Except for people like me, who immediately think of Monteverdi, the Italian town of Cremona is best known for its long tradition as a violin-making town.
It was the home of Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), maker of the famous Stradivarius violins. His statue appropriately shows him passing on his violin-making knowledge and skills to the next generation, which is what violin makers have been doing in Cremona for well over four hundred years now.
I learned that violin making was started in the 16th century by a man named Andrea Amati, who is considered the inventor of the violin. Amati’s sons and grandson continued the tradition, and the grandson Nicolò Amati was (probably) the teacher of the greatest of them all, Antonio Stradivari, who in his long life made vast numbers of violins, violas and cellos.
Stradivari is said to have built over 1,100 instruments, of which 650 still exist today. No one knows exactly why his violins sound so wonderful. The quality of the wood? The shape of the instrument? The thickness of the wooden plates in the belly and the back of the instrument? The varnish of the wood? One theory is that the wood he and his contemporaries used was particularly dense because his lifetime coincided with the “Little Ice Age”, when temperatures throughout Europe were unusually low. This caused the trees to grow slower and produce unusually dense wood. Whatever the reasons, his Stradivarius violins are still considered to be among the finest ever made. In 2006 one of them was sold in an auction for over three and a half million dollars.
Even now there are numerous violin makers in Cremona. The signs pointing to their workshops include the English translation, “Violin Maker,” in case prospective buyers don’t know what liutaio means.
Here are some locally-made violins (but not very expensive ones!) on display in a window at the Tourist Information office.
Cremona’s main theater is named after the opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli (1834 – 1886). Ponchielli was born near Cremona at a place which is now called Paderno Ponchielli in his honor. After his studies at the Milan Conservatory he worked for a while as an organist in Cremona. He wrote about a dozen operas, but the one that made him world famous was La Gioconda, which was introduced at La Scala in Milan on April 8, 1876. This opera was a huge success at its premiere and it quickly became a popular opera throughout Europe. Today La Gioconda is the only one of Ponchielli’s operas which is still performed at all regularly. I’ve never seen it on the stage, but I once attended a concert performance of it at the Old Opera (Alte Oper) in Frankfurt am Main.
My photos in this post are from 2008. The text was last revised in 2017.
My next post: Monteverdi in Cremona (coming soon)