Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cremona after Stradivarius

By Andy Fein, Owner and Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

The greatest era of violin making in Cremona from the late 1600s to the mid 1700s saw the life and work of Antonius Stradivarius, two of Stradivarius' sons- Omobono and Francesco, Guarnerius del Gesu, Giuseppe Guarnerius filius Andrea, and Carlo Bergonzi. In a strange and unfortunate twist of fate, all of these makers died within a ten year span. Antonius Stradivarius died in 1737, his sons in 1742 and 1743, Giuseppe filius Andreas in 1739, del Gesu in 1744, and Carlo Bergonzi in 1747.
Scroll of a violin by Lorenzo Storioni, Cremona circa  1793

Violin makers carried on in Cremona, but they did not reach the same heights of fame as their predecessors. Who were these makers? While these makers did not achieve the glory of the Golden Period of violin making in Cremona, there are certainly some very fine luthiers in their ranks.

A viola by Nicola Bergonzi, made in Cremona circa 1781

To me the strangest devolving of the luthiers' trade in Cremona happened right in the Stradivarius household. With the death of Antonius, Omobono, and Francesco, the Stradivarius estate and all the remaining wood, tools, patterns, notes, instruments and family knowledge passed to Antonius's youngest son, Paolo. Paolo, born in 1708, showed very little interest in violin making. As a violin maker of today, I can not imagine that Paolo would squander the opportunity to work alongside Antonius Stradivarius. But he did. Paolo inherited ninety-one of his father's violins, and a few more by his brothers. He sold off most of them in the next thirty years. In 1775, Paolo sold the remaining ten instruments of Antonius (including the Messiah violin), two of Francesco's violins, and the entire remaining contents of the workshop to Count Cozio di Salabue. So, in 1775, the finest era of violin making definitively ended in Cremona.

Who was left in Cremona to carry on the violin making tradition? Luckily, there were two families and a few other very committed artisans. The Bergonzis and Cerutis account for a large number of the instruments produced in Cremona after Stradivarius. Other high points were reached with Lorenzo Storioni and Gaetano Antoniazzi.

Carlo Bergonzi, who died in 1747, was a student of Giuseppe Guarnerius filius Andreas. His violins would definitely be in the first rank of Cremonese violins. Carlo's son, Michel-Angelo continued on with the Bergonzi tradition until 1770. Michel-Angelo's son Nicolo was a very productive violin maker and made some beautiful sounding instruments through about 1782. Nicolo's son, Carlo II, continued on in the tradition and he certainly knew how to make a wonderful sounding violin. Unfortunately, it seems that with each generation after Carlo I, the craftsmanship of the Bergonzis goes downhill. With each passing generation there seems to be less and less attention to detail. They used wonderful wood and their instruments are great playing instruments, but the visual and esthetic aspects of their work seem to decline with each generation. This might be due in part to the demand of their markets for cheaper instruments and faster production. I don't think it was from a lack of skill because some of their instruments are crafted superbly! But hey, even a Bergonzi has to feed his family.

Lorenzo Storioni was born in Cremona in 1751 and worked until about 1800. His work varies to a strangely huge degree. Some of his instruments are superb and some look like they were "banged out" in less than a day. Again, I think market pressures were at least partly responsible for the inconsistency of his work. It was a fairly common practice of almost all violin makers of the era to tailor their instrument to the status of the client. That is, rich clients were served with beautiful wood and careful craftsmanship and the average working Joe Fiddler was handed a violin made in a hurry with wood that looks like it came off a packing crate. However, I have never (& I mean never!) heard a Storioni I thought lacked anything tonally. Like del Gesu, Storioni knew how to make a great instrument sing!

The scroll of a G.B. Ceruti violin, Cremona circa  1805

Giovanni Battista Ceruti was born in 1750 and worked until about 1815. G.B. Ceruti probably worked with Lorenzo Storioni. By about 1790, Ceruti had taken over Storioni's workshop and business. Luckily, G.B. Ceruti was a much more careful artisan than Storioni. He was able to assimilate much of the esthetics of the golden era of Cremonese violin making. His instruments are about as close to the great Cremonese violins as you can get without paying the golden price tag that goes along with them. G.B's son and grandson, Giuseppe and Enrico carried on the Ceruti tradition in Cremona until about 1880. All three generations produced very fine instruments. The University of Delaware has a very fine G.B. Ceruti violin that is played in concerts quite often.
Violinist Xiang Gao with the University of Delaware's G. B. Ceruti violin

Gaetano Antoniazzi II was born into a violin making family in 1823. His early work is fairly rough. In some ways, it looks like he was experimenting with models, wood thicknesses and design. By his middle years, he is producing some beautiful and amazing instruments. He continued working until the late 1890s. His sons made some fantastic instruments with woods and varnish that are among some of the best of Cremona. The Antoniazzis continued making instruments into the early 1900s.

Violinist Lynn Kuo with her 1904 Riccardo Antoniazzi violin

While none of these makers seemed to have grasped all of the greatness of their predecessors, they all made outstanding instruments that are a pleasure to play and hold. And, of course, they all carry the mystique of having on their labels "fece in Cremona".

Dmitry Gindin and Duane Rosengard have published a fantastic book, The Late Cremonese Violin Makers that includes the above luthiers, plus a few more. They have dome painstaking research and their book is an invaluable history of the Cremona violin making.

Walter Hamma's Italian Violin Makers and Henley's Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers are also great sources of further information.

The National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD has a wonderful collection of many of these instruments, plus many, many more.


  1. What is the present position ? Are there any good makers at Cremona now..?

    1. There are many good makers at Cremona presently. The Cremona consortium has been established to promote them (see Some of the most respected names include Vittorio Villa and Riccardo Bergonzi, to name just two. There orthorities that claim, with some justification, that we are now in a second Golden Age of violin making - and Cremona is undoubtedly still a most influential centre of violin craft.