You might have guessed that I'm pretty excited about my violin. Of course, all violins are beautiful, but how many are older than Mozart? Here are some pictures.
It's really tricky getting a picture of the label inside. The one I have is stitched together from three separate photos. I've transcribed it below. The translation is approximate -- after all I don't speak Italian!
Carlo Antonio Testore figlio maggiore|
del su Carlo Giuseppe in Contrada
larga al segno dell'Aquila. 1738
Carlo Antonio Testore, older son|
of Carlo Giuseppe, in Contrada
at the sign of the eagle. 1738
My teacher's father-in-law, Lewis Main, sold me the instrument. He told me its history, or at least as much as was known. Thomas Metzler helped confirm the likelihood of the story, as well. First, there is always doubt as to the authenticity: it was common for copiers to slap famous makers' labels on their own instruments, especially in Milan during that time. Carlo Giuseppe Testore (c. 1660-1716) was a very well-known Milanese maker, contemporary with Amati and Guarnieri. His son, Carlo Antonio (1693-1765), was more prolific, and apparently known for the peculiarly sloppy purfling that mine displays -- that's the double black line running around the margin of the front and back -- so Metzler was pretty convinced it is real. I think the F-holes are sort of like fingerprints, as well: each maker (or at least family) used a design subtly different from everyone else. (The date, incidentally, was never in question.)
After Milan, little detailed history is known up until it wound up in Lewis Main's hands in the 1900's. During those 150 years a number of changes were made. You can easily see on the close-up that the shape of the bouts was changed a little (those are the big C-shaped cuts in the side). Open bouts were typical of the Milanese school of the time. I don't know how common it was to change such things.
Also Main and Metzler both told me that it had been reduced in size, by taking a thin vertical strip out of the back and front, making it slightly narrower. This, fortuitously for me, dramatically reduces the value of the instrument, without affecting the sound quality. I'm told that it was common for female violinists in the 1800's to have their instruments reduced like this, although there is no definite record of it being done to mine.
And finally, the chinrest, pegs, and tailpiece, are all most likely newer than the rest of the body. Maybe even the fingerboard, too.
Recently, most likely due to some 20 years of heavy use and changing humidity and temperature, several old cracks in the front opened up. I just had the entire thing taken apart, fixed, and reassembled. (Sounds pretty traumatic, doesn't it?? Almost indecent, even: "You want me to do what? to this 265-year old violin! Take it apart?!") I was blown away by how much a difference the repairs made in its playing qualities. How often can you say "it's my violin's fault, not mine" and actually be correct!