Having a 300-year-old Cremonese in your Living Room?

March 15, 2014 at 11:18 PM · Although I'm sure we all fantasize about one day being able to play an old Cremonese instrument, I've always wondered what it would be like to own one. So here's a few questions to all of you out there with old, valuable instruments:

1. Do you feel your instrument is more like a work of art, a piece of history, or a musician's tool?

2. Do you feel nervous taking the violin out of its case and playing it? I would imagine if I got a Strad I would.

3. Does your instrument have any quirks/tics? (I'm sure your del Gesu sounds great but how does it stay in tune? Is your Gagliano sensitive to humidity? Wolf tones? etc.)

4. How is your violin in terms of maintenance? How often does it get to visit your friendly local luthier/restorer for a check up or repairs?

5. Have you ever damaged it, such as a nick from hitting the scroll on something, or hitting the C-bout with the metal part on the bow? How did you feel about it? What did you do about it?

6. Do you think you would ever sell your instrument? What if it meant a luxurious retirement?

Feel free to add your own questions if there's something I'm missing!

Anybody who owns an old valuable instrument, feel free to share

Replies (31)

March 16, 2014 at 12:01 AM · If you bought a fiddle from Machold, my condolences, though even he sold genuine fiddles from time to time......

March 16, 2014 at 01:23 AM · I understand, but just to clarify, I'm not looking for people to pop out and say "I have xxxx Strad," etc. I'm just curious as to how they feel owning a valuable instrument.

March 16, 2014 at 05:52 AM · I don't know how typical my teacher's old Cremonese instrument is - but it is so sensitive to the room / humidity its a pain in the ---. She has to keep it in a sealed case, use a dehumidifier in the room, or else it just sounds crap.

It hates being played out of tune even fractionally (eg, by me) - when it doesn't ring it sounds crap.

It hates being played in ensemble when the group is out of tune. It doesn't ring, and it sounds crap.

Its a lovely thing to listen too when all around are good musicians, projects over the group, dynamic range is wonderful.

The instrument is probably an amalgamation - luthier is not convinced that the top / bottom / neck were even made in the same generation.

March 16, 2014 at 06:19 AM · I guess most well maintained well set-up old Cremonas will play beautifully under perfect conditions, but it's not very often that we get perfect conditions. An 200-300 year old violin that bears the scars of age is bound to be temperamental when conditions are not to its liking. In my experience with a Rocca and a couple of Pressendas because of the good overall condition they played well in the winter but in the summer they sounded really bad. This is Cyprus where temperatures in the summer can creep up to 100F. The same happens to my own Vuillaume which although in perfect condition, in the summer I have to store it in a vault underground until mid September because the tone becomes plumb and unfocussed. Right now however it's at its best, a joy to play.

So with an old Cremona that has been restored a few times in its life, variations in the weather are bound to have a more pronounced effect on the tone and playability of it. On the other hand my modern violin is not as affected by temprerature and humidity levels that much and is reliable throughout the year

March 16, 2014 at 12:54 PM ·

March 16, 2014 at 01:07 PM · I don't own any 300 year old extremely valuable instrument. But I have tried about half-a-dozen Strads, 2 del Gesus, a few Amatis, Guadagninis, etc. Based on my experiences, and reading about what some owners have said in articles in the Strad and Strings, seeing vedios etc. and as a professional player myself, I'd like to address only the OP's 2nd question:

2. Do you feel nervous taking the violin out of its case and playing it? I would imagine if I got a Strad I would.

Any good violin, old or modern, should be treated well and handled properly. And of course, all the more so with an extremely costly, rare antique. It should never be taken for granted. But this can be overdone, too. Even with a Strad, if we can't get past the point of feeling that we're holding a multi-million dollar super-fragile egg, then we won't play properly, and this will not do honor to the instrument, the music, the audience or to ourselves. They were meant to be played - really played, not tickled. Top players from Ehnes to Myers have said much the same thing.

When I've first picked up a highly valuable rare instrument, my first reaction has been to 'ooh and ah' about the instrument itself. But once I begin to play, I really get into it. One exception to this was my opportunity to see and hold the "Lady Blunt" - one of the most perfectly preserved of all Strads. It wasn't allowed to be played, and only to be handled under very careful supervision.

March 16, 2014 at 03:23 PM · I think it would be a bit freaky to have a 300 yr old Cremonese in my living room. Quite the curio - but maybe he or she would have some insight into just how those two amazing luthier guys (and probably their spouses) made those amazing instruments.

What do they eat by the way? Did tomatoes get from the new world to Italy by then? And what exactly DID Italians eat before pasta came from china and tomatoes from SA?

But I digress....

March 16, 2014 at 04:07 PM · Yup...Uncle Tony...once he comes to visit...he never quite knows when it's time to leave...

March 16, 2014 at 05:54 PM · Come out of the closet; DO bring a 300-year-old Cremonese into your Living Room.

March 16, 2014 at 06:06 PM · My teacher, Alfredo Campoli, once left his Strad (the Dragonetti) in his living room overnight. Unfortunately, he was robbed that night but the intruders stole his tennis trophies, bridge trophies and his TV set but left the Strad alone.

March 16, 2014 at 08:39 PM · Joe Green,

on question no.6,

I would never sell my violin in my lifetime. If I did this my life would be purer from then on and no amount of money could compensate for the loss, even if I don't play it any more due to old age.

How can you sell a violin that you have loved all your life, it's like selling off your kids for money.

I'd rather starve than sell my instrument.

March 18, 2014 at 02:42 PM · There's a definite protocol to how fine instruments are handled, and when everyone in the room is on the same page, it's not tense. Though instruments are fragile, the ways to hurt them are definite, and the people who work with them and handle them know how to do it right. I have a sting in my distant past where I ignored protocol and got instantly snubbed and I still am ashamed of that moment.

The other thing that happens is that after you've handled a few it becomes a lot less exciting--I imagine the phenomenon is a bit like the photographers for Playboy get to feel about clothing.

Really, I don't think it's a whole lot different from being around babies: high value and fragility, but most people don't do stupid things with them like leave them sitting on open window sills. If you wanted to be in a panic all the time, there'd be a reason, but that's not a functional way to live.

Mostly, owners of valuable instruments are careful, and not much happens.

March 18, 2014 at 04:16 PM · Yet we have lapses. Recently I was teaching and when a student was having trouble tuning, I stood up to help. I placed my violin on the chair, standing against the back--then I sat down again and leaned. The bridge slipped and snapped in two and the tailpiece hit the top making some nasty abrasions and opening the top seam a bit. Luckily, it was not my best instrument but still I feel guilty--first time in fifty years. BTW, Michael, I am very careful with my Darnton viola!

March 18, 2014 at 04:24 PM · I was lent a fine Vuillaume about a year and a half ago for a concerto, over a period of about 4 weeks. When I was selecting the instrument I also played on two Strads and a Storioni. That day was possibly the most nervewracking musical experience I've ever had - especially as a 17 year old, coming into contact with these fine instruments was an enlightening but pressurising experience indeed. I settled on the Vuillaume over the other three for its playability and more open tone. Looking after it for the first week was particularly scary as I had to carry it to and from my school on public transport, all the while keeping it in pristine condition (not something I had to worry about with my previous instrument so much) and I felt that by playing it I was going to somehow take away something of the instrument's quality. However it opened up the more I played it, and I became less apprehensive each time I took it out of the case. I took far greater care of it than I normally took care of my fiddle at the time, but now it's influenced the way I care for any violin.

By contrast, my old teacher who has owned a Maggini for many years seems comfortable leaving it just about anywhere, including on top of cabinets in our school music department that aren't even wide/long enough to accommodate the body and the scroll of the instrument! It seems more robustly built (as is quite typical of old Brescian instruments) but nonetheless I wouldn't have taken such an approach if I owned an instrument like that...

March 18, 2014 at 05:42 PM · It was reported to me years ago that a player in one of my local symphonic bands was loaned a Girolamo Amati II, owned by the orchestra.

He left it on top of his piano. That's usually a safe enough place; but the cat jumped on it. The subsequent restoration took many months.

One cannot be too careful.

Luckily for me my Cremonese violins are relatively new, and far less valuable than some of those iconic antiques, but I'd still not be happy if I broke one. My only severe accident was to a Vuillaume, when in the backing-band on a Freddie Starr gig. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freddie_Starr)

We had to attach microphones onto our bridges with plasticine or some such. I couldn't get mine to stick, and in the struggle the bridge and soundpost both came down - there followed a mad dash to locate a substitute fiddle before the evening's performance !

March 19, 2014 at 12:56 AM · Ah Ben, you're talking about an INSTRUMENT - I thought you meant a person!

David, did the cat then jump on to the keyboard and proceed to play something by Scarlatti?

March 19, 2014 at 01:45 AM · I was told by the previous owner of my violin that she would often let her cats crawl all over her instruments (needless to say, mine is covered with little scratches. She took good care of her instruments in every other regard, including luthier visits, so they don't look like complete scratching posts). One of her cats once mistook her occupied violin case for a litter box (I can't remember if it was my violin or not). The instrument was completely unharmed (watch as careless students now begin to use cat pee to dissolve the caked-on rosin on their intruments), but the case retained the smell.

March 19, 2014 at 02:47 AM · I have an old French violin by Désiré. Three years after getting it I adopted a beautiful kitten that I named after the violin, calling her Desi for short. I used to say that my 2 favorite things were both named Désiré, but that the wooden Désiré sometimes needed protection from the furry Désiré.

Alas, the kitty is long gone from this world, and many violins later, and with mixed feelings, I'm selling that violin. What I still have in my living room is a 1,300 pound gorilla. Oh wait - that's a grand piano. Never mind!

March 19, 2014 at 11:53 AM · Something by Scarlatti ??

Here's the doggone link :-


March 21, 2014 at 12:56 PM · Yeah, those pundits who, like the "late" Percy Scholes, tell us that atonality started with the opening bars of the Tristan und Isolde Prelude ...

And then those slightly cleverer pundits, who, like the late Francis Schaeffer, tell us that really it started with the opening of the Große Fuge, which is when music began to depart from its rational roots, rationality in the arts having had its heyday in the baroque period ...

March 21, 2014 at 01:06 PM · Rokos sure put the pigeon among the cat-gut.

Scarlatti, anagram trails cat.

Anyway, it's best to keep your valuable old Cremona well away from domestic pets;[EDIT] & protect it from unaccompanied bark.

March 21, 2014 at 02:57 PM · @John Rokos:

"And then those slightly cleverer pundits, who, like the late Francis Schaeffer, tell us that really it started with the opening of the Große Fuge, which is when music began to depart from its rational roots, rationality in the arts having had its heyday in the baroque period ..."

...and then Rookmaker on modern art. Agree, many Reform people never quite got it ever since the early ones destroyed the priceless statues in the cathedrals.

Sorry for the OT nothing to do with Cremonese in the living room.

Would love to have an old Cremonese at home. Doesn't have to be a Strad or Guarneri DG. A brothers or Nicolo Amati, Rugeri or Bergonzi will do. I would probably get a vault that would protect it from fire and theft.

March 22, 2014 at 01:24 AM · I think Schaeffer was sound enough on literature and philosophy, but he was out of his depth on music (Also he know nothing of the debt some modern composers had to other ancient musical cultures, and I just have to admit that John Cage understood more music than I do). I wouldn't have called him reformed, quite.

March 22, 2014 at 04:21 PM · After many subsequent posts, it's now confirmed that our first-responder Joe Green (really Giuseppe Verdi ??) hit the nail on the head when he wrote :- 'Very, very few "owners" of instruments valued @ several million dollars will be found discussing their possessions in online forums.'

Deafening silence from owners of 300-year-old top Cremonas. The elephant isn't even in the room !!

March 23, 2014 at 08:23 AM · Ok David, I'll bite.

1-To me it is a tool of the trade.

2- Why should I feel nervous taking it out its case? I enjoy playing it and actually can not wait to get it out.

3-It needs to be played regularly, if I take a little break, it takes a little while to wake it up again.

4-I take it once a year for a check up of more often if needs be.

5-I have never damaged it although I did hit some music stands with it :(

6- The thought of selling it has never crossed my mind. Its value is something I do not think about that could make me nervous. ;)



March 24, 2014 at 11:38 AM · I know a player who was loaned 2 Guarneri del Gesù violins (one after the other, not concurrently !) by a London Dealership; but he wasn't very forthcoming about the experience. He certainly didn't rave about it. I think the deal involved him in having to install a safe, and forking out mega-bucks insurance.

The Hallé Orchestra was once loaned a fine "Long Pattern" Strad. The concertmasters were compelled to use it - neither of them at the time that I was around enjoyed the experience much, finding the instrument problematic to play.

I'm inclined to imagine that having such a fiddle in one's living-room would be very much a mixed blessing, a liability almost. But maybe that's a matter of sour grapes !

March 24, 2014 at 03:15 PM · Dear folks: I once visited with a well known violin professor of a very well known music school. He was on up in years and had sold his multimillion dollar violin because his accountant said that if his survivors got stuck with it they would have to pay over a hundred thousand in inheritance taxes. I don't know if there are still death taxes but they keep coming and going depending on who is president. Before he sold it he had a copy made that looked exactly like it and believe it or not had an amazing sound which he claimed was the equal of the multimillion dollar violin he sold. I suppose just the insurance would cost too much for me to have one in my house. I am satisfied with the results I get from my old clunker - see my current discussion topic on my new tail piece.

March 26, 2014 at 01:03 AM · N.A., you joke about your uncle Tony. He probably isn't, but what about your Austrian greatgreatgreatgreatgrandfather Joe and his housekeeper and his organist associate Franz, etc.?

March 26, 2014 at 06:19 AM · N.A.Mohr and I will flip.

March 26, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Accidents DO happen.

It's not to hard for google to find the article that contains :-

"On Jan. 16, 1953, it rained in Los Angeles. Sascha Jacobsen, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, was driving along the Pacific coast when his car stalled in a swelling rush of flood water. Jacobsen frantically grabbed his violin case and climbed from the car to seek higher ground. The current claimed the case, containing a 1732 Strad known as the Red Diamond for its unusual brilliant varnish. Washed to the ocean and found partially buried in sand, it was soaked and lifeless when it was taken to Hans". (That's Hans Weisshaar, BTW).

March 26, 2014 at 02:30 PM · I was indeed joking about my Uncle Tony...but I did have an Aunt Toni!

She was much less likely to outstay her welcome...;)

Speaking of inheritance taxes...can you not sell an instrument for whatever you wanted to sell it for? What if you wanted to sell your Strad (or equivalent) for $100?

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