Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The National Music Museum - Home to the Works of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Amati, and More

By Stefan Aune

If you've ever searched for information on instruments by the great violin-makers, chances are you came across the website for the National Music Museum, part of the University of South Dakota at Vermillion. This unassuming museum located far from the great artistic centers houses the preeminent collection of musical instruments in the world. Of particular interest is their amazing collection of stringed instruments by Stradivarius, Guarnerius, and three generations of Amati makers. Many of these instruments were crafted in the 1500's and 1600's. They represent the literal genesis of modern stringed instruments, and their presence in the National Music Museum's collection was the primary factor in the museum's incredible growth over the last 40 years.
National Music Museum
The National Music Museum was founded in 1973, and houses more than 15,000 instruments from all corners of the world. Highlights include some of the earliest known grand pianos, a collection of early brass instruments from Elkhart, Indiana, early Dutch and German woodwind instruments, and a collection of early Italian stringed instruments from Cremona that are found in the Witten-Rawlins collection. This collection was compiled primarily by a Yale-educated bookseller from Southport, Connecticut, Laurence C. Witten, and represents a snapshot of the violin's origins in northern Italy.  

The Andrea Amati "King" Cello
Some of the highlights of the Witten-Rawlins collection of stringed instruments include the Andrea Amati "King" cello, the oldest surviving bass-register instrument of the violin family. Built as early as 1538, the cello was updated and painted in 1560 as part of its inclusion in a collection of instruments sold to the French court of King Charles IX. Only a few of the instruments from the collection survived the French Revolution, and the "King" cello is one of them. Check out more images of this fabulously painted instrument here.

Center bass-rib of the "King" Cello
Another highlight of the Witten-Rawlins collection is a tenor viola made by Andrea Guarneri in 1664. This viola has the distinction of being one of three Cremonese instruments that have survived, unaltered, to the present day. The National Music Museum also owns the other two unaltered Cremonese instruments, a Girolamo Amati violino picccolo, and the Medici tenor viola by Stradivarius, made in 1690. All three instruments retain their original dimensions, as well as their original tuning pegs, scroll, nut, fingerboard, saddle, button, tailpiece, and bass-bar. These instruments provide incredible insight into the work that the classic Cremonese makers were doing hundreds of years ago. It is amazing that they have survived in an unaltered state to the present day, so take a moment to check out each instrument's page. 

Tenor viola by Andrea Guarneri, 1664
Girolamo Amati violino piccolo, 1613
The National Music Museum also has an incredible collection of instrument labels and luthier tools, including patterns, clamps, calipers, dividers, blocks, groove cutters and soundposts setters. Listings, descriptions, and pictures of the items in the Witten-Rawlins collection can be found here, and I would encourage you to browse through and see some amazing pictures of priceless stringed instruments. 

Violin by Antonio and Girolamo Amati, 1595
The Cutler-Challen Mandolino by Antonius Stradivarius
One of two bows attributed to the Stradivarius workshop

Enjoy this video tour of the National Music Museum, narrated by Tom Brokaw, then be sure to browse through the NMM website - there is sure to be something to interest you!

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