Historical Archive

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Piedmontese luthiers
The musical tradition of the Savoy State dates back to ancient times. A register in the Savoy Treasury contains a reported payment for the service of ‘trompettes et vyollons de Vercey’, dated 1523, made to Vercelli musicians. This is the first unquestionable reference made to the violin. However, there is no evidence of luthiers throughout the whole of the sixteenth century. The first document that speaks of their activity is dated 1647: Hans Angerer (Italianized as Giovanni Angerero) appears to be the first active violinmaker in Piedmont, most probably of German origin just like Henrico Casner (Italianized as Enrico Catenar). Indeed, the initial characteristics of his work were very similar to the style and the constructive methods of the Germans. Later, he adopted a more Italian style, taking on the characteristics of another contemporary violinmaker working in the city, Fabrizio Senta. Senta’s curved lines, in particular his short, open C-Bouts, were a source of inspiration for all the subsequent Piedmontese luthiers.

Halfway through the seventeenth century some violinmakers were still coming from France and bringing with them the production techniques and style developed there. French violin making was not resistant to Italian influence, and so some craftsmen from Brescia and Cremona were found in the first Turinese luthiers’ workshop. During the same period Goffredo Cappa was working in Saluzzo. From the basis of a design inspired by Cremonese models he was able to develop an original style for the shape of the body and the spiral of the scroll. However, Cappa did not have apprentices to keep his workshop in existence.

During the eighteenth century the Piedmontese luthiers did not know the splendours of the Cremonese craft of that same period, but subsequently, a number of factors favoured the development of violin making in Turin and, as a result, in other Piedmontese cities. 

In Turin the most important names in the first half of the eighteenth century were Giovanni Francesco Celoniati, Nicolò Giorgi and Giovanni Battista Genova. In addition to these was Spirito Sorsona, working in Cuneo. The clearest stylistic feature amongst these luthiers was the tendency to use French constructive methods and models, breaking away from the Italian tradition which relied almost everywhere upon the lines established by Cremonese violin makers. In autumn 1771, the most important luthier working in Piedmont, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, reached Turin. Today, he is considered the link that merged classical Cremonese violin making with that which subsequently developed in Piedmonte. He was the greatest luthier of his time, and he had the privilege to work on the designs and shapes of Antonio Stradivari. His style is characterized by extraordinary force, which is not in every case tempered by delicate detail. The design, the structuring of the bouts, the shape of the spiral that forms the scroll, the specific finish given to the edge of the instruments, and particularly the tips, highlight his method of working. The school survived in Turin after its disappearance in 1786 through its descendants Carlo and Gaetano. Its first residence exists thanks to the latter, near the church of San Filippo. 

During the very first years of the nineteenth century, following Napoleon’s campaigns, Piedmont underwent a period of French rule, which favoured the arrival of French luthiers who worked in Turin throughout the entire first half of the century. Amongst them there were also some instrument makers and merchants from Mirecourt. The true initiators, the founders of the eighteenth-century Piedmontese school, were Giovanni Francesco Pressenda and Giuseppe Rocca.

Pressenda worked in Alba, Carmagnola, and in Turin from 1820, where he began to collaborate with French makers, drawing inspiration from them where technical details were concerned. His work involved a reworking of Stradivari’s and Guarneri’s designs. 

Rocca was Pressenda’s apprentice and valued collaborator. After Pressenda’s death, his work and designs were adopted by Benedetto Goffredo, known as Rinaldi, who was active until 1888. He produced instruments based on the model of his master, just as his successor Romano Marengo (alongside whom worked Enrico Marchetti) chose to be inspired by Guadagnini’s designs. One of Marchetti’s highly talented apprentices and the creator of some very valuable instruments was Anselmo Curletto. 

Amongst the other most significant representatives of the twentieth century are Annibale Fagnola, who was inspired by both the Pressenda’s and Rocca’s models, and by the classical Cremonese and the Guadagnini; Carlo Giuseppe Oddone; and Evasio Emilio Guerra, his apprentice and collaborator.