Art and Science
Learn to make easy things perfectly,
that way you can make difficult things easily
Natural materials, the sciences and the arts, particularly paintings, have always held a strong fascination for me.
Prior studies in design and painting have heightened my understanding of the relationships between lines, form and colour, leading to a deeper appreciation of the harmony between them.
My encounter with the craft of violin making was a revelation. I discovered something that synthesized my passion for the sciences and the arts.
Bowed instruments are without question the result of a fusion of theoretical knowledge and considerable manual dexterity: design, painting, chemistry, architecture, an understanding of the technology of materials, the physics of acoustics, the sculpting of wood, experience, a knowledge of the history of the Medieval world, the Renaissance and Baroque period, and a thorough acquaintance of the social theory, tastes and music techniques of the time all play their part.
This vast bank of knowledge has been enhanced by a decade of experience in restoration work and studies at the Conservatorio. All this, together with my deep and unrelenting desire to improve, enables me to craft bowed instruments of exceptional quality.
The sound, the very soul of an instrument
I am convinced that in order to make a high quality instrument the violin maker must achieve certain essential tonal characteristics that should not be overlooked during the construction phase. These attributes include acoustic power, projection, focus, a wide dynamic range, the capacity for the instrument to speak with ease, purity of sound, comfort, a wide variety of nuances and balance. The maker can express a more personal preference for the tonal quality of her instrument, opting for either richness or brilliance, and the vigour of the sound on the strings and under the bow.
From the very outset a fine instrument must, without question, possess the acoustic potential described above, allowing it to mellow into maturity within a matter of months.
The early growth development of an instrument is crucially important. It is during this phase that sound post adjustments to determine the desired location of the post should be performed on an on-going and regular basis.
An instrument needs time to adapt to the pressure caused by the bridge, the tension in the strings and the demands made upon it by its player. The positioning of the sound post should be periodically reviewed as the instrumentís sound develops in order to promote a more rapid growth.
Meticulous sound optimization facilitates monitoring the evolution of an instrumentís sound and is crucially important in realizing its full acoustic and dynamic potential, thereby gradually adapting it to the musicianís personal preferences and requirements.
My long experience in the fields of restoration and sound adjustment together with my ability to play the violin, viola and cello at a professional level are essential in achieving successful and accurate sound optimization.
Creating beauty with only the best materials: wood and varnish
Experience has taught me that a true work of art can only be made using the finest materials available. One cannot aspire to excellence and deceive oneself into thinking it is possible to attain perfection armed with a superficial knowledge and poor quality materials.
A judicious selection of the best materials is of fundamental importance in accomplishing an exceptional end result.
Evaluating the acoustic potential of the wood is a key concern: it should be free from blemishes, have an optimal density, be correctly cut and perfectly seasoned for a minimum of ten years, be able to transmit sound efficiently, have a natural lustre and beautiful colouring. These are the primary parameters dictating which wood I choose to work with in my atelier.
I only use the most exquisite, superior quality wood of intrinsic beauty, in particular Balkan slow growing flamed maple and structurally perfect spruce endowed with exceptional tonal quality from the Italian Dolomites.
The wood I chose to purchase and subsequently work with is seasoned naturally under my supervision in specially appointed temperature and humidity controlled lofts to bring out the best in its inherent acoustic quality.
I undertake a further and meticulous selection process at the design stage: the combination of maple and spruce is of crucial importance, particularly in terms of the acoustic potential and sound quality I aspire to achieve. I handpick my wood for each instrument I make, my decision being based upon the model and the individual preferences of my clients.
The varnish is applied after the violin has been made.
Having studied the varnishes of certain old Masters, in addition to attending courses on the optical effects of varnish and seminars on the Theory of colour, I have become hugely inspired by the latest work of the distinguished painter and chemist FranÁois Perego who has carried out in-depth research into the oil varnishes of the 17th and 18th centuries.
This is how I came to develop my very own varnish recipes made from nothing other than natural ingredients (resin, pigments, oils and solvents).
I prepare the oil varnish which I then colour with madder lake which is an extract of the root of this plant that grows wild, thereby following the ancient methods used in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
My working entirely with organic, as opposed to chemical, materials (wood, oil and roots) which vary slightly with each instrument facilitates subtle gradations in colour and intensity to change the end result quite dramatically.
This is a delicate stage in the procedure: even the finest unvarnished violin can be ruined forever by a faulty application. A meticulously applied varnish can strengthen tonal quality and enhance its unique beauty by giving luminescence and vitality to the underlying wood.
Having prepared the wood by applying the ground which preserves its integrity over time, I apply several layers of colour through a painstaking and systematic process of varnishing and drying. This procedure which has remained the same throughout the centuries and which can last several days, cannot be rushed. Patience is a prerequisite virtue in the creation of an instrument.
Each instrument is unique and impossible to replicate because of its inimitable combination of maple and spruce, its matchless tonal quality and the exclusive visual effect of the varnish.
The art of creating sound
The creation of any superior instrument is the result of carefully planned work, it doesnít simply happen by chance. A passionate commitment and an unfaltering desire to improve will yield superb results.
Unlike the inherent characteristics of an instrumentís manifold acoustic qualities, some of its aesthetic characteristics are subject to the preferences of the individual violin maker or future owner, such as the model, finish, luminosity of the wood, colour of the varnish and quality of antique finish.
Working "to order" is a challenge I relish, as the instrument is a fusion of the playerís requirements and preferences and my craftsmanship. The initial discussion between player and maker is of fundamental importance, this is when every single aspect of the instrument to be made must be considered and defined, such as the model, measurements, colour of varnish, finish, timbre and colour of the sound.
Only when I am fully aware of the preferences and expectations of the musician do I begin my scrupulous groundwork on the various aspects of the instrumentís design, enabling me to create a piece of quality craftsmanship that is acoustically appealing and of aesthetic value and interest.
The richness and acoustic variety of my violins marries with the elegance, aesthetics and physical beauty, and this is the secret behind their success in all corners of the globe.
A copy is like a bridge that connects the past with the future
Show respect for what is ancient, but embrace what is modern with all your heart.
Robert A. Schumann
Early on in my career I would often question the feasibility of combining tradition with innovation. Could I really satisfy the latest requirements, develop new models and create increasingly innovative designs without turning my back on centuries old traditions?
Well, over the years I have become increasingly convinced that a deep knowledge of the past is the key to progress and evolution. An awareness of our heritage and an understanding of the advances that have been made over the centuries means we are better not only at understanding the present and imagining the future but also better equipped to forge a way forward.
Studying an old instrument and then making a copy inspires me to deepen my knowledge of traditional violin making techniques, materials, tools, methods and origins, and gain greater insight into the reasons why certain architectural and aesthetic choices were made and their evolution over the centuries. In my mind if one aims at excellence one should have absorbed this impressive bank of knowledge, possess great manual dexterity and demonstrable technical mastery, have access to materials of the highest quality and an innate and steadfast desire to improve.
This vast bank of knowledge is an essential prerequisite in creating a harmonious, perceptive and visually alluring instrument that belies the intricate and demanding work of the craftsman.
A violin maker, much like a ballerina or musician, should express naturalness and spontaneity in her work.
I aspire to recreate this simplicity by making a bridge that spans the old and new, the antique and modern, and tradition and innovation.
Ancient Techniques, modern technology
Some of the recent discoveries in acoustics have helped us enormously in understanding the complex phenomena governing the sound production of bowed instruments, giving violin makers much food for thought.
At the same time history teaches us that the great Italian Classic Violin Makers crafted superb instruments without the help of the vast array of technology we have available to us today, proving that high quality instruments can be made without the aid of computers.
I choose to follow in the footsteps of the classic violin makers of old, preferring a more artisan approach.
I am convinced that experience, sensitivity, a fine ear and instinct all play a fundamental role which cannot compare with what technology can provide, nor can even the most precision-driven software be a substitute for traditional craftsmanship.
Pianists know this all too well as they would much rather have their pianos tuned by human ear rather than by electronic devices.
Yet even though my construction methods owe much to tradition, I feel it unwise to wilfully turn my back on what the latest research and modern technology can offer to the violin makers of today.
I avail myself of a small selection of acoustic equipment in my atelier to help me prove the soundness of my craftsmanship and create a data archive whose criteria remain the same and are subsequently analyzed and studied.
I firmly believe that sharing information with colleagues, experts and musicians plays a vital role in nurturing talent and making progress. A healthy exchange stimulates thought, kindles enthusiasm for research, encourages mutual development and promotes consistent development.
I work together with my colleagues and research teams with much enthusiasm. I regularly attend courses, conventions and conferences and take an active interest in exhibitions of old instruments staged both in Italy and abroad.
I am most interested in what the latest research in acoustics, history and technology has to offer which I believe are crucially important in strengthening ones ideas and are a vehicle for promoting fresh inspiration.
So, again a knowledge of the past and present is the cornerstone upon which to build and which enables us to aspire to making instruments of the finest quality.