Antonio Stradivari, 1644 – 18 December 1737) was an Italian luthier and a crafter of string instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars, violas, and harps. Stradivari is generally considered the most significant and greatest artisan in this field.
The Latinized form of his surname, Stradivarius, as well as the colloquial, "Strad", is often used to refer to his instruments. It is estimated that he made 1,000 to 1,100 instruments and that around 650 of these instruments survive, including 450 to 512 violins.
Stradivari's ancestry consisted of notable citizens of Cremona, dating back to at least the 12th or 13th century. The earliest mention of the family name, or a variation upon it, is in a land grant dating from 1188. The origin of the name itself has several possible explanations; some sources say it is the plural of Stradivare, essentially meaning "toll-man" in Lombard, while others say that the form "de Strataverta" derives from Strada averta, which, in Cremonese dialect means "open road."
Antonio's parents were Alessandro Stradivari, son of Giulio Cesare Stradivari, and Anna Moroni, daughter of Leonardo Moroni. They married on 30 August 1622, and had at least three children between 1623 and 1628: Giuseppe Giulia Cesare, Carlo Felice, and Giovanni Battista. The baptismal records of the parish of S. Prospero then stop, and it is unknown whether they had any children from 1628 to 1644. This blank in the records may be due to the family leaving Cremona in response to war, famine, and plague in the city from 1628 to 1630, or the records may have been lost due to clerical reforms imposed by Joseph II of Austria in 1788. The latter explanation is supported by the word Cremonensis (of Cremona) on many of Stradivari's labels, which suggests that he was born in the city instead of merely moving back there to work. Antonio was born in 1644, a fact deducible from later violins. However, there are no records or information available on his early childhood, and the first evidence of his presence in Cremona is the label of his oldest surviving violin from 1666.
Stradivari likely began an apprenticeship with Nicolò Amati between the ages of 12 and 14, although a minor debate surrounds this fact. One of the few pieces of evidence supporting this is the label of his 1666 violin, which reads, "Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666." However, Stradivari did not repeatedly put Amati's name on his labels, unlike many of his other students. Stradivari's early violins actually bear less of a resemblance to those of Amati than his later instruments do. M. Chanot-Chardon, a well-known French luthier, asserted that his father had a label of Stradivari's stating, "Made at the age of thirteen, in the workshop of Nicolò Amati". This label has never been found or confirmed. Amati would also have been a logical choice for Antonio's parents, as he represented an old family of violin makers in Cremona, and was far superior to most other luthiers in Italy.
An alternative theory is that Stradivari started out as a woodworker: the house he lived in from 1667 to 1680 was owned by Francesco Pescaroli, a woodcarver and inlayer. Stradivari may even have been employed to decorate some of Amati's instruments, without being a true apprentice. This theory is supported by some of Stradivari's later violins, which have elaborate decorations and purfling.
Assuming that Stradivari was a student of Amati, he would have begun his apprenticeship in 1656–58 and produced his first decent instruments in 1660, at the age of 16. His first labels were printed from 1660 to 1665, which indicates that his work had reached a quality sufficiently high enough for him to offer it directly to his patrons. However, he probably stayed in Amati's workshop until about 1684, so as to use his master's reputation as a launching point for his career.
Marriage and early career
Stradivari married his first wife, Francesca Feraboschi, on 4 July 1667. Francesca was the young widow of the burgher Giacomo Capra, with whom she had two children, and who had been shot by Francesca's brother on the Piazza Garibaldi (formerly the Piazza Santa Agata). After their marriage, Stradivari moved into a house known as the Casa del Pescatore, or the Casa Nuziale, in his wife's parish. The couple had a daughter, Giulia Maria, three to four months later. They remained in this house until 1680, during which time they had four more children: Catterina, Francesco, Alessandro, and Omobono Stradivari, as well as an infant son who lived for only a week.
Stradivari likely developed his own style slowly. His violins often used slightly smaller dimensions. A notable exception to this is the 1697 Hellier violin, which had much larger proportions. Stradivari's early (pre-1684) violins are in strong contrast to Amati's instruments from the same time period; Stradivari's have a stronger, more masculine build, and less rounded curves, with the purfling set farther in.
By 1680, Stradivari had acquired at least a small, yet growing, reputation. In 1682, a Venetian banker ordered a complete set of instruments, which he planned to present to King James II of England. The fate of these instruments is unknown. Cosimo de' Medici bought another five years later. Amati died in 1684, an event followed by a noticeable increase in Stradivari's production. The years 1684 and 1685 also marked an important development in his style – the dimensions he used generally increased, and his instruments were more in the style of Amati's work of the 1640s and 1650s. Stradivari's instruments underwent no major change in the next five years, although in 1688 he began cutting a more distinct bevel and began outlining the heads of instruments in black, a quite original improvement.
Stradivari's early career is marked by wide experimentation, and his instruments during this period are generally considered of a lesser quality than his later work. However, the precision with which he carved the heads and inserted the purfling quickly marked him as one of the most dextrous craftsmen in the world, a prime example of this being the 1690 "Tuscan" violin. Pre-1690 instruments are sometimes termed "Amatisé" but this is not completely accurate; it is largely because Stradivari created many more instruments later on that people try to connect his early work with Amati's style.
Stradivari moved out of the Casa Nuziale by 1680, and purchased a house now known as No. 1 Piazza Roma (formally No. 2 Piazza San Domenico). The house was just doors away from those of several other violin making families of Cremona, including the Amatis and Guarneris. Stradivari probably worked in the loft and attic, and he stayed in this house for the rest of his life. Stradivari's wife Francesca died on 20 May 1698, and received an elaborate funeral five days later.
"Golden" period and later years
In the early 1690s, Stradivari made a pronounced departure from this earlier style of instrument-making, changing two key elements of his instruments. First, he began to make violins with a larger pattern than previous instruments, which are usually dubbed "Long Strads". He also switched to using a darker, richer varnish, as opposed to a yellower varnish similar to that used by Amati. He continued to use this pattern until 1698, with few exceptions. After 1698, he abandoned the Long Strad model and returned to a slightly shorter model, which he used until his death. The period from 1700 until the 1720s is often termed the "golden period" of his production. Instruments made during this time are usually considered of a higher quality than his earlier instruments. Late-period instruments made from the late 1720s until his death in 1737 show signs of Stradivari's advancing age. These late instruments may be a bit less beautiful than the Golden Period instruments, but many nonetheless possess a fine tone.
Stradivari married his second wife, Zambelli Costa, on 24 August 1699. They had five children from 1700 to 1708—Francesca Maria, Giovanni Battista Giuseppe, Giovanni Battista Martino, Giuseppe Antonio, and Paolo. About 93 years old, Stradivari died on 18 December 1737. He is buried in the Church of San Domenico.
Stradivari's instruments are regarded as amongst the finest bowed stringed instruments ever created, are highly prized, and are still played by professionals today. Only one other maker, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, commands a similar respect among violinists. However, neither blind listening tests nor acoustic analysis have ever demonstrated that Stradivarius instruments are better than other high-quality instruments or even reliably distinguishable from them.
Fashions in music, as in other things, have changed over the centuries, and the supremacy of Stradivari's and Guarneri's instruments is accepted only today. In the past, instruments by Nicolò Amati and Jacob Stainer were preferred for their subtle sweetness of tone.
While the usual label for a Stradivarius instrument, whether genuine or false, uses the traditional Latin inscription, after the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, copies were also inscribed with the country of origin. Since thousands of instruments are based on Stradivari's models and bear the same name as his models, many unwary people are deceived into purchasing forged Stradivarius instruments, which can be avoided by having an instrument authenticated.
Some violinists and cellists use Stradivari instruments in their work. Yo-Yo Ma currently uses the Davidov Stradivarius, Julian Lloyd Webber employs the Barjansky Stradivarius, and, until his death in 2007, Mstislav Rostropovich played on the Duport Stradivarius. The Soil of 1714 is owned by virtuoso Itzhak Perlman. The Countess Polignac is currently played by Gil Shaham. The Vienna Philharmonic uses several Stradivari instruments that were purchased by the National Bank of Austria and other sponsors: Chaconne, 1725; ex-Hämmerle, 1709; ex-Smith-Quersin, 1714; ex-Arnold Rosé, ex-Viotti, 1718; and ex-Halphen, 1727.
The London sales of The Mendelssohn at £902,000 ($1,776,940) in 1990 and The Kreutzer for £947,500 in 1998 constitute two top-selling Stradivari. A record price paid at a public auction for a Stradivari was $2,032,000 for the Lady Tennant at Christie's in New York, April 2005. On 16 May 2006, Christie's auctioned Stradivari's 1707 Hammer for a new record of US$3,544,000. On 2 April 2007, Christie's sold a Stradivari violin, the 1729 Solomon, Ex-Lambert, for more than $2.7 million to an anonymous bidder in the auction house's fine musical instruments sale. Its price, US$2,728,000 including the Christie's commission, far outdid its estimated value: $1 million to $1.5 million. On 14 October 2010, a 1697 Stradivari violin known as "The Molitor" was sold online by Tarisio Auctions for a world-record price of $3,600,000 to renowned concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers: at the time it price was the highest for any musical instrument sold at auction. On 21 June 2011, a 1721 Stradivari violin known as "Lady Blunt" was auctioned by Tarisio to an anonymous bidder for £9,808,000 with all proceeds going to help the victims of the Japan earthquake. This was over four times the previous auction record for a Stradivari violin. The c. 1705 Baron von der Leyen Strad was auctioned by Tarisio on April 26, 2012, for $2.6 million.
Publicly displayed collections of Stradivari instruments are those of the Library of Congress with three violins, a viola, and a cello, the Agency of National Estates of Spain, with a quartet of two violins, the Spanish I and II, the Spanish Court cello, and the Spanish Court viola, exhibited in the Music Museum at the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid]] and the Royal Academy of Music's Collections with several instruments by Antonio Stradivari, including the Joachim (1698), Rutson (1694), the Crespi (1699), Viotti ex-Bruce (1709), Kustendyke (1699), Maurin (1718) and the Ex Back (1666) violins, Ex Kux (1714), and the Archinto (1696) violas, the Marquis de Corberon (1726) and the Markevitch (1709) celli. The Musée de la musique in Paris displays several beautiful Stradivari instruments that formerly belonged to the Paris Conservatory.
The collection of The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra had the largest number of Stradivari in its string section, purchased in 2003 from the collection of Herbert R. Axelrod, until it recentlydecided to sell them off. A collection assembled by Rodman Wanamaker in the 1920s contained as many as 65 stringed instruments by such masters as Stradivari, Gofriller, Baptiste and Giuseppe Guarneri. Included was The Swan, the last violin made by Stradivari, and soloist instrument of the great Cuban 19th-century virtuoso Joseph White. The collection, known as The Cappella, was used in concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski before being dispersed after Wanamaker's death. The Vienna Philharmonic uses four violins and one cello. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has three Stradivari violins dated 1693, 1694 and 1717. The National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota, has in its collection one of two known Stradivari guitars, one of eleven known viola da gambas, later modified into a cello form, one of two known choral mandolins, and one of six Stradivari violins that still retain their original neck. In the interests of conservation, the Messiah Stradivarius violin—on display in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England—has not been played at all in recent years.
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