The Bergonzi Family of Luthiers
Carlo Bergonzi’s contributions to the world of violin-making continue to be celebrated and revered. The Bergonzi family had a long tradition of crafting stringed instruments, and they are considered the last mastermakers of the golden period of violin making in Cremona. Bergonzi’s early violins closely resemble those of his master Rugeri, but the instruments he made later on show a considerable influence from Guarneri’ del Gesù’ and Antonio Stradivari. This is especially true after 1746 when the Bergonzi family resided in the Casa Stradivari in Cremona. During this period, Carlo Bergonzi devoted his skills to completing instruments left unfinished by Stradivari.
The Bergonzi Legacy
Born in Cremona in 1683, Carlo Bergonzi was the son of a baker with no obvious connection to violin making. It is believed that Bergonzi studied under the apprenticeship of Rugeri, although not much is known of his luthier beginnings. He eventually moved into Stradivari’s home after the master’s death and even completed some of his unfinished works. Bergonzi’s sons, Michele Angelo and Zosimo followed in his steps but were unable to have the same success as their father, partly due to the decrease in demand for stringed instruments in Cremona.
The contributions made by the Bergonzi family to the world of stringed instruments are extremely important as they coincide with the greatest season of Cremonese violin making. Carlo Bergonzi is the founder of the last dynasty of great luthiers of this period. Not only was he a master maker in his own right, refined, sensitive, and an intelligent experimenter and artist, but the fact that he and his sons completed many of Stradivari’s unfinished works makes their contributions even more important.
Bergonzi Violins: Craftsmanship
Although Carlo Bergonzi most likely studied in the workshop of Rugeri and was highly influenced by his style, some of his finest instruments coincide with a period described as the most artistically fruitful of Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ and the last years of the life of Antonio Stradivari. Nonetheless, his instruments retain a strong individuality as does the varnish applied to them, this can sometimes make them look darker than those of Stradivari and ‘del Gesù’. His instruments have a rich, beautiful tone as well as elegant and precise forms.
The Craftsmanship That Sets Bergonzi Violins Apart
Bergonzi’s unique style of violins features a long, slender body with a slightly flatter arching, which some believe contributes to the instrument’s powerful, focused, and resonant tone. Their characteristic response lies somewhere between a Stradivari and a ‘del Gesù’ by players. To this day, Bergonzi violins are highly regarded and sought-after by musicians and collectors alike, and his contributions definitely add to the rich heritage of Italian violin-making, emphasizing the uniqueness and timeless appeal of these masterpieces.
Collecting Bergonzi Violins
If you are considering investing in a fine violin like a Bergonzi, you must keep in mind that these kinds of instruments are extremely rare and have been coveted by leading musicians and collectors for over two hundred years. These days, there is an increasing worldwide demand for fine instruments, with the trend of ownership shifting from musicians to collectors and investors, making the violin market more efficient than ever before.
When evaluating which fine violin is the best fit for you, consider that not all violins made by a particular maker command the same price. This will depend on the period of the maker’s career in which they were made, as well as any historical significance associated with them (if they were played by a famous musician, owned by a famous person, etc). Condition is another important factor, and skillful restoration may disguise flaws or underlying damage that may affect value. That is why an evaluation by an independent expert is advised. Finally, the sound of each instrument will vary, so make sure to test them out before buying them. If you are not an expert player, ask someone who is to test them for you.
Once you have found the perfect violin for you, you must make sure to take proper care of it. Older instruments may be more sensitive to weather changes, especially humidity. That is why it is very important to maintain appropriate humidity levels around these instruments between 50% and 60% to avoid damage. An antique violin will also need more regular checkups by an expert luthier. Just like an antique car, these kinds of instruments must be regularly checked to ensure they play at their best and do not get damaged.
Notable Bergonzi Violins
Some of Bergonzi’s most famous violins in history are:
The Baron Knoop violin, made in 1735
The Kreisler Bergonzi violin, made in 1733-35.
The Baron Knoop violin has a soundboard of spruce with a narrow vein, which widens towards the flanks. The back is made of two pieces of curly maple with an irregular curl. The ribs are made of curly maple with a medium curl and it has a golden brown varnish. The violin is named after Baron Johann Knoop, a famous collector of musical instruments who possessed a total of 29 great violins, violas and cellos including several Stradivari’s.
The Kreisler violin is one of Bergonzi’s finest violins, which was initially attributed to Antonio Stradivari. It was made between 1733 and 1735 and can be traced back to the collection of Count Cozio di Salabue. It is one of the only two surviving Bergonzis that retains its original neck with abundant and unspoiled varnish. It was named after violinist Fritz Kreisler and was subsequently owned by Cuban violinist Angel Reyes.