Sunday, March 15, 2015

Old and Not In the Way, Part I, Guarneri Family Instruments

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and staff

In our first installment of Old and Not In the Way, let's take look at the string instruments of the Guarneri family. 

The scroll of the 1697 'Primrose' Andrea Guarneri viola
The Guarneri family gave rise to Joseph Guarneri del Gesu, generally considered as good, or better, a violin maker as Stradivarius. Where did he come from?
1697 'Primrose' Andrea Guarneri Viola
1697 'Primrose' Andrea Guarneri viola

The Guarneri family tradition begins with Andrea Guarneri. He was born in Cremona, Italy in 1626.  He spent his early years working for the Amati family, first with Antonio and Girolamo Amati. In 1641, he apprenticed in the workshop of Nicola Amati alongside Stradivari. His early instruments closely resembled the Amati instruments, but over time his instruments took on their own characteristics. 
Violin by Peter Guarneri of Mantua 
Two of Andrea's sons,  Peter of Mantua (1655-1720) and Giuseppe Guarneri filius [son of] Andrea (1666-1739) apprenticed in his workshop. Peter left for Mantua prior to 1685 only returning  to Cremona to visit. Andrea Guarneri died in 1698 leaving Giuseppe filius Andrea to carry on the family business.
1695 Peter Guarneri of Mantua violin

Giuseppe filius Andrea had two sons who apprenticed in his shop, Peter of Venice (1695-1762) and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu (1698-1744).
1732 Peter Guarneri of Venice
Peter left for Venice to become the first important instrument maker in Venice.
1732 Peter Guarneri of Venice scroll

Giuseppe del Gesu remained in Cremona and is considered the greatest violin maker of the family. His instruments can be distinguished from his father's not only by craftsmanship but also by a roman cross and IHS printed on the label. The IHS is the abbreviation for Jesus' name in Greek or the latin phrase Iseus Hominum Salvator.  It is because of this, he is referred to as Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu. His instruments are frequently compared against those of Antonio Stradivari. His instruments have a distinctly warmer sound than the Stradivaris, and following the death of Stradivarius and his father (Giuseppe filius Andrea) , his instrumental design shifted from the conservative style he was trained in, to a more experimental design that is characterized by asymmetry, shorter body, and thicker back plates. All of which were done in an attempt to address acoustical problems.  

1742 'Wieniawski' Joseph Guarneri del Gesu

Joseph Guarneri del Gesu, although not as much of a household name as Stradivarius, would be considered by many to have made the finest violins. Ever. Yes! Better than Stradivarius. 

Need to read more? Two great resources are the Hill family's, "The Violin Makers of the Guarneri Family" and Peter Biddulph's, "The Violin Masterpieces of Guarneri del Gesu".

Anne Akiko Meyers speaks about her Guarneri del Gesu

Today's top professionals compare Stradivari and Guarneri instruments

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