No point in connection with Stradivari requires elucidation more than the question regarding the number of instruments he made during his lifetime. We have met with very few persons who possess an approximately correct idea on the subject. The prevailing belief is that the total number of his works still existing is comparatively small, and that consequently many instruments which are passing as his productions were never touched by the hand of the immortal master. That a certain number of instruments thus sail under false colours is undoubtedly true, but we venture to assert that this number is far smaller than is generally supposed. We take for granted that anybody who has mastered the rudiments of violin literature understands that the hundreds, nay thousands, of instruments bearing a facsimile (though never a correct one) of Stradivari's label in the interior do not pass in the world as original. Here of course we refer to old instruments for the most part of high merit, for which a price has been paid that entitles the owner to believe he is in possession of an authentic example of the master's work.
The more we learn about Stradivari, the more are we impressed by his industry and devotion to his art. His powers of production seemed only to augment as the years rolled on; his energy was apparently inexhaustible, and his fertility of invention equally unfailing. His art was his sole occupation; and although we possess but meagre details of his actual life, we may safely assume that from morning till evening, week in week out, as year succeeded year. he was to be found peaceably seated at his work-bench, gouge, compass, or knife in hand, giving form to productions which were to prove models of perfection for future generations. His working life was a long one-unparalleled either before or since in the annals of instrument-makers-for he laboured, we may safely say, during upwards of seventy-five out of the ninety-four years of life allotted to him.
Nicolo Amati also attained an advanced age, namely, eighty-eight years; but we are decidedly of opinion that he ceased to take an active share in the construction of instruments some years before his death, while Stradivari continued to work up to the very last. How interesting would it have been had one or other of Antonio's sons approximately recorded the result of the old man's labours! As far as we know, neither they, Arisi, Lancetti, nor Count Cozio, refer to the subject, unless we except the general yet instructive statement of the last named: - In addition to the large number of Stradivari's violins scattered throughout Europe, ninety-one were in his possession at the time of his death." We gather from Count Cozio's correspondence that Stradivari left at his death ninety-one violins, two violoncellos, and several violas, in addition to the inlaid set of instruments, all of which passed into the hands of Francesco, the son, who died in 1742. Francesco had doubtless sold some of them, and the remainder passed to his brother Paolo, the cloth merchant, who appears to have gradually disposed of them.
Nor have we any precise data as to the time devoted by Stradivari to the construction of his violins, violas, or violoncellos. The Arisi MSS. contain a letter written on September 19th, 1690, by the Marquis Ariberti, in which he requests Stradivari "to begin at once two tenors which are wanted to complete the Concerto"; and we learn in connection therewith the fact that the tenore (the larger- sized viola) was so far finished by the 20th of the following month as to permit of the master pencilling in the interior, "Prima 20 Ottobre, 1690, per S. A. da Fiorenza."
Now, the necessary working drawings, together with the moulds, made, as the master tells us, "espressamente" for these instruments, still exist in the Dalla Valle Collection, and are dated by Stradivari "4 Ottobre 1690." We therefore infer that between this date and the 20th, a period of sixteen days, the body of one tenor was ready to be put together, and the second was possibly in an advanced state, as most probably the maker worked on each alternately.
Again, Arisi tells us that Giovanni Battista Volumier, Director of the Court Music of the King of Poland, went to Cremona in 1715 by special order of the King to await the completion of twelve violins which had been ordered from Stradivari. He remained there three months, and then took the instruments back with him to Poland. No conclusions of a definite nature can be deduced from these two statements, but they have nevertheless some bearing on this question of the time spent by the master in the making of an instrument.
Oft-repeated examination of many examples of Stradivari's work justifies us in stating that he was an expeditious worker. Nothing executed by him bears the impress of having been laboured either in style or finish. He was a past master in handling the tools, and all his works bear the stamp of having been carefully, intelligently, but quickly carried out. In a warm climate, such as that of Cremona, we should scarcely presume that during the summer months Stradivari worked as many hours a day as the average workman in a colder land; but after duly weighing this point and making allowance for the time passed in striking out designs, constructing moulds, etc., we think that at the lowest computation he completed one violoncello or two violins in a month; say, an average of twenty-five violins or ten violoncellos in a year; and we believe, could it be only verified, that our estimate would be found to be rather below than above the actual number.
Fetis ("Antonio Stradivari," by Fetis, English Edition, P. 72) tells us that Polledro, the violinist, who died in 1853 at an advanced age, stated that his master knew Stradivari, and took pleasure in mentioning the fact. "He (Stradivari) was tall and thin in appearance, and invariably to be seen in his working costume, which rarely changed, as he was always at work." Whether this statement be fact or fiction we cannot say; but we are in a position to vouch for the actual existence of Stradivari instruments bearing their original labels, and dated from every year consecutively between 1682 and 1737, thus conclusively demonstrating that he kept to his work without a break of any duration for upwards of fifty-five years.
It is equally clear to our minds that previous to 1682-1683 Stradivari did not work on his own account with any continuity (a point to which we have referred in our chapter on the violins); and our proof of this statement rests on the fact of the rarity of his signed works-and the still greater rarity of unsigned ones-dated between 1665 and 1684, more especially before 1680. Were we to credit these earlier years with the same number of instruments as the later ones, we should be apt to overestimate the number of the master's productions. Again, from 1725 onwards we cannot but assume that with advancing years the then octogenarian, though still sure of hand and eye to a marvellous degree, was slower of execution; and therefore an average of twelve instruments per year up to 1736 agrees more nearly with our actual data.
The year of his death, 1737, we do not include, believing that failing health must at last have all but stayed the master's hand. Three examples only are known to us of this year. If we accept 1665 (Stradivari's twenty-first year) as the earliest date at which he used a label of his own, there are nineteen years before we reach 1684; and after giving the matter full consideration, we believe that his signed specimens during this period did not exceed on an average four per year-in all seventy-six instruments.
In our chapter on the master's violoncellos we state that fifty is the number known to us. Assuming that Stradivari during his whole lifetime made as many as eighty of these instruments (we do not claim to know of every existing specimen, and some have been destroyed), and reckoning the time of construction at slightly over a month-ten a year-we thus account for eight years' labour.
If we now take the period from 1684 to 1725, a space of forty-one years, and deduct therefrom the above-mentioned eight years, we are left with a result for violin construction of thirty-three years, which gives, at an average of twenty-five violins per year, a total Of 825 instruments. The years between 1725 and 1736 give, at the reduced estimate of twelve violins per year, 132 instruments. We thus arrive at the following grand total:-
That we should credit Stradivari with having made over eleven hundred instruments will doubtless cause surprise to many of our readers, yet we feel sure that we have underestimated rather than overestimated the fruits of his industry. Our calculations are based upon the results of long years of observation.
Let us now turn our attention to the actually existing instruments of the master, and see to what extent our calculations are justified. Unceasing inquiry tends to confirm our early impression that Stradivari's efforts were principally, though not exclusively, concentrated on the making of violins, violas, and violoncellos. Various writers have stated that he made double-basses; but, so far, our researches do not enable us to confirm this assertion. On the contrary, the instruments referred to by M. Gallay (Gallay, "Les Luthiers Italiens," Paris, 1869), the property of the Marquis de Pluvie, and the one belonging to Count Ludovici Melzi mentioned by Mr. Payne (E. J. Payne, Grove's "Dictionary of Music" : Art. 'Stradivari.'), are known to us.
The former is of old French make, the latter Italian, but of no special merit. Among the various designs and patterns made by Stradivari and now in the possession of the Marchese Dalla Valle, nothing is to be found referring to the double-bass, not even a design for the bridge. As already mentioned, we know of two viols-da- gamba, since converted into violoncellos, also of a tenor viol, since altered by J. B. Vuillaume to a viola by the substitution of a modelled back instead of a flat one; a violin of a form without corners, though originally it was of some type of small viol of different outline; and we also recall having seen in the possession of the late M. Jacquot, of Nancy, another instrument which is also a mutilated viol. Two pochettes exist: one dating from the later period is a most uninteresting specimen; the other, which is in the Paris Conservatoire Museum, is a very charming example of Stradivari's early work. For some unaccountable reason a false label, dated 1717, has been substituted for its original one; it should be dated previous to 1700.
Though a complete set of designs, dated 1716, for the making of a viol d'amore of the usual form, without projecting edge or corners, flaming-sword sound- holes, and plain uncarved head, exist in the Dalla Valle Collection, no such instrument has, to our knowledge, hitherto been met with. A tenor and violin, referred to by Mr. Payne as "a singular freak of the great maker"-the outline, sides, form of sound-holes, and head consisting of a series of straight lines-are not, we are happy to say, the work of Stradivari. Both instruments are intensely ugly, and were made in Germany; they are most probably of Mittenwald workmanship, dating from about 1750 to 1770.
The beautiful cistre originally owned by J. B. Vuillaume, now in the Paris Conservatoire Museum, has likewise, in our opinion, no claim to be regarded as the work of the great maker, though in this instance the instrument is quite worthy of him. Two guitars by Stradivari and the head of a third are known to us; both guitars are in singularly good condition, and date from the early years of the master's life.
Here ends our list of Stradivari's works, other than those of the true violin form. Fetis, on the authority of Vuillaume, states that Stradivari made many viols of the various forms, besides lutes, guitars, and mandoras; but, judging by our own comparatively fruitless researches, we are inclined to regard this statement rather as an abstract opinion than as a positive assertion that specimens of these various types of instruments had been seen by him. Had Vuillaume been acquainted with many other instruments besides those already cited, several of which passed through his hands, they should still be in existence. The museums and private collections of antique instruments of any repute throughout Europe are known to us, and, with the exception of the Paris Conservatoire Museum, they contain not a single example of Stradivari's work; although viols, mandoras, and kindred instruments by earlier and also by contemporary makers are there to be found.
Nothing is more likely than that the master did from time to time make one or other of these interesting instruments, although they were even then fast becoming obsolete. He, however, did not produce many, and the few he did make have been further reduced in number by the destructive hand of time.
With a view to obtaining a fairly complete list of Stradivari's existing violins, violas, and violoncellos, we have left no stone unturned which might aid us in arriving at a correct estimate: books, old papers, and catalogues have been consulted; we have gone to every source likely to prove useful. We have corresponded with those in all parts of the world who were likely in any way to help us, and have sought the aid of those of our brother experts, both at home and abroad, who we thought could be of use in giving us information. In every instance we have taken steps to verify as far as circumstances would permit the authenticity of an instrument, never accepting the bare assertion of our informant.
Notwithstanding these efforts, we have to confess that we have found it impossible fully to attain our object: some reputed owners disdain even to answer our letters, others we are unable to find. Again, instruments remain stowed away in old houses, especially in our own country, and great is the perseverance required to unearth them. In giving figures, therefore, we wish them to be understood as only approximate, although our efforts to arrive at truth have been most earnest.
Of the instruments made during the fifteen years of Stradivari's life dating from 1665, we are acquainted with but sixteen violins, one viola, and one violoncello altered from a viol-da-gamba; we may also add the two guitars. The years 1673, 1674, 1675, 1676, and 1678 do not, so far as we can learn from the labels, furnish a single example; 1677 and 1679 but one example each; 1680 to 1684 also give fifteen violins, one violoncello, and one transformed viol-da-gamba. The years 1684 to 1690 -- six years -- furnish us with fifty-five violins and five violoncellos. The increase should be noted.
The decade from 1690 to 1700 accounts for seventy- seven violins, five violas, and fifteen violoncellos. Of the violins as many as fifty-two are of the "long" pattern, which includes all those of the years 1692, 1693 (We have seen one exception of the year 1693), 1694, 1695, 1696, and 1697.
The following decade, 1700 to 1710, gives ninety-eight violins, two violas, and five violoncellos. The years 1704, 1705, 1706 and 1707 are noticeable for the smaller output of eight, five, four, and eight violins respectively. The last year also gives a violoncello. On the other hand, 1709 is remarkable for its increased number: it accounts for no fewer than twenty-one violins and one violoncello.
The next decade, 1710 to 1720, gives the highest total of all: one hundred and twenty-five violins, and eleven violoncellos. No individual year, however, equals the total of 1709, which is, so far, the most productive on our record. 1710 approaches it, with nineteen violins and one violoncello, while 1711 gives but seven violins and three violoncellos.
The years 1715, 1716, and 1717 yield respectively thirteen, fifteen, and thirteen violins, and three violoncellos. The remaining years are marked by a fair average.
The last decade, 1720-30, accounts for one hundred and four violins, one viola, a viol altered to a viola, and five violoncellos; the years 1720, 1721, 1722, 1723, and 1724 give respectively thirteen, fourteen, twelve, eleven, and twelve violins-the last year a violoncello also; the year 1725 gives but five violins and two violoncellos.
The remaining seven years, 1730 to 1736 inclusively, we can credit with forty-seven violins, two violas and six violoncellos. 1730 gives nine violins; 1731, seven; 1732, eight; 1733, four; 1734, five; 1735, three; and 1736, eight. The last year, 1737, gives three violins. We consequently arrive at the following total:-Violins, 540; Violas, 12 Violoncellos, 50.
The very limited number of the works of the early period, 1665-80, will be observed: an unaccountable fact unless our explanation be the correct one. The increase after 1684, the year of Niccolo Amati's death, certainly tends to give weight to our views regarding the working conditions of Stradivari's earlier years.
A study of the above figures suggests the very natural question, "How near does this summary approach to the actual number of Stradivari's existing works?" In the case of the violins, we unhesitatingly express our belief that we have only succeeded in recording three-fourths of them, as we have traces, more or less clear, of quite one hundred more. Take, as an instance, the violin dated 1709, one of the instruments from the Plowden Collection, which was stolen from an attache to the British Embassy at St. Petersburg in 1869-70. That violin is doubtless still in existence, and will in time probably reappear.
Of violas, we doubt the existence of others than those recorded, but one or two more may possibly yet be brought to light. On the other hand, we think it probable that at least seven or eight violoncellos will sooner or later be forthcoming. We do not suppose most of these hypothetical instruments to be lying perdus in the hands of the ignorant, for during an experience extending over half a century we have met with scarcely any such cases; and even in these we have usually found Stradivari's productions associated with other worldly belongings of a similarly high order. That here and there an instrument has gone astray, is of course conceivable; in fact, several instances of this kind have come under our notice. That a portion of the results of Stradivrari's labour has in various ways been destroyed is, we fear, only too true. It would otherwise be difficult to explain the falling off in number of the productions of certain years, such as 1704, 1705, 1706 and 1707, when compared with 1708, 1709 and 1710. (1705 and 17o6 were not tranquil years for the citizens of Cremona. A war was being waged with great stubbornness between the Austrians, French, and Spaniards, which terminated late in 17o6 by the occupation of the Castle of Santa Croce-the fortress of Cremona. The Austrians then armed the fortress with one hundred heavy guns, and thus rendered it for the time being one of their strongest bulwarks in Lower Lombardy. It is computed by historians that the cost of fortifying the town in that year amounted to eleven million francs, of which sum the poor Cremonese had to pay their share by taxes and impositions of all kinds.)
We cannot of course think that the hand of fate singled out the instruments of one year more than those of another; but it is very probable that whole sets of instruments made at one period shared a common lot, and were destroyed either by fire, pillage or otherwise.
The upheaval among the Continental nations after 1790, coupled with the subsequent French invasions of Italy, Spain, and Austria, must have contributed to the general destruction, especially when we reflect that from the moment of their making Stradivari's instruments were destined to the palaces of noblemen and to churches. We have it from that ardent admirer of Stradivari, Count Cozio di Salabue, that when the French invaded Piedmont they ransacked his chateau at Casale, and this, added to the heavy war-taxes imposed upon the land, forced him to try and sell his collection in order to live. His Stradivari treasures probably escaped dispersal and destruction at the hands of the invaders through being at his house in Milan.
Another instance is furnished by the instruments belonging to the Spanish King, Charles IV., including violins by the Amatis, by Joseph Guarnerius, by Stainer, and the quintet of inlaid Stradivaris, besides other examples. In 1790 they were still in the Royal Palace at Madrid. Local tradition says they were dispersed during the French occupation, and if any were saved it is due to their having been secreted. Of the whole collection only four good instruments remain-two violoncellos (one being that of the quintet) and the two violins. Both tenors of the set vanished: one was found in Paris in 1819, where it was purchased by Mr. F. C. Rivaz, a well-known English amateur of those days; the other has never since been seen or heard of. Researches carried out on our behalf in the archives of the Medici family at Florence show that the set of five instruments made by Stradivari for the Tuscan Court in 1690 were in safe keeping up to 1734- Prince Ferdinand, for whom they were specially made, died in 1713; and from inventories of the musical instruments left by the Prince, dated up to 1734, together with various vouchers and receipts, we learn that the Stradivari instruments were lent to various players-presumably with the result that both violins and the smaller viola were finally "borrowed," never to be returned, the large-sized viola and the violoncello alone remaining in Florence. The only violin of the pair now existing, so far as we can learn, was purchased by Mr. David Ker at Florence in 1794.
Our impression is that since 1815, when Europe was once more restored to peace, very few Stradivari instruments have been destroyed. Here in England we only know of one solitary instance: W. Ware, the leader of the orchestra at Covent Garden, played upon a Stradivari violin, which was lost at the burning of the theatre in i 8o8. Even during the terrible experiences of Paris in 1871, as far as our inquiries among our French colleagues show, no Stradivari instrument-and a good many were there-shared the fate of the city's fine buildings and treasures.
It is, of course, a matter of rejoicing that so many of Stradivari's works have been hitherto spared to us; but we should fail in our duty were we to neglect to add a serious word of warning as to the urgent necessity for greater care and thought being brought to bear upon the question of the preservation of these noble instruments, in order that we may not only enjoy their possession ourselves, but may honestly feel that we are doing our best to hand them on unimpaired to future generations.
Ah! if those of last century interested in the subject, more especially players and makers, had been more prudent-nay, conscientious-in this matter, what a different result should we have been able to chronicle to-day! Our total as regards numbers might possibly have been no greater, but what of their condition? When we come to examine each example critically, we are grieved to find so many showing traces of wounds which are not honourable ones-scars attesting bad treatment at the hands of owners and, worse still, at the hands of would-be restorers. By consent of the former, at the instigation of the latter, most dire acts of vandalism have been per- petrated: in fact, of much of this kind that has been done in the past we cannot speak without positive horror.
Violoncellos and violas have perhaps suffered most, owing to their size and proportions not being in accordance with the ideas of the day-ideas in many cases absolutely erroneous. They have been cut down and mutilated in the most ruthless manner; and this was done by violin-makers who, then as now, considered themselves thoroughly competent! Charles Reade very aptly refers to this subject in his letters addressed to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1872. Speaking of the instruments at the Loan Collection of that year, he says: "The brothers Amati are represented in this collection, first, by several tenors that once were noble things, but have been cut on the old system, which was downright wicked. It is cutting in the statutory sense-i.e. cutting and maiming. These ruthless men just sawed a crescent off the top and another off the bottom, and the result is a thing with the inner bout of a giant and the upper and lower bout of a dwarf. If one of these noble instruments survives in England uncut, I implore the owner to spare it; to play on a £5 tenor, with the Amati set before him to look at while he plays."
Alas! how true are these words! What more shocking evidence of the truth of the charge could present itself than is afforded by the fate of the unique violoncello made by Stradivari for the ornamental set which he intended to present to the Spanish monarch, Philip V.! With how much love and pride must the master have laboured during weeks upon such an instrument! and how grievous it is now to contemplate the destruction wrought by a man who proved himself to have been devoid of the slightest feeling which is inborn in the true craftsman! We regret to have to add that the culprit, Ortega, who as a mere workman was very good, was in this respect not one whit worse than the majority of his brother-makers in other countries.
The equally fine violoncello made for Cosimo de Medici in 1690 has not escaped unscathed. In consequence of slight ravages by worms (Strictly speaking, these ravages are due to the beetle known as Anobium dolnesticuin in its caterpillar state), it was sent some years ago to Vienna for restoration (we know not to whom), when its original neck was unhesitatingly sacrificed, and the charming inlaid finger-board and tail-piece were dealt with in true Philistine manner. The pearl cupids which adorned them were, in order that they might be preserved, removed and re-inlaid on a new finger-board and tail-piece of the crudest modern make. The absolute incongruity can be noted by comparison with the tenor which hangs in the same case, fortunately not restored. Both these instruments, together with the fine violin dated 1716, are to be seen at the Musical Institute in Florence.
A third instance, equally glaring, is furnished by a fine Stradivari, the sides of which were lowered by an Italian violin-maker, who added insult to injury by inserting his own label stating: "Revisto e corretto da me!" Very many similar instances are known to us, but nothing would be gained by recounting them now. The point we desire to bring home to all who are interested in the preservation of the many still existing admirable examples of our art, is that the present generation has profited but little by the knowledge of the miserable misdeeds of the past. True, violoncellos and tenors requiring to be thus drastically operated upon no longer exist; but in other directions plenty of scope is left for the present-day vandal.
The matter is now perhaps more subtle, and the injuries inflicted less apparent; but under the cloak of restoring and improving, vandalism goes on as actively as ever. Will it be believed that within recent years, notwithstanding the boasted enlightenment of so many of those who aspire and claim to be considered worthy followers of the great traditions of violin-making, things have been done which call for the sternest condemnation!
What have we to say to the complete revarnishing of Stradivari and Guarneri violins in order to renovate the old varnish? to the cutting down of a Gasparo tenor to the proportions of an oversized violin? to the replacing of the back of a fine violoncello by a new one in order to remedy a wolf-note ? to the cutting down of a Guadagnini violoncello -already of small size-to satisfy the caprice of its owner, who, still dissatisfied, had it enlarged again ? These instances are but a few of those that from time to time come under our notice.
Would that we could succecd in impressing on all owners of fine instruments, more especially on professional players, the paramount necessity of giving more thought to the care and preservation of these valuable possessions! Under mistaken ideas of "improvement," consent is continually given with fatal light-heartedness to all kinds of pernicious changes, which we do not hesitate to affirm are in the majority of cases unnecessary, and therefore uncalled for.
The poor instruments are ripped open without further ado: we know only too well how many show the sorry traces of the bad performance of this ever-delicate operation. More than one fine Stradivari instrument bears the mark where the knife has passed right through the belly; and many are the cracks and fractures one could point to as having been similarly produced. B cheerfully undoes that which but a few years-or even months-previously had been thoughtfully carried out by A. Then C, the sounds of whose trumpeter have fallen on sympathetic ears, is called upon to set A and B right. The climax is reached when D, a workman with a telling long grey beard and gold spectacles-his sole credentials-is recommended to the unfortunate owner by a distinguished artiste, and undertakes without a moment's hesitation to undo the bungling of A, B and C, and to substitute his own work founded on his own fallacious theories.
Mark, readers, we beg you, that during this time the real stamina of the instrument is being steadily impaired. We have drawn a sad picture; yet the sadness is not exaggerated, and it is difficult to say whether the violin- maker or the player be the more to blame. The former is at times swayed by mercenary motives, and very often by a sense of self-importance mingled with a certain amount of curiosity; for he imagines that he can by studying the interior of a celebrated instrument enrich his store of knowledge. Players have yet to learn that they themselves are more often at fault. They should administer treatment to themselves, and not to their instruments, when these seem irresponsive.
As an example, on the other hand, of the way in which a violin may be preserved, though kept in continual use, we would cite the Stradivari dated 1724 of Senior Sarasate- a violin which has been the solo instrument of that distinguished player for upwards of thirty years. Known to us for twenty years, the condition of this instrument is as fresh today as when we first had it in our hands. Alard, Sarasate's master, seems also to have taken care of his violins in a similar manner; but we are sorry to say that this cannot be affirmed of most players. Thoughtlessness and indifference seem to reign supreme.
To close,-one most earnest word. Instruments by continual use are apt to become weary. They may even virtually be killed. Give them rests. We feel it a duty to urge most strongly that fine instruments should not be brought to premature death by ceaseless use.
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