There are two ways of creating violins: copying old originals or making new originals. I chose the latter. Violin making is creative work.
In order to design and make a fine violin it is important to know how to play. Contemporary musicians perform an unprecedentedly vast repertoire covering five centuries, each of which requires a different technique. When making a baroque violin, I optimise it for the repertoire of a specific performer and a specific era. When making a modern violin, I try to make it suitable for both contemporary and baroque music.
Violin making has existed for five centuries. To work within such a rich tradition implies understanding the philosophic and aesthetic values of predecessors, conforming to these values in my own work, and teaching them to the next generation of players and makers.
The Japanese poet and philosopher Matsuo Basho once said: “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought”. This is what I seek to do in my work.
I try to express music in the consonant (or dissonant) proportions of my instruments. If carefully designed, these proportions give rise to a musical instrument that shares the same values as music itself.
Violin making : creating originals
There was the time when the violin did not exist. It only appeared around the beginning of the 16th century, at a time when many new aesthetic and musical ideas were born, creating the need for new instruments, notably the violin.
The violin became popular in the circle of the rich and powerful, with the nobility and at the courts of Europe, and such instruments were in great demand, giving rise to the tradition of professional violin making. Of course, the early violin makers had no early examples to work from and thus experimented with an an entirely new class of instruments. As the early violin makers were working for the educated elite, with a given set of norms, the first violins had to conform to the then fashionable philosophical and artistic values.
The violin shared the aesthetic and philosophical features of the art of the early 16th century, combining the rediscovered culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, and the later, purely baroque trends. It was a time of widespread debate about the hierarchy of the arts, with music firmly at the top. Architects and painters alike considered that their art had to be established on the same foundation as music: harmony. Architect Alberti wrote that to bring an architectural concept to perfection, it is necessary to verify its harmonic proportions, even with the help of musicians, whom he considered the true experts of this type of proportions. Vitruvius dedicated one of his ten books on Architecture to the harmonic proportions, pointing out that these laws are used by the skilled makers of musical instruments in order to bring them to the perfection. Similar ideas are expressed in relation to violins and other musical instruments by Mersenne in the 17th and by Nassarre in the 18th century.
The first Italian treatise on violin making was written by Antonio Bagatella and published in 1782. It proves that the ideas of Vitruvius, Alberti, Mersenne and Nassarre had been forgotten by the end of the 18th century, even in Italy. Violin makers in the 19th-20th centuries were mainly making copies of instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the beginning of an inevitable decline: the art of violin making became an mere trade, and even worse -it lost its former link to the art and ideas that gave birth to the violin.
Great artists past and present have always been aware of the roots of their art, which enabled them to grow new ideas. Leonardo da Vinci said that the art of paining declines and dies when painters have no other source of inspiration than existing earlier paintings. He rejected the norm of his time, which was the copyist approach, conforming to the strict canons of earlier centuries. We see the same trend in contemporary violin making, where making copies is the norm, and making originals, the exception.
I have dedicated my life to the study of the violin’s early history. I study the principles of violin design, the evolution of the violin resulting from the development of the repertoire and playing techniques.
It is a story of compelling beauty and power, in which I try to find my own place
as violin maker.