<< -- 3 -- Tess Crebbin THE MIGHTY VENETIAN
TC: Great, we'll look forward to that. Can you tell me what is so special about Montagnana's instruments and what, in your opinion, sets them apart?
CB: You have to take it in context with all the other Venice makers. In actuality, no cellos or violins were made very much before the 1680s there. They preferred their own lyras and viols in the 16th century, when all the violin making started in Cremona and elsewhere. Mattheo Gofriller started in the 1680s and in 1710 he was still the only good maker there, in my opinion. So he had all the business and made lots of cellos.
TC: Montagnana was a student of his, is that correct?
CB: We can't be 100% certain but he must have been either a direct student of his or have taken a close look at what Gofriller was doing. As you know, he was a shoemaker before he became a violin maker and opened his shop in 1712. We know he had a commercial shop because he paid taxes -- therefore he had an establishment. So he was really making a lot of instruments by the 1720s but not so many before then. By that time, of course, he was good friends with Pietro Guarneri from Cremona who had run away to Venice and was making instruments as well. I am quite sure that the combination of Gofriller's Venetian style and the Cremonese school of Guarneri was definitely beneficial to the high quality of Montagnana's instruments.
TC: How did that affect the style of his cellos?
CB: He developed patterns of cello that were extremely successful. They had the width of the big 17th century cellos but not the length. Because they are so wide, they have a good airspace. Players love them because you can dig into the sound and project in a way that is quite different from a Stradivari cello for instance. A Montagnana cello is as different from a Strad cello as a Strad violin is from a Guarneri del Gesu violin. I am saying this to make the point that Montagnana has become for cellists what Guarneri has for violinists.
Charles Beare with a genuine Montagnana violin. Photo © 2006 Philip Crebbin
TC: Can you elaborate, please?
CB: If you really want to hit the bow hard on the instrument while playing, then sound will continue to come out with a Montagnana. With a Stradivari, on the other hand, you have to coax it out.
Copyright © 7 March 2006
Tess Crebbin, Germany