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THE tradition that Stradivari was a pupil of Nicolò Amati has been handed down to us by successive generations; and there has been a general disposition to believe it to be correct. Still, doubts have not unreasonably been raised, as it has been hitherto impossible to point to the existence of any documentary evidence to confirm the tradition.
Stradivari, unlike several of Nicolò Amati's other pupils, did not make his master's name generally known by mentioning the fact that he was his apprentice on the various labels he inserted in his instruments during so many years. Andrea Guarneri, for instance, from time to time uses the words "Alumnus Nicolai Amati"; so also did Francesco Ruger"; whilst we believe this to have been the invariable practice of G. B. Rogeri, who worked at Brescia. Lancetti, the Cremonese biographer, who about the year 1823 compiled a work on the different celebrated violin-makers (but it was never published, owing to its non-completion), in writing of Stradivari, states that he used a label about 1666 bearing the words "Alumnus Nicolai Amati"; and M. Chanot-Chardon, the well-known Parisian- luthier, tells us that he recalls having seen in the possession, of his father an autograph label bearing the following statement by Stradivari : "Made at the age of thirteen, in the workshop of Nicolò Amati." Unfortunately this interesting document is not now to be found.
Piccolellis, in his genealogy of the Amati family, throws no light upon the connection of Stradivari with his master, although in certain of the archival documents which he publishes Andrea Guarneri and others are mentioned as inmates of Nicolò Amati's house. The absence of the names of Ruger, Rogeri, and Stradivari is possibly to be accounted for by these not having been indoor apprentices— i.e. they did not live and board with their master, and therefore did not figure in the return of the members of the household.
Now, we have searched long for the label mentioned by Lancetti, and have also consulted many of our colleagues, but always with the same negative result: no one had ever heard of its existence. We had at length given up hope of any success, when during a visit abroad we were fortunate enough to have a violin submitted to us which we recognised as an early work of Stradivari, and great indeed was our pleasure and surprise when, on deciphering its original label, we found the words: "Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666." Here, then, was the long-sought-for confirmation of Lancetti's statement, proving by unquestionable documentary evidence the fact that Stradivari was the pupil of Nicolò Amati. It is curious to note that in the very next year, 1667, Stradivari makes no mention of his master; nor apparently did he again do so throughout his life.
A Long Pattern Stradivarius violin, Cremona 1693
As we have already seen, Stradivari was born in 1644; and we may safely assume that his parents apprenticed him not later than his fourteenth year, possibly two years earlier, for even at the present day fourteen years is the average age of apprenticeship in both the French and German violin-making centres. Stradivari would, therefore, have commenced working in 1656-58.
To whom could the parents have addressed themselves, if not to Nicolò Amati? No other name suggests itself to us. And when we recollect that Amati was the sole representative of the only old family of violin-makers we know of in Cremona, and that his fame far excelled that of all other makers throughout Italy, no other choice practically existed. That Nicolò Amati received apprentices was doubt less well known locally. We may believe, then, that the boy Antonio Stradivari entered the workshop of Amati some time between his twelfth and fourteenth year, and, taking his allotted place at the bench, began, tools in hand, laying the foundation of that career which was to prove so fruitful and remarkable.
At Mirecourt, in the department of the Vosges, the centre of the violin-making industry in France, an apprentice of average intelligence learns to make a very fair instrument in three years; so we may conclude that Stradivari at the age of sixteen— in 1660 — would be equally competent. We know that about 1660-1665 he printed his first labels, and this fact points to his having reached a standard of excellence sufficiently high to justify him offering his work direct to his patrons. It does not follow, however, that Stradivari had quitted the workshop of his master, for having labels of his own simply shows that he was both competent and free to make instruments on his own account if commissions were forthcoming. That he did not do so to any extent is certain, for singularly few of these early productions are to be met with. Various reasons might be given to account for this, but we are of opinion that by far the most probable explanation is that Amati practically retained the services of his gifted pupil until within a short time of his death, which took place, at the age of eighty-eight, in the year 1684. Such an assumption is the more reasonable when we bear in mind the resources of an establishment of reputation so high and merited as that of Nicolò Amati, a reputation acquired during the course of a whole century. Such a house, therefore, would be favoured with most of the orders for fine instruments sent to Cremona in preference to that of a new maker whose name was possibly still unknown outside the walls of his native city. Thus in all ways it probably suited Stradivari to- remain as a paid workman under the roof of Nicolò Amati until about 1684.
Careful observation, carried on during many years, has conclusively convinced us that very few of the later-dated instruments of Nicolò Amati—i.e. after 1665-70—are the work of an old man, and it must be remembered that he was seventy-four in the last-named year. Clearly, then, he was assisted by others; and without doubt these assistants were his pupils, amongst whom we may mention Andrea Guarneri, Giovanni Battista Rogeri, Francesco Ruger, Amati's own son Hieronymus, and, lastly, Stradivari.
Here, then, was the school in which Cremona's greatest fiddle-making son passed the first three decades of his working life, profiting by the guidance and mature counsels of the master who had maintained, and added to, the reputation gained by successive members of his family. During these years Stradivari must have vied with his fellow-workers in striving to improve-: in fact, a healthy spirit of emulation no doubt existed amongst them; and possibly the innovations that Stradivari was destined to carry out were then slowly and imperceptibly ripening in his mind, awaiting that moment when, in the natural course of events, the position held by his master would become vacant, leaving him a fair field for their development.
As to the exact position occupied by Stradivari while with Amati nothing is really known, nor does the most minute scrutiny of the workmanship of Nicolò Amati's later instruments enlighten us to any appreciable extent. We recognise in certain violins the unmistakable handiwork of Andrea .Guarneri, of Giovanni Battista Rogeri, and of Francesco Ruger; but we have hitherto failed to find a single specimen bearing the already strongly characteristic impress of Stradivari, or even agreeing with those instruments contemporaneously made by him and bearing his label, dated after 1665, but prior to 1680. In Hart's book we read that Lancetti says, on the authority of Count Cozio, that the instruments made by Stradivari in 1665, and others in 1666, bear the label of Nicolò Amati; and he instances one, which was in the collection of the Count, to which Stradivari made a new belly in his best style many years later. Continuing, the writer adds : "It is certain that instruments as described by Lancetti have been recognised by intelligent connoisseurs as wholly the work of Stradivari, and, as may be imagined, they have no longer been allowed to sail under false colours, but have had their proper certificates of birth attached to them."
Now these statements are liable to be misunderstood, as they imply that a certain number of Stradivari's instruments of the earliest epoch exist, which were originally made for Amati, whose label they bore. Such, however, is not the case. If they existed, where are they? We have certainly not met with them. The Stradivarius violin mentioned by Lancetti is known to us; it is still in the possession of an Italian nobleman. If we may rely upon Lancetti's statement—viz. that the original ticket was one of Amati's (the one now in the violin is a false Stradivari label dated 1710)—then it does furnish an instance in point, for the work and style, with the exception of the belly, are undoubtedly those of Stradivari's early period, and, furthermore, are thoroughly characteristic. We may add that we are acquainted with only four other examples in which, similarly, the original label may have been one of Amati. In one instance only have we seen an Amati violin the head of which we can unhesitatingly affirm to have been made by Stradivari; but of course it is easy to assume his co-operation in the construction of many others. Again, it may be that Stradivari was more especially employed in varnishing, in fitting up the instruments, and in generally supervising the work; or perhaps he and Hieronymus, the son, worked conjointly, as was undoubtedly the' case with Giovanni Battista and Pietro Giacomo Rogeri, of Brescia. Instruments thus made would necessarily lack the individual characteristics of both the one and the other, the whole being blended. However this may be, it is unquestionable that the later specimens of Nicolò Amati, of neat and perfect form and finish, which are dated as late as the year of his death, were either made by his son alone or jointly by his son and Stradivari. Further experience and research may perhaps enable us to determine this with more certainty than at present. In the meantime we may say that the scant credit accorded in various books to Hieronymus, the son of Nicolò, is most misleading: at times he made instruments worthy of the best traditions of his family.
We have not sufficient data to enable us positively to affirm in what year Stradivari definitely started working on his own account; but the fact that he purchased a house in the Piazza Roma in 1680 tends to fix that year as the probable date, though we think it not unlikely that the separation from his veteran master was made gradually, and commenced a year or two previously. Mr. E. J. Payne, in a very interesting article contributed to Grove's "Dictionary of Music and Musicians," says that Amati appears to have retired in 1679, and that the workshop was broken up the following year. Such cannot have been the case, as we have both repeatedly seen and possessed instruments bearing Nicolò's original labels dated between 1680 and 1684. It is therefore apparent that the love of his art held him to his calling until the end; and, judging by the extreme rareness of Stradivari's works at that time, we believe that he must have continued to give a helping hand to the last. Again, Hart on the authority of Lancetti, states that all the tools, models, and patterns of Amati passed, at his death, into the possession of Stradivari instead of remaining in the hands of his son, Hieronymus. This may possibly have been the case, but we are much inclined to doubt it; for, as far as we can ascertain, they have never belonged to the Dalla Valle Collection.
Lancetti appears to have formed his conclusions from the fact that a wooden rule or straight-edge and a model of the "f" holes of the Amati form were found among the Stradivari relics purchased by Count Cozio from the great maker's descendants in 1775. The reasoning of Hart that this fact, if true, would account for Hieronymus not always working to the same forms as those which would be derived from his father's instruments is unconvincing. We repeat that the abilities of Hieronymus have been underrated. His capacities were quite equal to striking out modifications of form or outline if circumstances called for them.
The earliest dated instruments of Stradivari seen by ourselves are of the years 1666, 1667, and 1669. Hart mentions a Stradivarius violin of the year 1666, and M. Silvestre, of Paris, tells us that his uncles, Pierre and Hippolyte Silvestre, of Lyons, also possessed one of that date. But Count Cozio says that Stradivari worked from 1656 to 1736; and, as we have already remarked, it is quite possible for him to have made instruments and inserted his own label as early as 1660, his sixteenth year — in fact, in a notebook in our possession, compiled in the early part of last century, we find mention of a violin of this early date; though we cannot vouch for the correctness of the statement, it being so very easy to misread old and obscured figures.
Before proceeding to note the successive changes in Stradivari's work as we approach 1700, we will pause and review those instruments made by him during Amati's life time — i.e. prior to 1684 — and seek to find the point where Stradivari's originality asserted itself. We cannot with justice say that he commenced where his master left off, nor do his earliest works foreshadow a man of such exceptional and versatile abilities as he proved himself to be. He did not, as we are often told, suddenly flash forth as a brilliant genius endowed with the gifts and experience of all his elders. On the contrary, he was slow to develop, though from the first he showed industry, earnestness, and persistency in carrying out his own ideas, whether good or bad. The dimensions he adopted for his instruments- were those of the smaller form of violin more frequently used by Nicolò Amati in 1660-70; and, with but slight modifications effected here and there after 1660, he continued to make instruments of these proportions until 1684. We have, however, met with exceptions, one of them being the "Hellier" Stradivarius violin, dated 1679, of which we shall speak later.
That Stradivari did not at once take the "grand" Amati pattern as his standard of size is instructive; for it shows that he was still in doubt as to whether or not these proportions would give a superior tone. It is probable that the majority of players still favoured the bright and responsive, though lighter tone, obtained from the smaller form. Both the previously mentioned violins- of 1667 and 1669 are marked by the same character, and reveal throughout considerable Amati influence — more so, indeed, than any later specimens seen by us; though at the same time they distinctly and undeniably bear the stamp of Stradivari.
We observe already the beginnings of that originality of style which we see more boldly and distinctly asserted later on in the 'seventies and 'eighties. Now, all pre-1684 Stradivari instruments contrast with Nicolò Amati's contemporary works by their more masculine and solid build, accentuated in some specimens to a greater degree than in others. They lack that characteristic neatness of work shown in the small and light substance of the edges, the slender corners, delicately cut head, and "f" holes of Nicolò's violins, in which, in fact, every part is light of build and elegant in design. With Stradivari the curves are stiffer and less rounded, and especially noticeable is his treatment of the corners and the bouts; the two edges are broader in aspect and heavier in actual substance, all rendered the more apparent by an increase of margin round the sides, and the purfling being set a shade farther in. The corners are short and blunt; and the sound-holes, more angular in their curves, and placed more often closer together, are as a whole more substantial-looking. The model is that of his master, though perhaps less full round the edges than in the majority of Amati's violins of this period.
In the choice of material it cannot be said that Stradivari was particularly happy; and this fact leads us to conclude that the remuneration he obtained for these early works, with possibly an exception here and there, was not sufficient to permit of his employing handsomely figured wood, though as regards its resonance there is but little fault to be found. The maple is either rather plain, cut the slab way of the grain, showing but little cross figure, and with veins running in a downward direction or in curves; or it is of another tree, wood marked by a small and weak curl, this time cut the right way of the grain. Both these types of wood were evidently obtained from trees grown in the province.
The pine is invariably of good quality. After 1670 we meet with bellies of a good width of grain, but on approach ing 1680 it is generally very close—more so than one could wish. The most typical and interesting examples known to us—apart from the "Hellier," made, we believe, between 1666 and 1680 — are the "Selliere," the violin owned by M. Desaint, and that in the possession of Capt. Saville. The latter instrument is perhaps as remarkable for "its vigorous build as the " Hellier." All three, unfortunately, have had their original dates tampered with. Other examples also of this period are those owned by Mr. Nairn, 166-, Mr. Younger, 1667, and M. Bovet, 1677.
By 1680 we may safely assume that Stradivari had acquired a certain reputation, though possibly as yet only local. Nevertheless, as we shall see, it was spreading. We learn from the Arisi MSS that in 1682 the Venetian banker Michele Monzi ordered from Stradivari a complete set of instruments, which were destined to be presented to James II. of England. What better evidence of his growing prestige could we have? The death of his veteran master Nicolò Amati, which took place two years later, must have powerfully contributed to his advancement; for the increase in Stradivari's productions dated after 1684 is most noticeable. Thus stimulated, he was fast proving that he, and he alone of Cremona's sons, possessed an energetic grasp of his craft and a fertility of idea which were not only sufficient to maintain the glorious traditions of the past, but even to raise the art and renown of his native city to a still higher pinnacle.
The years 1684 and 1685 mark a decided development both in form and construction, more pronounced than hitherto. The character of Stradivari's work remains the same, although he had at length perceived that the instrument as a whole required broader treatment. His dimensions are in most cases increased, and are more in accordance with those of the "grand" Amati. The heavy edge and breadth of margin round the sides of some of the instruments of this period forcibly recall the style of certain Nicolò Amatis made in 1640-50— Nicolò Amati's own characteristic work. Typical examples of 1683 and the following years are the violins in the possession of the following:—
The Irish Academy of Music, ex Dr. Jay, 1683;
M. Suk, of the Bohemian Quartett, 1683;
Miss Lamplough, 1683; Mr. Croall, 1684;
Mr. Soames, 1684; Mr. Rosenheim, 1686;
Miss Goddard, of Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A., 1686;
Baron Erlanger, 1687;
Mr. C. Oldham, 1687
; Mr. L. Mackenzie, 1687;
M. Jan Kubelik, 1687;
Mr. Carl Derenberg, 1688;
Miss Gidley, 1689.
Most writers on the subject have divided Stradivari's life into periods, and then over-praised or depreciated this or that epoch. Such a procedure is to a great extent misleading, for no man of Stradivari's commanding genius could be tied down to act on strict lines. Broadly speaking, he profited by experience, and avoided as he advanced in age the shortcomings noticeable in earlier productions; but, notwithstanding, he made at all times throughout his long life various specimens which stand out prominently above others of the same date. It is perhaps correct to say that he experimented more frequently before 1700, though the more we study his works the more clearly do we perceive that Stradivari was always experimenting even to his last days. Hence it came about that he produced works of varying merit, here very successful, there failing somewhat, though he never made positively poor instruments; even the inferior specimens invariably present good points.
We cannot better illustrate Stradivari's earlier experiments than by discussing the "Hellier" violin previously mentioned. Made in 1679, it is one of the few inlaid violins, of which we shall speak later on. As regards the dimensions, it differs from any other violin seen by us dated before 1684-85; these proportions were, in fact, never at any later period exceeded.
Thus we see that Stradivari was already contemplating that change of proportions to which he was more generally to give effect after 1685. The perfect symmetry of the head, and the position and admirable design and cutting of the "f" holes, are also in advance of any of his contemporaneous work known to us.
On the other hand, the model, heavy edge and small purfling are thoroughly characteristic of his early work, and the whole presents a heaviness and solidity of construction such as we may almost venture to say borders on clumsiness. We may here incidentally remark that this violin shows that Stradivari occasionally enjoyed rich patronage previous to 1680, for he received no ordinary remuneration for the making of such an instrument.
During the next five years — i.e. until 1690 — Stradivari's work undergoes no decided change. While all specimens bear the charm of personal distinction, they vary both as regards dimensions and the minor details of construction. In some instruments the dimensions are of large proportions throughout, while others, though of full length, have diminished widths or lower sides. In some cases the model is made to compensate, so to speak; in others, not, In character the model still remains Amatise; here and there flat, but in the majority of cases fairly high at centre, gracefully hollowing towards the edges, and more noticeably so at the bouts than at the flanks.
We have seen some specimens the model of which rises somewhat pointedly to the centre, thus lacking that fulness of appearance which is more pleasing to the eye. The heads show considerable variation. In some examples they are disappointing; they are wanting in vigour, and contrast strangely with the solid edge and more masculine treatment of the body. The absence of a decided chamfer or bevel especially tends to impart a meagre appearance; and again at times the design is too small for that of the body, though we have seen heads which were too heavy. In short, what we wish to point out is, that in these instances the perfect balance of symmetry between head and body is to a certain extent absent.
The Tuscan Stradivarius violin dated 1690
The year 1688 marks a notable improvement, and for the first time we see Stradivari making a more decided bevel and carrying out his very original idea of picking out the curves of the outline of the head in black. He also treated the centre-line running down the middle of the fluting in a similar manner. Few specimens are now to be found with heads in that sharpness of preservation which enables the observer to note this latter feature; besides, we think he did it in but few instances, and never, as far as we have observed, after 1700. The blackening of the bevel he continued — with a few exceptions, dating between 1698 and 1703, and several of his inlaid instruments — to the end of his life. The year 1690 is perhaps one of the most interesting epochs in Stradivari's career; it certainly marks the most complete innovation as regards the form, construction, and proportions of the violin which took place in his work; it can only be equalled by the change in the form of his 'cellos which he adopted years later. We refer to the creation of the "Long Strad."
Before proceeding, we will again pause and more fully review the progress of the last few years. Stradivari had now reached the plenitude of his powers as a craftsman, for it cannot be gainsaid that in point of sharpness, accuracy, and beauty of finish some of the examples of the years 1686, 1687, 1688, 1689, and 1690 stand unsurpassable. This is but natural, when we consider that he was now in the prime of life. The perfect skill with which he handled his knife is seen in the cutting of the "f" holes, the insertion of the purfling, and the carving of the heads. The finish throughout marks him as having been one of the most dexterous craftsmen the world has ever known, and we emphatically assert that no violin-maker has ever surpassed and few have equalled him. No more unique example of his unrivalled finish of work exists than the "Tuscan" violin, made in 1690. It stands alone. Others equally fine were made, but the vicissitudes of time have not spared them to us.
All pre-1690 violins are termed Amatise, the style as a whole bearing the more or less marked impress of Amati's influence. Hut this must be understood only in a broad sense: it does not imply that those instruments are to any appreciable extent reproductions of Amati.
We have endeavoured to show that, from the very outset, Stradivari's originality asserted itself, and as it developed the points of similarity with Amati became weaker and weaker. A certain number, indeed the greater proportion, of his earlier instruments were covered with a varnish of a yellow colour, which fact furnishes a strong point of re semblance with Amati; though we may here mention that from his earliest clays Stradivari used a varnish of deeper tint, which towards 1690 and onwards becomes more and more pronounced.
Another feature in common with Amati is the wood. Both makers showed a preference for maple cut on the slab; and Stradivari, in the great majority of his works made previous to 1690, used it cut thus, some times for back, sides, and head, at other time's for the back only, the rest being cut the right way of the grain. In contrast to Amati, the curl of Stradivari's wood is generally bolder and more often rather plain, while Amati usually chose wood strongly marked and of smaller curl. Stradivari's slab backs are with rare exceptions in one piece; those of Amati more often in two. After 1685 we find backs, both in one piece and joined, cut the ordinary way of the grain; those in two pieces were of plain wood and medium width of curl, those in one piece of strongly marked though small curl, generally- placed in a direction slanting from right to left.
The "Hellier" and the instrument known as the Spanish Stradivari, dated 1679 and 1687 respectively, have backs of broad curl in one piece; the latter is exceptionally handsome, and both are of wood of foreign, i.e. non-Italian, growth.
In the work published by us, "Giovanni Paolo Maggini: his Life and Work," we record our belief that Stradivari was influenced in the conception of the long- pattern instrument by Maggini's violins; and the more carefully and critically we examine the violins of the 1690 decade, the more evidence do we find in support of our views.
Among the various relics from Stradivari's workshop purchased by Count Cozio from Stradivari's son Paolo, there are no fewer than nineteen forms or moulds used by the maker for the construction of the sides. Several of them were made for the long-pattern instruments, and one bears the inscription, "A. D. I. 9. Novembre, 1691," and the letters S. L., which, possibly, as suggested by Mr. E. J. Payne, may mean "Stretto lungo." If so, this would show that the term "long form" comes to us from the master himself. A second mould of this form is dated 1692.
Now, were it not for our own observations, we should assume that these dated moulds marked the exact date of the commencement of this interesting type of violin; but such cannot be the case, as we had in our possession some few years ago an example dated 1690 in Stradivari's original figures. None anterior to that date has ever been seen by us, so we may take it that the year in question is most probably that of their birth.
A slight study of the different dimensions which Stradivari worked out between 1690 and 1692 furnishes some interesting comparisons. It will be noted that in 1691-92 he made several violins of which the proportions are the largest we have ever met with. Not only have we the increased length, but combined with it the extreme width, and in one example the full height of sides. Specimens of these proportions are rare; we have only seen six. The examples in possession of Mr. Charles Fletcher, and that of Mrs. Ginn, of Boston, U.S.A., are typical instruments, — both are dated from the year 1691. The violin of M. Leopold Auer (of the same type as the two just mentioned) was also made about the same time.
It will be remarked that these dimensions are nearly identical with those of the smaller pattern made by Maggini. It is instructive to find that in 1692-93 Stradivari returned to his first idea, retaining the extra length, but narrowing the width, apparently convinced of the futility of attempting to attain the characteristic brightness of tone combined with the solemn depth of power of the Magginis.
Until 1698, with but rare exceptions, he continued to make violins of the long pattern only. In that year we see a change, for, curiously enough, he returns, with a few modifications, to the pre-1690 type; 1699 gives us the orthodox long pattern again; but in 1700, as far as our observations go, he has dismissed it for good. We do not, of course, positively affirm that no long-pattern instruments were made in 1698, but only record that hitherto we have not met with any. The existence of fresh designs in 1698 undoubtedly shows that Stradivari was restless; and this, coupled with the fact of our having possessed another violin dated 1699, which, while preserving the "long Strad" width, is of the ordinary fourteen-inch length, tends to foreshadow Stradivari's return to the pre-1690 proportions.
The varnish used by Stradivari after 1690 is, with notably few exceptions, of a deeper and richer colour than that of the previous years. We have hitherto been accustomed to see the traditional Amati yellow and its kindred tints, although, as already stated, Stradivari had from the earliest times occasionally employed varnish of deeper colour; but not until 1684 do we begin more frequently to meet with the warmer-tinted varnishes. Some of the long-pattern instruments are especially fine in this respect, and compare favourably with many of the productions of the next century.
Now, the outline, dimensions, and general construction of the long-pattern violin admirably demonstrate Stradivari's powers of originality; and that he should have succeeded in adding, 5/16ths of an inch to the total length, while retaining the relative harmony of top, bottom, and middle curves, is an additional proof of his keen sense of symmetry; and this is rendered the more noticeable when compared with the works of many of the other Italian makers, few of whom were wanting in originality, though some showed a lack of symmetry in their designs.
As we have just stated, every part of the outline is in proportion to the increase of length. The bouts are therefore longer and less curved, the corners a little shorter and less drooping (this latter feature being a marked characteristic), the edge is neater in aspect than hitherto, and the margin round the sides is lessened, as if to help to make up for the decreased widths.
The purfling is of stout substance, and the mitres point straight up the corners in order to harmonise with their different curves. The model is, as a rule, flat, yet presenting a certain fulness which commences to swell imperceptibly from the purfling. It contrasts with the very graceful and more scooped modelling of Stradivari's earlier works. The "f" holes are more open, and generally set a little straighter; even the heads of these instruments - certain specimens of which we consider stand out pre-eminently by their marked beauty of curve and exquisite finish — are slightly lengthened in order to harmonise with the increased length of body; and then, so that the box of the head which carries the extra length should be in proportion with the scroll, the throat is cut farther up — i.e. more opened. Stradivari more frequently used backs in one piece for these violins; and we have seen several specimens of wood cut from the same tree—maple of native growth—marked with a small strong curl running nearly straight across. We now rarely meet with backs cut the slab way of the grain, though here and there he occasionally used one.
His pine still continues, with but rare exceptions, of fine grain. The stop (i.e. length of string from the bridge - foot to top of the belly-edge) of these "long Strads" is 7 3/4 inches—that is, 1/8 more than that of the great majority of Stradivari violins, and 1/4 and even 3/8 more than that of many instruments of other makers.
In order to make this longer stop agree with the more general length in usage, some examples have been cut down at the top—an operation much to be deplored, as it must be remembered that the extra length compensates in some measure for the narrower width. Remove that extra length, and you have an instrument of small dimensions, besides destroying the symmetry of the whole. Fine examples of the "long Stradivari" are those in possession of:—
Mr. R. L. Harrison, dated 1693;
Mr. Benecke, 1694;
Miss Collins, of Boston, U.S.A., 1694;
Mr. J. Cowan, 1694;
Mr. K. S. Muir Mackenzie, 1694;
Mr. Goetz, 1695;
Mr. Muirhead, 1696;
Mr. J. Mountford, 16—, ——.
The latter is a most charming specimen, though unfortunately its original date has been altered to 1701. The Paris Conservatoire Museum also possesses an example dated 1699.
We have now arrived at the end of the century, and before proceeding we will again pause to survey briefly the result of more than forty years of Stradivari's working life - a period which, in the case of many men, embraces their rise and decline, but which finds him on the threshold of new and greater efforts, still in full possession of an unerring eye and steady hand. That he had succeeded in surpassing all competitors, and achieving something beyond the highest efforts of the Amati, is unquestionable; but let not this statement be misunderstood. We must not suppose that the beauty and exquisite finish of much of the work of the Amati can be surpassed.
It is only when we consider Stradivari's work as a whole that we find him to have been possessed not only of their craftsmanship, but of a greater and more expansive mind. No purfling, no "f" holes, no heads, have ever been more perfectly worked and finished than those of certain Amati instruments; but with Stradivari we find more often a greatness of general idea which is closely accompanied by the admirable finish of the Amati.
Thus, 1700 saw Stradivari occupying the position so long held by Nicolò Amati and his ancestors; he was, in fact, without a serious rival. Hieronymus, the last of the Amati family connected with our art, gave but little sign of life; possibly, enriched by the death of his father, he preferred to lead an easy existence.
Andrea Guarneri and Francesco Ruger, both pioneers in their work, had ceased their labours in favour of their sons, and all were apparently completely overshadowed by their fellow-townsman. Pietro Guarneri had migrated to Mantua; Giovanni Battista Rogeri had settled in Brescia.
"That which I have termed the Golden Period commences about 1700," says Hart. Fetis also speaks in the same eulogistic strain; and we, too, accept the statement, yet not without considerable reservation. We wish to point out clearly that the dawn of the century does not herald any eventful and brilliant transition or any sudden quickening in Stradivari's progress, but rather shows him silently plodding on with unflagging energy, producing yearly, nay monthly, fresh modifications in his works, which, though not always successful, attest on the whole the natural and fairly consistent development of the forms and models of past years.
Let us now return to 1698, the year in which, as we have previously stated, Stradivari reverted to his Amatise forms. He leaves the flatter and less hollowed model of the characteristic "long Strad," and returns again to the teachings of Amati: outline of the bouts more curved, corners long, straighter and more splayed out, the absence of the more drooping curve allowing the elongated mitres of the purfling to point straight up the corners. The model, in full harmony with the general appearance, is hollowed on leaving the edge; in short, the whole bears a strong resemblance to that striking type of Nicolò Amati of the years 1640-50. What is more probable than that he was influenced by the sight of one of these violins, a considerable number of which were probably to be found in and around Cremona?
The proportions remain those of the 1698 instrument. Thus Stradivari continued, with but few exceptions, until 1703-4; perhaps 1701 and 1702 are the years which offer the fewest exceptions, while they are also those in which we meet with this form at its best. The varnish is of a beautiful soft texture and fine orange-red tint of colour; the wood of the backs is invariably of broad markings, more generally in two pieces, and that of the bellies is still inclined to be close in the grain.
Fine examples are those in the possession of—
Lady Tennant, 1699;
M. Blanchet, 1699;
Mr. Young, 1700;
M. Tivadar Nachez, 1701;
Lord Newlands, 1702;
Miss Lees, 1702;
Mr. De Rougemont, 1703;
The "Emiliani," 1703.
In 1703 we note Stradivari gradually leaving the Amati scoop, and developing a fuller and more strongly arched model, though not necessarily higher. We have seen some specimens with shortened corners, but they are quite exceptional.
The year 1704 brings us to one of the great productions of Stradivari's life: the instrument known as the "Betts." On looking at this violin, one cannot but be struck by the beauty of the formation of the long and relatively slender corners. It recalls to our minds some of the happiest efforts of Antonius and Hieronymus Amati, with the addition of a certain grandeur which they lack.
The corners are not really longer than those of some of the violins of the preceding years, 1698-1703, but the fact that the bouts are a little more curved, in addition to a pronounced drooping of the corners, especially of the top ones, which are also a little longer than the others, gives that effect. In order that they should not have a too protruding appearance, Stradivari pushed the mitres of the purfling to the extreme limit — we have seen but few other specimens treated in this way— and when he failed to get the mitre right up the groove cut out for it, he filled it in with a black mastic, which perfectly completes the appearance he sought to obtain.
The uniformity of the outline presents the perfection of symmetry: the full, rounded model swells away from the edge with but a semblance of hollowing round the purfling; the "f" holes, cut with masterly decision and placed in a comparatively upright position, seem to fall naturally into complete harmony with the surrounding features; the head, though cut as Stradivari only knew how to cut it, lacks some thing, there is a squareness in the design, the fluting is wanting in breadth, the throat is hesitatingly cut; in a word, it does not rise to the greatness of the occasion.
The beauty of the materials from which this instrument is made leaves nothing to be desired. The back and sides are of handsome maple, with well-pronounced broad curl; the back in two pieces, with the figure slanting from the joint in an upward direction — a feature but rarely met with in instruments of earlier date.
The pine of the belly is more open in the grain than hitherto: fine at the joint, but widening out to a full 1/16 of an inch at the edges. Another fine example of this date is the violin owned by Colonel Glennie. The year 1704 marks, as far as our experience permits us to affirm, the last of those violins with pronounced long corners: we know of no specimen of later date. The years 1705 and 1706 are especially noticeable for the fewness of the violins produced. We are acquainted with only nine instruments: five of the earlier and four of the latter year.
One might suppose that, having attained such perfection of build as is represented by the main features and pro portions of the "Betts," Stradivari would have rested for a time; but fresh ideas, the result of his restless genius, continually crowded out the past, and, whether for better or for worse, he continued to put them into execution.
Nevertheless, the violins of the years following 1704 show, by various parts of their construction, more especially the model, that Stradivari had settled upon certain points from which he henceforth but rarely deviated.
The greater number of the violins produced during the years under consideration (1705-10) are characterised by a certain conciseness of form and construction, every part being closely knit together; and we are of opinion that they furnish us with examples which, in conjunction with fine proportions, represent the most compact type of violin made by Stradivari. The edges and corners are light, both in appearance and in actual substance; the margin around the sides is equally neat; the corners, shortened and more in accordance with those of his earlier instruments, are yet more elegant — i.e. less blunt: they recall, to a considerable extent, those of the long-pattern violins, with slightly increased curve or droop.
The purfling, which is brought fairly close to the outer edge, helps to accentuate the light character; and the mitres, instead of going straight up the corners, as in the " Betts" and the majority of the 1698—1704 instruments, are now pointed across them in a more noticeable way than hitherto. We believe the brothers Amati, in their earlier instruments, were the first to turn the mitres of the purfling from the centre of the corners; but, owing principally to the latter being of different shape, they did not obtain such a good effect as did Stradivari. The archings of the model are worked in the same style as those of the "Betts," at times higher and even more rounded; but, on the whole, Stradivari's tendency was towards flattening the arch.
The cutting of the sound-holes and the carving of the heads are broadly treated: the former, while retaining the same graceful curves and form characteristic of 1700, are perhaps more open in every respect; the top and bottom holes are, as a rule, less round, and shaped more in the form of a pear. The heads are of decidedly bold proportions and masculine appearance, which is, in some respect, due to the presence of a slightly heavier bevel.
During the years 1705, 1706, 1707, 1708, and 1709 Stradivari seems to have had a decided partiality for backs in one piece: we have seen several examples of the years 1707, 1708, and 1709 with backs cut from the same tree of maple wood, with a pronounced broad curl slanting across from left to right or vice versa; others, with identical backs, are of wood of a plainer character, the curl rather weak and undefined, and generally placed in a straighter direction. Typical specimens of this period are the violin of Mrs. Stothert, dated 1706;
that of Sir William Huggins, P.R.S., dated 1708;
the "Ernst" Stradivari, dated 1709, now the property of Lady Halle";
the violin of M. Soil, dated 1708;
"La Pucelle," belonging to M. Glandez, dated 1709;
the "Viotti," 1709, a grand example in every respect;
the two dated 1709, owned respectively by Mr. Ludwig Mond and Mr. Simmonds;
and those owned by the Vicomte de Greffuhle, dated 1709,
and by M. Hammer, dated 1707.
In the Museum attached to the Paris Conservatoire of Music there is also to be seen an example made in 1708—a most attractive specimen. The back is of wood cut on the slab (very unusual after 1700), handsomely figured, and coated with a warm orange-red-tinted varnish, which sparkles as though it were still in a liquid state.
Hitherto every ten or twelve years we have found Stradivari ripe for a change, and 1709-10 was to prove — though in a minor degree — no exception to the rule. We have shown that since 1698-1700 the general aspect has been continually transformed by different treatment of the curves and corners of the outline, model, etc.
As regards dimensions, Stradivari kept to the 14-inch instrument; at least, he did not exceed that length except in such cases as that of the "Hellier" violin, dated 1679, and several examples of the years 1684, 1690, 1692; and never, as far as we know, did he exceed 14 1/16 inches in length, while retaining full proportions otherwise. These earlier tentative efforts were now to bear fruit, for about 1708-9 Stradivari struck out a new form, of the length of 14 1/8 inches, accompanied by the fullest widths. That he was in a very experimental frame of mind may be seen on referring to the Appendix, as during the years 1709-12 he varied and altered his proportions more than at any subsequent or previous time.
We entirely fail to perceive any fixed idea or principle guiding Stradivari in determining the relative height of the sides in keeping with these changes of dimensions. He continually fluctuated: here 1 1/16 inch at the bottom and 1 1/8 at the top; there 1 1/4 at the bottom and 1 3/16 at the top, the usual proportion; in one case we have the extreme heights of 1 3/8 and 1 1/4; but any consistent plan, such as lowering or raising them in accordance with the model, or with either increased or diminished length and width, is in most cases absent. The consequence is that we meet with violins having sides of 1 3/16 to 1 1/8 inch, where, to judge by the general proportions, a still better tone-result would have been obtained had they been left at 1 1/4 to 1 3/16. The actual curves of the 14 1/8-inch outline, with the exception of a broader sweep at the top and bottom, where the extra length is divided, differ but little from those of the 1706-9 instruments: the bouts remain of the same proportion.
The edge, purfling, corners, model, and general character are also similarly neat. Stradivari does not seem to have made this type of violin a special feature during 1709 and the following years, but appears to have utilised this form and its proportions from time to time during the remainder of his life, the years 1711, 1712, and 1713 being those in which we more frequently meet with such specimens.
About 1709 good fortune evidently smiled upon Stradivari, and favoured him with a log of maple, from which he obtained some of the most handsome backs it is possible to see — of one piece and marked by a broad, strong curl of the most striking appearance; they cannot be surpassed either in beauty or in acoustical properties. We meet with these backs up to the years 1715-16, but it is very rare that we find the wood of the sides and head to match. Stradivari probably considered that this was unnecessary, and, looking practically at the matter, he was well aware of the increased difficulties of bending the sides when made from extremely handsome wood. For the heads he no doubt used up all sorts of odd pieces—in the majority of cases selecting wood with but little figure, and thus economising and cutting his handsome wood to the best advantage.
In 1710 Stradivari had attained his sixty-sixth year, and, notwithstanding advancing age, we still see him completing instruments of that concise, neat type of form and work which we have tried to portray; but as we proceed we perceive that the whole character of the work assumes a broader and more substantial appearance.
That Stradivari may have sought to impart a still more substantial appearance to his works than hitherto is to some extent possible; at the same time we cannot ignore the fact that advancing years may have contributed, though insensibly, to this result.
Rarely indeed do eye and hand at seventy still retain the cunning of earlier years; and Stradivari, though marvellously endowed with Nature's gifts — as we shall see later on — had to bow to the inevitable. Do not let this remark lead you to suppose that his productions now betray the hand of an old man. Such is not the case; what we wish to imply is that his age is here and there betrayed by a certain breadth and solidity of style traceable throughout every detail.
Edge and purfling have a broader aspect than hitherto, due principally to the former being less rounded and the latter generally of full thickness, and set a degree farther in. The edge, as a rule, is also stouter in substance, and at times of slightly irregular thickness; the corners are decidedly broader, which causes them to appear shorter than is really the case, and their curves — especially those extending from the C's — are at times a trifle squarer-looking.
The arching of the model continues on the lines of the 1704-10 instruments; here, a shade flatter or higher; there, a little more or less full at the flanks and around the edges. The sound-holes are well open, the sharp curves, as in the "Betts," being absent, and they are more heavily cut. The contour of the exterior curves of the heads is perhaps less bold than in 1709, though marked by a still increasing heaviness of bevel, broad centre-line to the fluting, throat well open, and a blunter termination of the volute.
The foregoing are the main characteristics of Stradivari's work until 1720-25. From year to year, nay, from month to month, we note continual deviation, but it is impossible for us to enter into these subtle distinctions. We think we have now made it clear that when Stradivari in 1708-9 originated the 14 1/8-inch outline, he did not give up the 14-inch form he had been using in the previous years: on the contrary, he continued working from both, and the violins made up to the year 1713 are generally of one or other of these forms.
In this latter year, however, we find him reverting to dimensions similar to those of certain violins of the 1680-90 period, measuring 14 1/16 inches in length, with full width and depth of sides. He may have made a new mould, or very possibly it was the old one taken down from the wall and brought into use again after a lapse of twenty years. Henceforth we shall see instruments the curves of which may slightly differ one from the other, but the actual dimensions and the outline in its main features, with but very rare exceptions, will agree with one or other of those three forms.
It is of course perfectly comprehensible that Stradivari should have here and there reverted to some of his early forms — possibly to supply special orders—and, as we have already stated, that of the "long" pattern is the only one that he appears to have definitely discarded with the dawn of the century.
Stradivari's powers of production seem to become more marked as his years roll on; his energy apparently inexhaustible, and his fertility equally unfailing. More instruments belonging to this decade than to any other period of his life are known to us, amongst them the majority of his most noble existing works. His sole aim in this world was his calling; and although we have but scanty knowledge concerning his daily life, we may safely assume that he was to be found day after day seated at his work-bench, with gouge, compass, or knife in hand, giving form to those instruments which were to prove models of perfection for future generations. Each succeeding year furnishes us with some exceptionally fine specimen of his work — all possessing strong characteristics in common, though each is stamped with an individual charm.
The year 1710 gives us the "Vieuxtemps" and the violin belonging to Mr. Louis Ries, both specimens of high rank.
Of the year 1711 one of the most typical and finely preserved examples is that known as the "Parke," until recently in the possession of Mr, John Adam, formerly owned by William Cramer, Fountaine, Plowden, and other well-known amateurs. Its proportions, are of full dimensions, and, combined with a broad, robust aspect, it worthily portrays this very manly type of Stradivari's work. Its varnish, of a rich orange tint, is beyond criticism, the softness of its texture being especially beautiful.
Another example, dated 1712, in possession of Miss Eldina Bligh, is also an equally characteristic, though a much less well-preserved example. In addition to the violins, we are indebted to these years for the "Mara," "Duport," "Romberg," and "Davidoff" violoncellos, all instruments of the finest type.
The year 1713 gives us an admirable violin, the "Boissier," now owned by Senor Sarasate. Fetis mentions it as one of the finest existing Stradivaris, and we can certainly confirm his statement. Its outline is of the 14 1/16-inch form, the model a little fuller, though closely following that of the "Parke" instrument; the edge, corners, and purfling are perhaps a trifle neater, and the sound-holes more lightly cut. The varnish is also of great beauty, its tint being a shade redder than that of the "Parke,"_ and the whole instrument is in very fine condition. The "Sancy" and the violin owned by Mr. Alfred Gibson are fine examples of this same year.
Of the year 1714 we have a violin of wide repute — the "Dolphin" — formerly in the Adam and Bennett collections, now owned by Lieutenant Munro, R.N. The example in the possession of M. Soil is also a specimen of the highest order. The "Batta " violoncello dates from this year.
The year 1715 is indeed a rich one; it contributes no fewer than six violins of the first rank: the "Gillott," three examples in the possession of Professor Joachim, another owned by Mr. F. L. Bevan, and lastly one which, in our opinion, ranks among the finest of the fine — “the Alard.” the property of Baron Knoop.
We may here remark that it would be incorrect to single out any one of these violins as standing supreme in merit, for we cannot too strongly emphasize the fact that amid all the finest Stradivaris still existing there is not one which can with justice claim absolute superiority over all others. The neck of the "Alard" is original, and in the mortise of the head, still visible, are written the initials P. S. (see fig. 20). We conjecture that these initials are those of Paolo Stradivari, and they possibly indicate that the violin was one of those which came into his possession on the death of his brother Francesco in 1742. We have found these initials marked in six other violins, all of which obviously retain their original necks, otherwise the letters would have been cut away when grafting on the new one: the most notable are that owned by M. Soil, dated 1714; the "Blunt," dated 1721; and the- "Sarasate," dated 1724.
The Alard Stradivarius violin dated 1715
On the other hand, we would point out that the "Messie " violin, which was sold by Paolo Stradivari to Count Cozio, also has the original neck, but does not appear to have been so marked.
The year 1716 furnishes three remarkable violins: the one formerly owned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, now at the Musical Institute of Florence; the "Cessol," in possession of Mr. Croall; and lastly, that unique example, the "Messie," of which we shall speak more fully.
The year 1717 claims that fine example known as the "Sasserno," owned by Mr. Phipps; and an admirable specimen left by the late Mr. Orchar, of Droughty Ferry, to a local museum. This year also gives us the violoncello in the possession of Mr. Holden.
The year 1718 also gives us two violins of high order: the "Maurin," owned by Mr. John Rutson, and the one in the possession of Mr. Avery Tyrell.
The year 1719 gives us the "Lauterbach" violin and the "Becker" violoncello.
The fine violin of Mr. Kruse, and the famed violoncello of the late Signor Piatti, belong to 1720.
Let us pause here and try to sum up the characteristics of these fine specimens of Stradivari's fully-matured genius. Place side by side the "Boissier" and the "Dolphin" violins, of the years 1713 and 1714 respectively. Both show continuity of ideas, combined with individual freedom of treatment.
We see a close similarity of form, model, sound-holes, and work in general, —the heads are twin brothers. True, the latter instrument is of 14-inch, the former of 14 1/16-inch form, which, added to a slightly decreased curve of the bouts, gives an increased sweep to top and bottom. Again, the model of the belly is a little fuller than that of the back; with the "Dolphin" it is the reverse. Look at the wood from which they are made: the backs of both arc in two pieces, and cut from the same tree; but, in order to diversify their character Stradivari places the curl of the "Boissier" slanting downwards, and that of the "Dolphin " upwards. The wood of the sides, in both cases, is plainer; that of the heads still more so. For the bellies he selects pine of vigorous growth and bold breadth of grain.
In the earlier violin we see that which is but rarely met with in Stradivari's instruments — a belly in one piece, with the broader grain placed on the treble side. Though unorthodox, this is immaterial from a tone point of view, provided that the quality of the wood is good.
The "Alard," which is unquestionably the ne plus ultra of the following year (1715), approaches more to the "Boissier" than to the "Dolphin" in outline. We see the same shortened bouts and broader sweep of top and bottom curves, though it is of 14-inch form, but it differs in its general aspect, which is blunt and pre-eminently forcible in every feature: in fact, the whole build of the violin, including the more massively proportioned head, shows the strong and firm touch of the old practised hand. It is perhaps second to the "Dolphin" in elegance, but surpasses it in manliness. With regard to material, though acoustically fine, the "Alard" is not of such striking-looking wood as several other specimens of this year — such as, for instance, the "Gillott" and the "de Barrau" (one of Joachim's violins), both of which have backs in one piece, which cannot be surpassed.
In the matter of varnish all these violins are glorious — each individually resplendent — the one favoured by its wood, the other by a lovely tint of colour, by softness of texture, or by the exquisite beauty attained through the varnish being broken up in a most picturesque manner by time and usage.
The year 1716 will ever be a memorable year of Stradivari's life, for, as previously stated, we are indebted to it for that remarkable violin known as the "Messie," which stands alone for its unrivalled condition.
Were it but eight days, instead of one hundred and eighty-six years old, it could not present a fresher appearance. Stradivari seems to have awakened to the fact that his work had assumed an air of breadth and solidity throughout, which, treated by less skilful hands, would have bordered on the clumsy.
He therefore determined to retrace his steps, and immediately gives us, amongst others, an example which for lightness of build takes us back ten years. Once made, he never parted with it, death came, and the violin passed successively to his sons Francesco and Paolo; the latter retained it until 1775, in which year he sold it to Count Cozio di Salabue. The character of the work of the "Messie" is as exceptional as its history.
Sound-holes, edges, and corners are treated differently to anything we have hitherto seen or shall hereafter see; the model is flat, that of the belly most noticeably so; the sharp, unrounded edge, and slanting, youthful sound-holes, are admirably shown in our illustration.
Critics may say these marked peculiarities of style are due to its freshness. That is true only inasmuch as it accentuates them. Other specimens exist sufficiently well preserved to indicate clearly the maker's intentions, and the most appropriate for present comparison is the Medici violin, preserved with the Tuscan tenor and violoncello at the Musical Institute in Florence. It is of the same year and in remarkable preservation, though not perfect; yet it differs in form, dimensions, model, sound-holes, edges, and varnish. To the casual observer it would be taken for the "Salabue's" brother, as it presents a close resemblance, whether as regards the back, which is in two pieces, the wood, which is similarly figured, or the varnish, which, though of thicker texture and somewhat deeper colour, has the same bright, unworn surface.
In the "Cessol," the third fine instrument of the year, we have a superb example in every respect, and quite of the character we should expect. Its structure is founded more on the lines of the "Dolphin" than of the "Alard": the wood is cut from the same tree, and the varnish is of an unsurpassable plum-red colour. In contemplating this specimen, we are reminded of what Charles Reade says in his third letter to the Pall Mall Gazette, published in 1874: " When a red Stradivari violin is made of soft velvety wood, and the varnish is just half worn off the back in a rough triangular form, that produces a certain beauty of light and shade which is, in my opinion, the ne plus ultra" Hart connects this expression of opinion with the "Dolphin" violin, but we venture to assert that it applies in a still more marked degree to the " Cessol."
Neither of the violins referred to of the years 1717-18 shows any further development of form or workmanship. The "asserno" is of the "Dolphin" outline and type, the "Maurin" of the "Alard" type; both instruments, though, are of lighter construction in most of their details than those of pre-i7i6 years; the sound-holes are especially neat, closely cut, and set well upright. These general remarks apply to most of the specimens of the preceding and following years. The example dated 1717, which was in the possession of the late Mr. Orchar, of Dundee, until his death in 1898, bears a closer resemblance to the "Parke" violin in form, and is of the 14 1/8-inch outline; while that of Mr. Tyrell forms quite an exception to this period, its proportion being both narrow and shortened. The maple of the back of the former instrument is in one piece, and cut on the slab—a feature, as we have already pointed out, not often met with between 1700 and 1720.
The year 1720 heralds in Stradivari's seventy-sixth birthday: four years more, and he will be an octogenarian. One would think that, as in the case of his master Nicolò Amati, he would ere this have reached that moment when, in the natural order of things, he would have laid down his tools — if not entirely, at least in great measure — in favour of younger men, and during his remaining years would have peacefully looked back with feelings of pride upon a fruitful and industrious past of over threescore years.
He could still have superintended and given others the benefit of his unrivalled experience. Apparently, however, old age came lightly upon him. Hale in body and vigorous in mind, he still retained that marvellous power and facility in handling his tools which permitted of his continuing in the even tenor of his way.
We cannot but believe that his two sons, Francesco and Omobono, born respectively in 1671 and 1679, and possibly Carlo Bergonzi, worked with him, each rendering assistance to the best of his ability; although the most minute scrutiny of the instruments of the period fails to reveal any signs of other hands than his own having contributed a share towards the building up of either violin, viola, or violoncello. Possibly — and this seems to us the only hypothesis — Stradivari permitted them to rough out the work, and went all over it after them, thus removing all traces of their co-operation.
One of Stradivari's sons may possibly have made bows, patterns of which exist in the Dalla Valle Collection. Again, his assistants may have made the cases destined for the instruments, cases of considerable artistic merit; there were also the various fittings required, such as finger-boards, tail pieces, bridges, pegs, etc. They may, as Lancetti suggests, have principally confined their efforts to repairing and adjusting instruments, aided in the varnishing and general management, so that the master might be free to devote himself unremittingly to the construction of his instruments.
The most characteristic features of the majority of the 1720-25 instruments are a certain squareness of the outline at the top and bottom curves, and the quickly rising models, which immediately swell away from the purfling. Stradivari seems to have preferred the 14-inch form, though we do occasionally come across that of 14 1/8-inch. No unmistakable indication of old age is apparent in the work, although the formation of the edge, the corners, purfling, cut and position of the sound-holes, and the more blunt carving of the head—points which are more or less pronounced — lack that firm precision to which Stradivari has so accustomed us, and betray the less controlled hand.
As regards the wood, his assortment of maple does not appear to have been equal in beauty to that of the preceding ten years, but it was as good acoustically. We meet with a fair number of backs, both in one and two pieces, marked with a faint small curl, showing a nutmeg cross-grain; and we have seen several specimens dated 1722 with backs cut from the same part of the tree, stained by a sap-mark on either side of the joint.
We again find Stradivari returning to the use of this small-curl maple, of native growth, in violins dating from 1722 onwards. His pine is, as a rule, of fairly open and very even grain. The varnish of this period is characterised in the greater number of cases by a less rich appearance; it is of drier texture, and somewhat sparsely laid on.
There still remain to us some fine examples of 1721 and the following years, which, if not comparable with those of the preceding decade as regards beauty of wood and varnish, are in no way inferior to them in point of form and construction; indeed, some of the finest-toned instruments date from these years. The violin invariably played upon in public by Senor Sarasate is of the year 1724. Though unattractive in appearance, it captivates all hearers by its tone. The solo violin of Wilhelmj dates from the following year, 1725.
Of 1721 the example formerly in the possession of Lady Blunt is particularly remarkable for its fine state of preservation; that of M. Vormbaum is of equally high merit. Of 1723 we have the example owned by Mr. D. J. Partello. The year 1722 furnishes, amongst others, the fine specimen known as the "De Chaponay," owned by Mr. G. W. Mackenzie; that formerly in the Coding, Janze", and Camposelice Collections, later owned by Mr. T. W. Barnes, of New York; and that beautiful instrument known as the "Rode," which is, we believe, the last of the ornamented violins made by Stradivari.
We may here appropriately add a few words about these inlaid specimens. The custom of elaborately ornamenting instruments was already dying out at the time of Gasparo da Salo and Maggini; in fact its disappearance practical coincides with the disuse of the viol and the lute. When we arrive at the epoch of the Amatis — i.e. during the seventeenth century — it had ceased, we may say almost entirely, although it survived in the ornamentation of the fittings, such as the finger-boards, tail-pieces, pegs, and bridges.
We have seen two violins, the work of Nicolò Amati, which were gracefully embellished with inlaid ornament: in one of them the ornamentation consisted of double purfling, and a fleur- de-lys inlaid in black at the corners of the back and belly, interspersed with small precious stones, while a design of similar character was let into the sides at the blocks.
Vuillaume, who purchased this violin at a sale held in London in 1855, made several copies of it, one of which was for some years in the hands of the late Mr. Pollitzer. In addition to these two violins, there exist a few Amati instruments ornamented with painted armorial bearings and inscriptions, but we very much doubt whether these decorations were carried out by the maker. Now, Stradivari, in making his inlaid instruments, clearly sought to demonstrate that, although the exquisite craftsmanship exhibited by the old viol and lute makers in the often admirable decoration of their productions with either carved or inlaid work, was a thing of the past, he could vie with them if called upon to do so.
Certainly no decoration hitherto applied to the violin appeals so much to the eye or charms us so greatly by the lightness and simplicity of its design as that introduced by Stradivari. We have often been asked if he was the designer and did this inlaid work himself. To this question we unhesitatingly answer, Yes.
Various drawings from his pen, some of which will be found here reproduced (and, among them, those made for the ornamented instruments in question), still exist in the Dalla Valle Collection, and prove that Stradivari was an excellent draftsman. A more than ordinary interest is attached to the sketch of the arms of the Medici family (fig. 28); and we here have in Stradivari's own handwriting the statement: "Armi che ho fatto per li istrumenti per Il Gran Principe di Toscana," which, we think, effectually proves that he was his own designer. These arms, delicately cut out in mother-of-pearl, were inlaid in the finder-boards of the set of instruments made for Cosimo de Medici in 1690; the charming cupid design was for the tail-pieces. Of the set the "tenore" alone remains in its original state as left by the maker, and can be seen at the Musical Institute in Florence.
We get further confirmatory evidence of Stradivari's having executed these embellishments himself from the valuable writings of the Cremonese monk Arisi, who was an intimate friend of the master, and who, as Hart remarks, gained his knowledge of the facts from Stradivari himself. Arisi says: "His fame is unequalled as a maker of instruments of the finest qualities, and he has made many of extraordinary beauty, ornamented with small figures, flowers, fruits, arabesques, and gracefully inlaid fanciful ornaments, all in perfect drawing, which he sometimes paints in black or inlays with ebony and ivory, all of which are executed with the greatest skill, rendering them worthy of the exalted personages to whom they are intended to be presented"
How many of these inlaid instruments Stradivari made we know not. Probabilities point to there having been but few of them, and made only on exceptional occasions. They were destined for his most illustrious patrons, and the ,remuneration must have been in accordance with the time and pains bestowed upon such finished work. Stradivari states on the designs above mentioned that they served for the instruments made to the order of the Marquis Carbonelli of Mantua, but gives neither date nor information as to their number.
Hart gives the year 1687 as that in which Stradivari made the beautiful set of inlaid instruments for the Spanish Court; but, as we shall see hereafter, this statement is erroneous.
If we again refer to Arisi, we learn that Stradivari made a concerto of instruments which he intended to present to Philip V. of Spain on the occasion of the passage of that King through Cremona in 1702, for which event he had prepared a memorial; but he was dissuaded, "and," adds Arisi, "the instruments are still in his possession."
Now, it must be remembered that this interesting information was committed to paper by the worthy monk in 1720, showing that Stradivari had already retained them some years. In the course of inquiries made both in Italy and Spain, we have been fortunate enough to obtain the subsequent history of the instruments which, we believe, formed this interesting concerto. It consisted of two violins, two violas (one a " tenore "), and a violoncello. They were still in Stradivari's possession at his death in 1737. and then passed to his son Francesco, who, dying in 1742, left them to his brother Paolo by whom they were sold in the year 1775 to a priest of the name of Padre Brambilla, for the sum of 125 giliati.
Padre Brambilla took them to Madrid, and there disposed of them to the Spanish Monarch, thus possibly fulfilling the maker's original intention with regard to their destination. The purchase was most probably due to the musical taste of the Infante Don Carlos, who played the violin. This Prince ascended the throne in 1788 as Charles IV.
We learn furthermore that in 1776 Antonio, the son of Paolo Stradivari, at the instigation of Count Cozio de Salabue, tried to repurchase the instruments, but without success. We have ascertained these facts from the correspondence exchanged between Count Cozio, Paolo Stradivari, and his son Antonio.
At the above-mentioned period there was living in Madrid a priest, Dom Vicenzo Ascensio, who, besides his spiritual calling, seems to have had a strong passion for the art of fiddle-making, in virtue of which he enjoyed the patronage of the principal musicians of the Court. We were fortunate enough to meet, at Madrid, the gentleman who owns the account-book so carefully and minutely kept by this priest, a perusal of which throws still further light on the history of the above-named instruments.
The following entries are not without interest :—
"On March 5th, 1783, Don Cajetano Brunetti, custodian of the Royal instruments, brought me, by order of H.R.H. the Prince, a Stradivari violin of the year 1709, and requested me to improve the quality of the,tone, which was bad" (sic). The worthy priest took the violin to pieces, and, after enumerating various more or less injudicious alterations, he adds, "If after this work the violin is not improved, I think it hopeless unless I put a new back and belly to it, but then one could not say it was by Antonio Stradivari."
Fortunately the necessity for such drastic treatment was averted, as he tells us that the tone was rendered excellent according to the opinion of Brunetti, Christobel, and Andreasi (Court musicians) - so much so that the first-named player entrusted him with the second violin of the quintet, to be treated in similar manner. The entry terminates as follows: "For this exact and extensive restoration, taking all circumstances into account, and seeing especially that the violins were intractable and unplayable, I consider the repairs to each worth 700 reals" (approximately £7 at that period).
Under the date July 17th we read: "Don Cajetano Brunetti gave me the key of the cases which contained the instruments of H.R.H., in order that I could see to anything they required. "On August 6th: "I had the two large cases standing on feet brought to my house; one of them contained the Quintet of inlaid Stradivaris; the other, several violins, a tenor by Stainer, some bows and music, so that I could have them at hand and be able to arrange the instruments according to the desires of Sefior Brunetti.
The smaller viola belonging to the Quintet I took to pieces, and replaced the bar. I also removed the parchment, which oppressed (sic) the tone of the instrument, from the sides, and thinned the neck.
The viola of large size I treated likewise. The violoncello, which is of very large proportions — larger than those Stradivari usually adopted — I wished to reform (sic) [by which the writer means cut it down], so that it might be of the same size as the one belonging to Brunetti.
I also proposed to do the same to the large viola; but before carrying out these changes I determined to consult the wishes of H.R.H. the Prince. He, however, would not agree to it, and simply wished to have the instruments put into good playing order. I obeyed, and arranged the viola as already stated, and did as follows to the violoncello:
I pieced the centre, replaced the bar by one adjusted to mathematical proportions based on that of Stradivari. I corrected the thicknesses, pieced the four corner-blocks, took the back off and inserted a piece in the centre, as it was too thin. I had to replace the neck, which I did in the most careful manner. I then adjusted the instrument, the tone of which was rendered excellent by all these changes. It took me three months to do, and 1 consider the repair worth 1,000 reals (approximately £10)....I restored the red velvet lining and repaired the case, which contained the five inlaid instruments; I arranged the niches and places for the bows, also the hinges, and put a blue ribbon to support the lid when open: 380 reals" (approximately £3 16s.).
Under date 1790 we find a further reference to the violoncello as follows: "I took to pieces the violoncello belonging to the Quintet, and mended a crack in the belly on the post side."
The Prince's decision not to allow either the tenor or the violoncello to be reduced in size was one for which he deserved the thanks of posterity; but alas! the fate of the violoncello was only deferred, as Ortega, the pupil and successor of Dom Vicenzo Ascensio, performed this ever-delicate operation in the most drastic and barbarous manner conceivable, and the instrument, ill-conditioned and uncared-for, a ruin of its former self, is to-day to be seen reclining against the wall of the organ-loft of the Chapel Royal at Madrid. The head alone remains to speak of its original grandeur.
As stated in our chapter on the number of existing Stradivari instruments, the large-sized tenor vanished at the dispersal of the Royal Collection. Whether it had been previously cut down or not we cannot say, but the probabilities are that it did not escape. Curiously enough, Stradivari does not appear to have made or finished this concerto of instruments at one and the same time, as the still-existing tenor is dated 1696, and the two violins 1709. The violoncello was certainly made at the same time as the tenor : its proportions and style are of pre-1700 date, and its original label also: but some vandal, probably Ortega, deliberately cut out Stradivari's figures, substituting 1709 in their place; the object of this being, apparently, to make the date agree with that of the violins which alone remained of the set.
Possibly Stradivari did make a whole concerto in 1696, but afterwards disposed of the two violins, replacing them at a later date. The fact, however, of the varnish of these examples being yellow and their general character much more in accordance with that of his pre-1700 work, adds weight to our belief that they were made about the same time as the other instruments of the set, though they were not actually completed and labelled until 1709.
The number of inlaid instruments known to us is ten: eight violins, one viola, and one violoncello. The earliest specimen is of the year 1677; it is a violin of characteristic Amatise type, which for many years belonged to the late M. Wilmotte, of Antwerp.
The next in chronological order is dated 1679, the "Hellier" violin, which, besides its ornamentation, is remarkable for its large proportions and very heavy style of work; then comes a charming example of small size, dated 1683, formerly the property of the late Cipriani Potter. The year 1687 gives us a violin which has hitherto been known as one of the instruments of the Spanish set, mentioned as such by Hart in his book; but, as we have already seen, it could not have formed part of that concerto. Ole Bull, from whom it was purchased by the late John Hart, who sold it to Mr. Plowden in 1861, bought it in Budapest, and not in Madrid, as stated by Hart.
Mention is made of this instrument in Ole Bull's Memoirs; and no doubt the legend that it came from the Spanish Court emanated from that violinist, the reliability of whose statements may be judged when we read his assertion that this is the only violin that the master made inlaid with ivory and ebony.
1709 is the next date in order, and that year furnishes three inlaid violins: the two already mentioned, and still preserved in the Royal Palace at Madrid; the third belonged for many years to a well-known amateur player, the late Rev. John Blow. It afterwards passed into the collection of Mr. J. Adam, on the dispersal of which it found its way abroad. Its present owner is the Vicomte de Greffuhle. The eighth violin is the " Rode," made in 1722.
We do not assert that this list embraces all the inlaid violins made by Stradivari; in fact, we have in our possession melancholy evidence to the contrary. Some few years ago a very common old English violin, the belly of which, to our intense astonishment, proved to be that of an inlaid Stradivari, was brought to us by a curiosity-dealer of Norwich. How the belly came into such ill-assorted company, and what has become of the rest of the instrument, remains a matter for conjecture. It would be difficult to say which of four or five of these eight violins excels in merit: each has the characteristics of the period to which it belongs, and all have individual charm.
Judged as a whole, the "Rode" would perhaps meet with the more general approbation. The designs on the sides and heads of these instruments are inlaid, with the exception of the last- mentioned violin, the viola, and violoncello, which are delicately painted. The depth of the inlaying is but slight, though sufficient to preserve the design from obliteration, even at those parts where the hand, coming constantly in contact with it, has worn the wood bare.
We will now return to the year 1725, and proceed to 1730, years in which we see Stradivari placidly plodding on: now producing specimens of an unquestionably high order, before which we stand amazed at the dexterity of the man; now failing to rise to his accustomed level, and so awakening us to a sense of his advanced age. His productions are less numerous; the craftsmanship throughout less sure, at times wanting in truth and squareness, the outline of back and belly disagreeing. Yet how admirable are they in comparison with the works of many of his younger contemporaries! What a struggle is going on! Though forced to resign to others a greater share of the construction of his instruments, we find him still clinging to his beloved calling and completing an instrument on the label of which he proudly inscribes, in his own hand writing, " fatto de Anni 83."
Representative examples of these years are those in the possession of:—
Mr. D. J. Partello, ex Duke of Edinburgh, dated 1725;
M. Plotenyi, ex Ernst, 1726;
Captain Harvey, 1726; M. Halphen, 1727;
The violin known as the " Deurbroucq," 1727; Mr. F. Smith, falsely dated 1714;
M. Leveque, 1727;
In dimensions the violins of these, later years vary between the 14 and 14 1/8-inch form, and are, as a rule, of broad appearance, though the edge and purfling, especially up to 1727, are not noticeably heavy. In some specimens Stradivari flattened his models to an extreme degree; in others, and more generally, he preserved the full swell of the majority of the 1720-25 instruments. Both in wood and lustre of varnish they are but rarely to be compared with those of earlier times.
His maple continues either plain in figure or of native growth marked by a small curl; the backs generally in two pieces, sometimes in one, or, again, cut on the slab. It is difficult to account for the absence, with but rare exceptions, of the handsome foreign maple. Was there for the time being a dearth of it, or did Stradivari feel that his declining efforts no longer justified the use of this more expensive wood? Whatever the reason, we note the change taking place.
Now, admitting that Stradivari was at last forced to allow his assistants to take a greater part in the making of the instruments dating between 1725 and the year of his death, the question naturally arises, Who were they that thus lessened the burden of the old man ? We say lessened, for it is beyond any doubt that, to the last year of his life, he kept on constructing instruments with his own hands; and in order to elucidate this point we involuntarily turn for information to the various books that give the names of his alleged pupils.
Fetis, on the authority of Vuillaume, names Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu, Lorenzo Guadagnini, Carlo Bergonzi, Francesco Gobetti of Venice, Alessandro Gagliano, Michel-Angelo Bergonzi, and Stradivari's own sons, Omobono and Francesco. Hart mentions Lorenzo Guadagnini, Alessandro Gagliano, Montagnana, Carlo Bergonzi, and also the above-named sons; he also cites Balestrieri as a possible pupil.
The suggestion that Joseph Guarnerius was a pupil of Stradivari can be dismissed in a few words, as not a shred of evidence exists connecting him with his great contemporary; and we may add that we fully agree with Hart in assigning him as pupil to his uncle, Joseph filius Andreae Guarneri. If Gobetti and Alessandro Gagliano were pupils of Stradivari — which we very much doubt — then it must have been in the master's early days, as both were working, the one in Venice and the other in Naples, as early as 1700.
Neither is there any documentary evidence of Montagnana being connected with Stradivari, beyond the mere fact of his calling his house by the sign of " Cremona"; nothing can certainly be found in his work which would lead us to believe that he was either a Cremonese or a pupil of Stradivari. We should be inclined to suggest that he was taught his trade by either Gofriller or Gobetti, and was probably a Venetian by birth. Lorenzo Guadagnini may have been a pupil of Stradivari, though this matter, too, is shrouded in some doubt. Was he a Cremonese, or are we to believe, as stated by Hart, on the authority of the present members of the Guadagnini family, whose knowledge of their ancestors we have found by personal intercourse to be most hazy, that he was born in Piacenza? In certain of his works there are traces of Stradivari's influence, and we possess an original label, one of the only three ever seen by us, on which he states, "Laurentius Guadagnini, fecit Placentiae, alumnus Antonius Straduarius, 1740." We obtained this label, with several others, from the executors of the late Charles Reade, and on the paper to which it is attached we read the following significant remark:
"N.B. At Piacenza it was easy to call himself a pupil of Stradivari — he dare not have said so at Cremona."
With this characteristically terse statement by Reade we are rather inclined to agree. Balestrieri was clearly a pupil of Pietro Guarneri of Mantua. Michel-Angelo Bergonzi, doubtless, was taught by his father.
Hence there remain but three names, about which, there can be but little doubt: the sons, Omobono and Francesco, and Carlo Bergonzi. They alone, as far as we can see by actual observation, have left traces of having shared Stradivari's labours, and that only in the later years of his life. Those specimens, which we believe to be the joint productions of either Stradivari and one of his sons, or of "the master and Bergonzi, have often given rise to controversy as regards their authenticity. Stradivari himself seems to have: sought to make a distinction by labelling them, "sotto la disciplina d'Antonio Stradivari," but in doing so he probably never thought that the time would soon come when the removal and substitution of these labels by more orthodox ones would prove profitable to the vandal who did it.
Not only have the tickets "sotto la disciplina" been removed, but also those which were inserted in the instruments made entirely by Omobono and Francesco respectively. Furthermore, to complete the confusion, there is still a third type of instrument which has been similarly treated.
At Stradivari's death he must have left, besides the finished stock of instruments, a certain number, though probably small, of unfinished instruments and their component parts, such as backs, bellies, and heads — the rejected of earlier days; and nothing is more likely than that his successors worked up these parts, adding what, was necessary to complete the instruments.
Hence, it happens that while clearly recognising in a given specimen, say, the back and sides, or perhaps other parts, as the work of Antonio Stradivari, we find that the rest, though more or less closely related, is made by a strange hand. The varnish and agreement in the construction proves to us that the whole was put together at the same time; nevertheless, upon scrutinising the label, we invariably find that it is a forged Stradivari, thus proving that it was originally labelled otherwise, probably " sotto la disciplina," etc.
It is fortunate, then, that the impress of Stradivari's work is as marked in his old age as in his younger days, and, notwithstanding the confusion brought about by this nefarious exchanging of labels, the few connoisseurs who have had the opportunity of studying the instruments dated year after year throughout the master's life, are able to distinguish, in most cases clearly, Stradivari's work from that of his pupils or assistants.
We are now entering on the last period of Stradivari's life. In 1730 he attained his eighty-sixth year, but was still hale and able to continue his daily occupation. That he thought man's allotted time upon this earth had, in his own case, well-nigh expired is evidenced by his having in 1729 chosen and prepared a resting-place for his remains. No record exists of any other member of his calling having been able to use his tools at such an advanced age.
The second Carlo Bergonzi, the grandson of Stradivari's pupil, who died in Cremona in 1838, is stated to have attained the age of eighty, but we know of no instrument of his dated later than 1833. Of Nicolò Amati, who died aged eighty-eight, we have already stated our belief that he ceased working several years previous to his death.
In France, the elder Derazey and George Chanot, senior, both worked up to eighty years of age. Cuypers, the Dutch maker, seems also to have worked to an advanced age, which fact he frequently recorded on his labels. We have had a violin made by him, dated 1808, on the label of which he says, "aetatis suse 84." As far as England is concerned, we know of no makers whose longevity equals that of Stradivari. The Kennedys and Craske were probably those whose lives approached nearest to it in length.
The instruments dating between 1730 and 1737 are of diverse type and character. It is impossible to suppose otherwise than that Stradivari's collaboration in the construction of instruments must have decreased from year to year as he drew nearer to his end; yet in the greater number of the specimens of this period we can invariably trace some part wrought by his hand.
Others he apparently made entirely by himself, for we cannot admit that either of the sons or Bergonzi — who proved themselves, as witnessed by their signed works, to be, if not technically of the first rank, at least good average workmen —would have cut those palsied sound-holes, in which we discern not only the trembling hand, but also the failing sight — for instance, those of the "Habeneck" Stradivari, dated 1736, where the right-hand one is set quite 1/16 of an inch higher than the other.
Then there is the "Muntz" violin, on which sand paper marks show plainly all over the sides (and the same is the case in some of the later-dated J. B. Guadagninis). The irregular purfling we meet with tells the same tale: the grand old man's hand trembled so much in cutting the grooves for its insertion that his knife played sad havoc in all directions, — so much so that to have filled up the trenches it would, in places, have been necessary to use purfling of violoncello thickness.
Our illustration (fig. 33) of the sound-hole and section of the edge and purging of the "Muntz" violin, 1736, pathetically portrays the veteran's work. The formation of the corners and edges is ponderous, blunt, irregular, and of square appearance. This is but natural when we consider the difficulty experienced by the old and enfeebled, though practised, hand, of bending the sides of the centre bouts with well-rounded curves; and it must be remembered that the curves of the outline follow those of the sides. The modelling is heavy, full, and abrupt; we notice the absence of that graceful blending with the fluting around the edge. The heads, while distinctly exhibiting the work of less skilful hands, are not so much like the work of an old man as the bodies, and we cannot but believe that Stradivari made a certain number in former years which he now utilised; we are also of opinion that his sons materially assisted him in this direction, hence the superiority of the finish of the one part over that of the other.
The varnish generally shows, though not with out exception, considerable deterioration. More often it is heavily laid on, wanting in softness of texture, and in perfect transparency and richness of colour. At times it is even of a muddy and streaky appearance, which but too plainly demonstrates that the old man's sight failed him both in the mixing of the ingredients composing the varnish and in the use of his brush when applying it to the instrument.
We are also acquainted with other equally characteristic examples of this period, but are unable to give their exact dates, as the labels have either been changed or their figures tampered with. The excellent instrument of that distinguished artiste, M. Heermann, of Frankfort-on-the- Main, is of one or other of these years - most probably 1731; also the " Habeneck" violin, that of Mr. Tangye, and the solo violin of M. Ysaye; likewise the " Kreutzer," owned by, M. Doyen — this latter an admirable example in every respect. But only when we take one of these 1730-36 examples, and place it side by side with another of the 1710-15 period, and a third of the 1720-25 epoch, do we fully realise the gradual change which has taken place.
The veteran has in nothing forsaken his principles of form and construction; he steadfastly adheres to them as long as life leaves him the use of hand and sight: in fact, model, form, curves, edges, sound-holes, purfling, and head lack nought but the power of execution and the firmness of hand of former years.
The Rode Stradivarius violin dated 1722
It is generally known that we rely for the date of the year of Stradivari's birth upon information gained through the master having recorded his age on several labels inserted in instruments made during the last ten years of his life. Fetis was the first to publish this information, and he based his proof upon Stradivari's statement "d'anni 92 " written on a label dated 1736, found in a violin only a short time before in the possession of Count Cozio di Salabue.
The Count, before his death, had sold this instrument to Tarisio, who took it to Paris, and disposed of it to the elder Gand in 1831. In the course of time it found its way to our shores, having been purchased in Paris from the firm of Gand and Bernardel, Freres, by the late Mr. H. M. Muntz, of Birmingham; at that amateur's decease it came into our hands, and subsequently became the property of Mr. Higgins.
The year of Stradivari's birth, as thus recorded by Fetis, remained uncontested until a few years ago, when Mr. E. J. Payne, in the article on Stradivari contributed to Grove's Dictionary, cited a violin dated 1732, then in the possession of the late Mr. Wiener, upon the label of which was written, in Stradivari's handwriting, "d'anni 82." The label, the handwriting, and the figures are undoubtedly original, and equally so are those in the above-mentioned violin referred to by Fetis; yet if the one version were correct the other could not be. Hence, at the time when Mr. Payne's article was written (1882), the matter was even to ourselves an unsolved conundrum, although one circumstance somewhat influenced us in favour of the statement apparently recorded in the Wiener violin.
The figures 92 of the "d'anni 92 " on the Cozio violin label are inscribed on a small piece of paper separate from the ticket itself; and why this should be so was at the time inexplicable, and very naturally gave rise in our minds to a suspicion that they had been written by other hands than Stradivari's, and probably covered the master's true figures. As time passed on, and the instrument came into our possession, we, in order to elucidate the matter, decided to detach this piece of paper from the label, and, on doing so, found underneath, to our astonishment, similar figures, only the "9" was less distinctly made. We were therefore still further perplexed as to the reason for covering them.
The explanation came a few years later, when we were fortunate enough to purchase in Italy a small violin by Stradivari made in 1736, and which also bore his inscription "d'anni 92," but this time entirely written on a separate piece of paper glued along the bottom of the label.
On taking it to pieces for repairs we availed ourselves of the opportunity to remove the inscription, and the key to the mystery was then found. The old man, proud of the fact of making an instrument in his ninety-third year, strove to record it in his handwriting at the bottom of the label, but his eyes being dim and his hand lacking guidance, the inscription ran downhill so much that he had to cut it through in order not to leave an excessively wide margin on the ticket. Unwilling to waste it, he again wrote down his age, this time on a separate piece of paper, cut it out, and glued it on the label over his first effort.
The same explanation applies to the inscription in the Cozio violin: Stradivari, fearing his figure "9" of the "92" was indistinct, re-wrote both, and placed them similarly on the label over the others.
Armed now with increased knowledge and strengthened convictions, we once more scrutinised the ticket of the Wiener violin, and the explanation of it dawned upon us.
Both Mr. Payne and ourselves had wrongly deciphered Stradivari's faulty figure "9" as "2." Read it "d'anni 89," and it tallies with all other inscriptions, as the master, though eighty-eight years of age in 1732, obviously celebrated his eighty-ninth birthday during the year, and this instrument was made after that event.
The label dated 1737 is of quite pathetic interest. Apparently the master could no longer trust himself to add either figures or inscription, so this was done for him by his son Omobono (see the written label of Omobono for comparison). The facsimiles of these interesting tickets are given in our reproductions.
Several other instruments have been seen by us on the labels of which Stradivari recorded his age. These are:
first, a violin dated 1732, "de anni 89";
second, a violin dated 1735, "d'anni 91";
third, a violoncello dated 1736, "d'anni 92";
fourth, a violin dated 1737, "d'anni 93."
This last is probably the instrument mentioned by Count Cozio as belonging in 1822 to Professor Bertuzzi, of Milan. Later the property of M. de St. Senoch, of Paris, it, is now owned by a distinguished Brazilian violinist, M. White.
The " Habeneck" violin, referred to by Hart, we do not cite, as, though unquestionably of the latest period, neither label nor inscription is original. We thus have eight records, all of which. are in agreement, and we may therefore conclude that, with the clearing up of the one hitherto presumed contradictory statement, the matter may be considered as finally placed beyond controversy.
A few words as to Stradivari's precise age at death. Paolo, the son, in correspondence with Count Cozio di Salabue, states that his father died at the age of ninety-four years, in 1738; but in this latter date he was in error, as will be seen on referring to the extracts from the Registers of the churches of S. Matteo and S. Domenico in Cremona, showing that Antonio Stradivari was interred in the vault of Signer Francesco Villani in the Chapel of the Rosary, on December 19th, 1737.
Hart apparently assumes from this that the age given was also incorrect. We, however, believe not, as it is very possible that Stradivari had actually passed his ninety-fourth birthday before death called him away—perhaps only by a few days: he would therefore be in his ninety-fifth and not in his ninety-fourth year.
The following is an extract from the registration of Stradivari's burial in the church of S. Domenico in Cremona. It will be noted that his age is there described as "about 95":—
"Anno Dni millmo 10 septingmo trigmo septimo, die decima nona mis xbris. Dnus Antonius Stradivari viduus, aetatis annorum nonaginta quinque circiter, heri mortuus, praemunitus SS. Sacramentis Ecclesise, ac adjutus commendatione animae usque ad ejus obitum, hodie ejus cadaver associatum fuit cum exequiis a me Dominico Antonio Stancari hujus Eccle S. Matthei Praeposito ad Ecclesiam M. R. R. P. P. S. Dominici Cremonse in qua sepultum fuit."