Meet the Guarneri

15 October 2018 / News

The Guarneri family, including five very famous violin-makers within three generations, is the most distinguished family of luthiers in history.   Andrea Guarneri, who studied in Cremona with Nicolò Amati (the maker of Gillian’s viola), was the father of Giuseppe and Pietro, and the grandfather of two more makers - confusingly, also named Guiseppe and Pietro.  In order to distinguish them, the older Giuseppe is called “son of Andrea” and the older Pietro is called “Pietro of Mantua.”  The younger pair were the sons of Giuseppe, and Giuseppe the younger (known as “del Gesu” because he wrote IHS (Iesu Hominem Salvator) on his violin’s labels) became the most celebrated of them all. His brother Pietro (1695-1762) moved to Venice around 1720, where his shop was around the corner from the Gofriller shop (where Rolf’s cello was made) and is known as “Pietro of Venice”.  It was this Pietro who made Helene’s violin in 1730. As this was during Vivaldi’s tenure at the the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, who knows, perhaps it may have participated in a world premiere of a Vivaldi concerto…  Helene writes:

I don’t know much about its history except that I have a German dealer’s certificate from 1933, so this leads me to believe there may have been some pressure to sell a beautiful old violin in that year of Hitler taking power in Germany – perhaps in order to emigrate...  Later it was owned by an American violinist, Lucy Nedzel, who had been a child prodigy, attended the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont in 1954 and later became a scientist.  I acquired the violin in 1990 when my father came into an inheritance (his father had been a very successful author of physics textbooks) and decided to turn what was to be my share into a tool for my trade.  It has been with me for more than half my life and has become my voice.

At nearly 290 years old, Helene’s Guarneri needs the occasional health check and over the summer break last Christmas, Wellington-based luthier David Hume took the violin apart to steam out some dents in the top plate. These pictures show the process… 


Helenes violin 1

David Hume removes the top plate …


 Helenes violin 2

… and Pietro Guarnerius’ original label sees the light of day!


 Helenes violin 3

 A plaster cast is made of the top plate.


 Helenes violin 4

A heated sandbag is used to steam the dents out.


 Helenes violin 5

A new bass bar is glued on.


 Helenes violin 6

The bass bar is shaved for optimum sound quality.


Hero image of Guarneri violin (top of page) by Mark Robinson.

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