“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
The Italian word liuteria meaning violin making is derived from the ancient word leuto. The word encompasses both the art and technique used in the construction of stringed instruments (violins, violas, violoncelli and double basses) or more precisely those that have remained in use. Many varieties of stringed instruments have fallen into disuse for example the viola d’amore, viola da gamba, the quintone (a five-stringed instrument) and the pochette or pocket violin used by dancing teacher to set tempo as well as some others.
Therefore in the modern sense the term liuteria no longer refers to lutes or medieval mandolins of wich there were numerous prototypes many of wich can be seen in paintings of the 1300s and 1400s and wich have presumably been faithfully portrayed by the artists. There are some rare existing examples of these old instruments.
Outside the modern meaning of liuteria there are other stringed instruments that have remained in modern use, some mandolins and guitars, these however have come to be considered poor relations otf their more important, more impressive bowed counterparts. However, many violin makers of significance have not been so disdainful and at times dedicated their labour to the construction of one or other of these instruments.
The term liuteria is therefore employed today in a sense distant from its etymological root.
Historians have fact disputed where these ingenious, inimitable instruments was initially constructed – in its present form – by Gasparo da Salò and Maggini in Brescia or by Andrea Amati of Cremona.
They have also disputed whether the violin was developed from forms of earlier instruments, for example those used for early violas, or whether they were invented ex novo following the design of the gifted, celebrated mathematician Niccolo Tartaglia.
The art of violin making originated and immediately developed into a thriving industry in the two cities of Brescia and Cremona, spreading quickly to northern Tyrol throught the work of Jacobus Stainer, a pupil of the Amatis. It also spread to Venice, where other pupils of the Cremonese school settled, for example Santo Serafino and Domenico Montagnana, originating a dynasty of glorious maestri.
In Italy therefore, the cities which bear the prestige of being the birthplace of classical violin making are Cremona and Brescia, to wich we can add Venice because of its close ties.
All the other regional Italian schools trace their origins to these cities. In Piedmont the first great artisan was Gioacchino Cappa of Saluzzo, a pupil of Amati, and from his school came the other great maestri ranging from Sorzana to Celoniato, to the Guadagninis and all their pupils who produced an admirable harvest of works. The first violin maker in Milan was Giovanni Grancino. He too was a pupil of the Amati school, and was followed by a number of other great Milanese violin makers such as the Testoris, the Landolfis and the Mantegazzas. In Mantua, however, Pietro Guarneri, Tommaso Balestrieri and Camillo Camilli renewed their direct links with Cremona. However, all the makers in province of Venice who were pupils of the cremonese school established affinities with Venetian maestri following their styles (for example Zanoli and obici from Verona, Deconet from Padova, Pilizon from Gorizia and others). In Liguria the main exponent was Bernardo Calcagno, a pupil of Stradivari, while in Emilia violin making was established and spread mainly by the Tononi family of Bologna who trained in Cremona in the Amati workshop. In Campania, a zone politically and geographically far from Lombardy, Alessandro Gagliano of Naples, a student of Antonio Stradivari, initiated the sphere of activity of that large family, wich, uninterruptedly produced highly-valued work for more than a century.
Also the Tuscan school, which in the 1700s produced makers of great skill like Gabrielli, the Carcassi brothers amd Gragnani, can trace their origins to the Cremonese school, having mainly followed the teachings of Stainer. Similarly, the school of Odoardi was established in the province of Marches where evidence of the teachings of the binomial “Amati-Stainer” can be seen.
This various groups of maestri were extremely active during the second half of the 1600s and in the 1700s. they freed themselves from hesitant beginnings and were able to reach great heights in their work. In the first half of the 1700s the classical school reached its peak with the works of grand maestri such Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù and other great makers who orbited around these great beacons of the craft, only to gradually fade away towards the end of the 1700s with the last of the great Cremonese makers, Lorenzo Storioni, and in Venice with the almost simultaneous loss of the great maestri who had worked intensively in that city.
Even though the work did not coe to a standstill and some links remained with the old school of violin making (in Cremona for example, the school of Storioni was continued by Giovanni Battista Ceruti, then by his son, and successively by his grandson Enrico), because in rerum natura these divisions are not verified, it is undeniable that with the disappearance of the great Cremonese and Venetian schools, a cycle was completed. It therefore appears appropriate to call this the “classical” period of Italian violin making for a number of reason which are easily understood and do not need to be expanded on.
Around this time, i.e. the beginning of he 1800s, another epoch started and continues to the present day. This second period, in contrast to and to distinguish it from the classical, could be called the “modern” period.
This classification, as with all classifications, should taken cum grano salis (with a pinch of salt) and should not be rigidly interpreted. It has the value of being a hallmark which qualifies two epochs, through which however there is a link of continuity.
I should however be understood that the distinction we have made is valid only for Italian violin making and does not apply to the evolution which took place in other countries: France, for example, produced its best makers during the 1800s in the person of Vuillaume and Lupot, so that this period, and not the preceeding one should be considered the “classical” epoch.
Equally, the disappearance of the classical school did not take place in all the Italian regions in the same way. In Naples, for example, the Gagliano dynasty continued with its meritorious and prestigious work: After the great works of Alessandro, and those of his two sons, Gennaro and Nicola, the four sons of Nicola (Fernando, Giuseppe, Antonio and Giovanni) produced excellent work into the early 1800s.
Umberto Azzolina, Italian Violin Making in the eighteen and nineteen hundreads, Turris Cremona 1989.