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The Piedmont School of Violin-Making

From the Guadagninis to Pressenda and Rocca

When you think of Piedmont, Italy the first thing that comes to mind is most likely wine. Yes, Piedmont is a wine region, but it was also home to an important tradition of violin-making. The Piedmont school can be divided into three distinct periods, beginning in 1630 with the most important maker of his time: Chioffredo Cappa.

The Guadagnini family dominates the second period. Giovanni Battista Guadagnini arrived in the region in 1771 and introduced violin-making in the Lombard manner. His family, including grandson Antonio Guadagnini, continued making violins until around 1881.

Antonio Guadagnini had numerous employees, and the third period began when these makers struck out on their own after his death. Many more violin makers also entered this growing market, including three of the finest 19th century violin makers: Giovanni Franciscus Pressenda, Giuseppe Rocca, and Marengo Romano Rinaldi.

These makers rose to prominence against a background of civil unrest as the European nations of Spain, Austria, Italy, and France struggled for dominance. Pressenda was born in 1777 into a poor family and drifted during his early years. He spent the French annexation period working as a common laborer in Carmagnola. He began working for Leté-Pillement after his arrival in Turin, and ultimately opened his own shop. Pressenda violins are clean, refined, strikingly handsome, and highly original.

A student of Pressenda, Giuseppe Rocca was born in Barbaresco, Alba in 1807, Rocca started working with Pressenda in 1830. In 1838-39, he began to label his own instruments. Since Pressenda still dominated the local market, Rocca had to promote his own work farther afold in Italy and abroad. In 1851 he decided to move to Genoa, but he returned to Turin six years later.

Rocca used his teacher’s models and forms at first, but later came to rely almost exclusively on just two models, a Stradivari and a Guarneri. Rocca undoubtedly studied these great masters of Cremona carefully. He changed his process to use an outside rather than an inside mold, deviating from his teacher’s methods; he also created a lower, more graceful arching, and his edging has a strong French influence.

Rocca’s instruments, especially those made during the Turin period, have a fantastic reputation; experts and players alike recognize their substantial quality.

The November Fine Musical Instruments auction at Skinner in Boston features a Rocca cello that is a wonderful example of his work. The instrument has a rich, transparent, light ruby red-brown varnish of a wonderful quality. A remarkable free, clear, and penetrating tone quality makes this a very desirable solo instrument.The cello comes with a certificate issued in 1976 by a member of de l’Entente Internationale des Maitres: P. Bänziger & Co., Zürich.

Next time you think of Piedmont, perhaps wine will not be the only thing to come to mind. Fine violins and cellos by makers such as Pressenda and Rocca are noteworthy “fruits” of this region as well.

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  1. Pingback: Fine Violins, Violas, Cellos & Bows | Guitars & Woodwinds | Skinner Auction | Skinner Inc.

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