiet, Fred! I want to listen to the music!" That has never happened before.

The Best Video Game Music Ever!
A few weeks ago, on November 8, 2011, The London Philharmonic Orchestra released their CD, The Greatest Video Game Music. I'd like to nominate the cover art for one of the Ten Best Classical CD Cover Art Pictures of ALL TIME!
best video game music cover art
The CD Album cover for "The Greatest Video Game Music"  by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beethoven, Kreutzer and Bridgetower
Oh, What a Sonata!

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

If you're a violinist or a Beethoven fan, you probably know of Rodolphe Kreutzer. Today, November 16 marks the birthday in 1766 of Rodolphe Kreutzer. Probably the finest violinist of his time, Beethoven's "Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major" is dedicated to Kreutzer and is known as the "Kreutzer Sonata". If you're a string player, you have probably worked your way through Kreutzer's "Etudes" at some point in your playing career.

Violinist George Bridgetower
How about George Bridgetower? Know about him? Ever heard of him? Probably not. But you should! George Bridgetower was one of the first African-European violinists of prominence.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Booty Call from Berlioz: It's Fantastique!
(A Few Fun Facts on Hector Berlioz)

By Debra Krein of Fein Violins

I think it's probably safe to say, that at one point or another, we've all done something crazy in the name of "love" (and/or "lust," as the case may be).

Composers are, of course, no different. Why, one might even venture to say that, due to the creative nature of a composer, they may be prone to even crazier actions, done in the name of love, than say, a rocket scientist. But that's all based upon stereotypes, and not much else. (And we all know that stereotypes are always completely factual.)

So, without further ado, I present to you a few fun facts on Hector Berlioz, and the crazy things he did for love. (Trust me, this is fun stuff!)

Hector Berlioz (December 11, 1803 - March 8, 1869) was a French composer of the Romantic era (quite apropos, no?), most famous for his piece, Symphonie Fantastique.

Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
What a handsome bloke.

In 1827, Berlioz watched Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, at the Odéon Theatre, where she played the parts of Ophelia and Juliet, in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, respectively.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chanot-Chardon: The Violin-Making Soap Opera Family

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

The Chanot-Chardon family of French and English violin makers trace their origins to Joseph Chanot, the first member of the family to add violin-maker as a profession. Joseph ran a small shop in Mirecourt, France, and the first violins that feature his label were produced in 1790. Joseph was a violin-maker, tradesman, and a farmer; a triple threat of vocations made necessary by his twelve children (that's quite a few mouths to feed). Two of Joseph's sons would follow in their father's footsteps and establish the Chanot name among the elite of French violin makers. The eldest, Francois, studied mathematics in Paris, graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique. He went on to specialize in the construction of naval war-ships, before taking an interest in violin making, albeit from a very scientific point of view. His thesis, titled (translated from French) "To Fix the Method a Violin Maker Must Use in the Workmanship of Stringed and Bowed Instruments" was accepted by a committee of experts and professional Alexandre Boucher played on the instrument built to Francois' specifications. Francois would go on to present a second thesis on instrument construction, and had the opportunity to present his research to the King of France during an exhibition. His forms were eventually taken up by the violin firm "Lete's Widow & Payonne," where they were used by the a young Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, who would go on to become an internationally renowned violin maker and a close friend of the Chanot family.

The Chanot shop in Paris
Picture from Parisian Violin Makers in the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Tome 1: The Family Chanot-Chardon by Sylvette Milliot
The youngest son, Georges, apprenticed with his father before joining Francois in the capital. He worked for a succession of Parisian makers before opening his own shop, founded in 1821. Georges was joined by his pupil Florentine Demolliens,  a 24 year old woman whose position as a violin maker caused a bit of a sensation, as women traditionally did not make violins at that point in history. Georges and Florentine eventually married, after having several children out of wed-lock, and the children were all legitimized together through baptism after the marriage. Wishing to get his name out there, Georges spent seven years traveling to Spain, Portugal, Germany, and England, and Russia, where he cultivated relationships with other makers and gained many international clients. His most notable customer was Tarisio, to whom he sold several highly skilled copies of Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins. In 1840, his wife and business partner Flornetine became ill, retiring to the countryside where she was cared for by her maid, Rose Chardon. Roses' sister, Antoineette Chardon, traveled to Paris to help Georges with the business. Their working relationship blossomed into some thing more, and Georges and Antoinette would eventually have a son together, Marie-Joseph Chardon. In the baptism act, Georges was named the godfather, and it wasn't until adulthood that Joseph learned that Georges was in fact his father. He would carry the family name Chardon, and pass it on to his children.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gagliano Violin Makers:
The Pride of Naples

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

What if you're a budding superstar violin soloist or concertmaster and you can't come up with a few million dollars for a Stradivarius or a Guarnerius del Gesu to power your playing career onto the world stage?

You could save a few nickels and consider one of the somewhat lesser Cremonese instruments like a Guadagnini or one of the other Guarneris. The best of those instruments are equal or better in tone than some of the lesser Stradivaris and del Gesus. Heresy, I know, but there are soloists that don't use Strads & del Gesus and they are quite happy.

Another alternative is to take a turn to the South and play some of the finest violins from Naples made by members of the Gagliano family.

Violin by Alessandro Gagliano, made in Naples,  circa 1715

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Charlie Siem - Model Virtuoso Violinist

 Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. Rarely has there been a violinist who not only plays so beautifully, but also looks so damn good.

Born in London, England, in 1986, Charlie Siem began studying the violin at the age of 4. He continued his studies at the Guildhall School of Music, and, later, at the Royal College of Music. He has soloed with orchestras that include the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Israel Camerata. Meet Charlie......

He began studying the violin when, at the age of three, he heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto played, in concert, by violin great Yehudi Menuhin. Interestingly enough, he now plays on one of Menuhin's most beloved instruments.....his 1735 Guarneri del Gesu d'Egville. Sounds like a dream come true, to me!