“The violins made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri, from the school in Cremona of the 1800s, were chosen by the great violinists of the late 19th century, such as Paganini, De Sarasate. It was they who consecrated a luthier's greatness, choosing his violins as the best to perform their music.”
The home of master luthier Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, who was probably born in this city in Lombardy in 1644 and where he made more than a thousand stringed musical instruments, is reopening to the public. Credit for this initiative goes, in large part, to the Swiss-born Neapolitan violinist Fabrizio von Arx, the leading player in a journey that took him to the origins of the prestigious art of Italian violin making.
“Musicians of the caliber of Vivaldi, Corelli, Locatelli and Gimignani lived, played and composed at the time of Stradivari: it was the age of rock stars of the violin. This synergy, working with the very best, form the basis of his greatness. Musicians and luthiers worked together to create top-performance instruments.”
Musicians of the caliber of Vivaldi, Corelli, Locatelli and Gimignani lived, played and composed at the time of Stradivari: it was the age of rock stars of the violin
Fabrizio von Arx took up the violin at the age of five. At ten he was already winner of several national competitions for young talent, including the prestigious Vittorio Veneto competition. At sixteen, he made his debut as soloist with the RAI orchestra in Naples. A graduate of the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory in Naples, he continued his studies in Geneva, obtained a diploma in Virtuosité and completed his studies at the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington.
“In 2017, I was lent a violin, a Stradivarius 'Madrileno' from 1720, for a musical recording. It was instant love at first sight for the instrument,” says von Arx. “I was later able to acquire that violin together with the Swiss entrepreneur Olivier Plan. In 2020, for its 300th birthday, I came up with the idea of taking it to Cremona, the place where it was certainly made. I wanted to make a documentary, which I also managed to finish. It was the first days of freedom after the lockdown.”
Von Arx’s story at this point is filled with emotion. “When we arrive in Cremona, a city that I knew well because I studied at the Stauffer Academy, we asked to shoot the final part of the documentary in Stradivari's house, as a natural closure to the project. Unfortunately, however, the house wasn’t looked after at all; there was even a store on the ground floor. But suggestion is very strong; going back with that violin was like a thunderbolt. I could feel the house animated by ghosts, there were violins hanging, there was music everywhere, magic. We were moved to tears.”
The pandemic then struck again. During the new lockdowns, the Casa Stradivari Foundation was founded, of which von Arx is now artistic director, and within eighteen months, the plan to reopen took shape in close partnership with the Municipal Authority of Cremona.
“The violin is Italian, certainly we can state that it is one of Italy’s cultural assets, in fact I recall that Cremonese violin making is an intangible heritage recognized by UNESCO. Take, for example, the French school of the 1800s, which was wonderful, it produced violins that perform Beethoven's quartets perfectly, but when you move to another period, post-Romantic or earlier, those instruments prove somehow incomplete. The same can be said for other violins from the German school, for example, which are suitable for other periods. The 18th-century school of Cremona and the Stradivari and Guarnieri perform the whole history of music, the full spectrum from Bach to the contemporaries, and are perfect for soloists as well as in a quartet. Therein lies the greatness of the instrument.”
The violin is Italian, certainly we can state that it is one of Italy’s cultural assets, in fact I recall that Cremonese violin making is an intangible heritage recognized by UNESCO
Stradivari had two wives and 11 children, only two of whom, Francesco and Omobono, followed in their father's footsteps, but did not excel. Even before 1700, in fact, his fame had surpassed that of Nicoló Amati, his master, and the Stainers. “The land of Cremona has always been a land of conquest. After the plague of 1628, the peninsula again went through hard times at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, under French and Spanish rule. Wars, hardship and privation for the people but also great feasts and celebrations at the ducal palace in Cremona, where victories were celebrated. During those evenings Stradivarius violins were played. The Infanta of Spain, who was a melomaniac and a great music lover, fell in love with them. He ordered 12 to take to Spain, others took the route to France, and Stradivari's fame spread everywhere.”
Today, the new Stradivari house aims to be a welcoming place of training and hospitality for musicians and luthiers, to perpetuate centuries-old traditions. Inside, restorations also include the altana, the secadur, where Stradivari used to hang freshly varnished violins to dry. But if there is one thing that Stradivari teaches us about the art of violin making, it is also perseverance.
“There are no secret formulas, neither for materials nor for paints, as we often read. Certainly, he was a great inlayer, but Stradivari was able to make the best violins because of his longevity. He died at 93 but it was at 60 that he changed and rethought the violin made by his master Amati, making it bigger and improving it. He did so at an age when both today, and even more so at that time, it is customary to retire. In short, it was a race for perfection that he won in the long run, with infinite patience and passion and at an already advanced age.”
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