Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nicolo Amati, Violin Maker Extraordinaire & Teacher of the Greats

By Andy Fein,  Luthier at Fein Violins
and  Stefan Aune, with image research help by Elijah Fein

In The Amati Family of Violin Makers we introduced Andrea Amati and his sons Antonio and Hieronymus. These early makers established the Amati family and the city of Cremona, Italy as preeminate violin making institutions, and Hieronymus' fifth son, Nicolò, would build on this reputation and become the greatest maker of the Amati family, producing amazing instruments and training several of the most famous makers in history.

A violin by Nicolo Amati, Cremona,Itay, 1628

image from the National Music Museum

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Amati Family of Violin Makers. A Cremonese Dynasty

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

1560 was a long time ago, even by violin standards where an instrument is "modern" until it's about one hundred years old. In an earlier post on the Oldest Known Violin Makers, we introduced Andrea Amati, the first recorded violin maker in Cremona, Italy. Andrea leased his first shop in Cremona in 1538, and his skills and those of his descendants produced a dynasty of violin makers of the Amati name and trained the Guarneris, Bergonzis, Rugeris and a fairly skilled violin maker named Antonius Stradivarius.

circa 1560 Andrea Amati Viola

image from the National Music Museum

The life of Andrea Amati goes so far back in history that it is difficult to pin down the exact timeline of his career. It is commonly held that Andrea learned under Gaspare da Salo in Brescia before setting up shop in Cremona, with the bulk of his work occurring in the second half of the16th century. However, in the Daniel Draley sponsored translation of Cremonese historian Carlo Bonnetti's La Genealogia degli Amati Liutai e il Primato della Scuola Liutistica Cremonese, there emerges a different story of Andrea's life. Carlo Bonnetti made use of documents produced by the Cremonese government, such as leases, marriage agreements, and contracts, to show that Andrea was established in Cremona far earlier in the 16th century, and that he was in fact much older than Gasparo da Salo. In a document from 1556 listing those Cremonese residents of the appropriate age to bear arms (15 - 50), we find Andrea's elder son, Antonio, but not Andrea himself. This would mean that Andrea was at least 50 years old in 1556, and this fact, combined with the fact that Gaspare de Salo was born in 1542, means that Andrea was about 40 years older than Gasparo and highly unlikely to have learned under him.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wittner Finetune Pegs

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Learning to tune a stringed instrument can be one of the most frustrating and expensive parts of learning to play. Most student instruments are usually set up with some type of four fine tuner configuration. And they should be! But fine tuners on the tailpiece only solves half of the tuning problem.
Wittner Finetune Pegs

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guarnerius del Gesu: Outlier Violin Maker

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

In my earlier blog post, The Guarnerius Family of Violin Makers, we look at the history of the Guarnerius family, starting with Andreas Guarnerius. A couple of Pietros and a few Giuseppe's later, we arrive at Bartolomeo "Giuseppe" Guarnerius 'del Gesu'.

The 'del Gesu' was attached to his name, to distinguish him from his father, Giuseppe filius (son of) Andreas, and because 'del Gesu' put the initials "I.H.S." (a Latin abbreviation for Jesus' name) and a Christian Cross on all of his instruments' labels. He used 'Joseph,' the Latinization of 'Giuseppe,' on his labels.

del Gesu violin label
A label from a Joseph Guarnerius 'del Gesu' violin

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The History of the Violin:
Early Stringed Instruments and the Development of the Bow

By Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

Tracing the origins of the violin is difficult - evidence of the earliest stringed instruments is primarily found in sculptures and works of art, as instruments made of wood are unlikely to survive for thousands of years. Cultures such as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians made use of stringed instruments, but they did not make use of bows, and the development of the bow is what sets the violin family and its ancestors apart from harps, guitars and other early stringed instruments. A common theory, which is discussed and refuted by Ed. Heron-Allen in his book Violin-Making, as it was, and is, attributes the earliest violins to the Israelites, citing passages in the Bible such as Psalm 81:2 that says "The pleasant harpe, with the viol," or a passage from the book of Samuel that says "And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord with all manner of instrumentys of fyrre woode, wyth harpes, psalteries, timberelles, fyddelles, and symbals." These passages that seem to reference the viol or fiddle are in fact mistranslations of the Hebrew word for harp, and no word that would signify "bowed instrument" appears in the earliest versions of the Bible.

An ancient Greek vase, which depicts a phorminx, and early Grecian stringed instrument