In the summer of 2008, my family and I took a trip to Europe. As a classical violinist, I was so excited to see places that were so rich in culture and full of musical history. The highlight of the trip for me was a day visit to Cremona, Italy. Cremona is home to some of the world’s greatest violin makers, or “luthiers”. It is also the birthplace of Antonio Stradavari, arguably the best luthier in all of history, as well as the Amati family, and the del Gesu family. Although these great violin-makers died almost three-hundred years ago, the tradition of making great instruments has lived on. When you walk on the sunny, quaint cobblestones of Cremona, you can feel the musical history all around you. There are streets dedicated to the workshops of violin makers, who come from all around the world to work in this great place. For violinists, Cremona is perhaps the most significant city in the world. It is where the art of violin-making was perfected; interestingly enough the same formula has not changed in the almost three hundred years since Stradavari died!
For the most part, modern-day luthiers and workshops use a “Stradavarius”, “Guarneri del Gesu”, or “Amati” mold when constructing their own instruments. When we visited Cremona, we drove a rental car from Tereglio, a small town that we were staying in, to the middle of the city. The historical significance of the place was obvious; like most old cities in Italy it was full of beautiful old buildings, churches, and plazas, but it also had many references to the great Stradavari. Although his house burned down many years ago, there are streets named after him and his contemporaries, and there is a museum with actual artifacts from his workshop! I visited the museum, as well as the town hall. The museum in the town hall was something I was lucky enough to discover in the book “Stradavari’s Genius,” by Toby Faber.
It is not advertised that in the town hall (which was under construction when I visited), there is a room that contains many authentic instruments made by Stradavari, the del Gesu family, and the Amati family. In the “Stradavarius Museum”, there were the aforementioned artifacts from his workshop, and collection of other fine instruments made by modern-day Cremonese luthiers, but no actual Stradavari violins. I was eager to see them in person (I only wish I had been allowed to play them!), so my family and I made the short trip by foot to the town hall, where a guard escorted us to a small room full of glass cases. Inside those cases were the genuine instruments! They were almost all in perfect condition. It was a moment I will never forget; it was so inspiring that it was encouragement to practice my own violin as much as possible. That trip to Cremona was only one small part of our visit to Europe, but it meant more to me than anything else we saw. When I head off to a music conservatory in the fall, I will still carry that inspiration with me.
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