This is a rare and interesting Genoese violin from the mid 1700s in a wonderful state of preservation and with an outstanding tone. The head is probably not original to the violin.

Genoa was quite an important centre of violin-making in the mid 18th century, with makers like Paolo Castello, Bernardo Calcagni, Davide Pizzurno, Cavaleri and Molia all working in the same small neigbourhood. Numerous other makers were employed in these workshops, many coming from Füssen.

Calcagni, also known as Calcanius, is the best known of these makers, and this violin betrays its origins through the varnish and edgework, as well as the inner work.

As the accompanying documentation attests, in 1917 this violin was certified as a Calcagni by no less an expert than Joseph Chanot. And while it seems safer to describe it as Calcagni workshop, he was correct to see the violin as Genoese, and very accurate in his dating – a recent dendro analysis by Peter Ratcliff reveals a latest year date of 1742!

The construction is quite idiosyncratic and yet very stylish – one piece front, broad yet narrow-waisted, big corners, the purfling set well in from the very flat edges. The lower wings of the f-holes appear to have been altered, presumably to make the violin look more Brescian.

Apart from this modification and the replacement pegbox/scroll, the condition is pretty spectacular – there are no voice cracks, not even a table post patch, the edges and corners are in generally excellent condition, and the original varnish is beautifully preserved. There is a small amount of half-edging in the upper left shoulder and there’s a small insert in the bottom rib around the tailpin, but for a violin of this age the state of preservation is remarkable. At some point in the violin’s past someone tried to make the table grain look more ‘2-piece’ by etching fake grain lines on the right hand side. Probably this was done by the same person who ‘improved’ the f-holes! We have had these removed and have retouched the varnish in this area.

As mentioned in the introduction, the scroll has a new pegbox – the remaining volute is probably original but we’re not sure of this.

You could never mistake this violin for a new instrument. It has lived a number of lives already and the sound has had all its rough edges knocked off, leaving an intense and mellow core. Its charcter is unique, bold, fruity and complex. If it was a wine it would be an oaky Barolo – “opulent with silky black fruit flavours that linger on the palate”.

It has a crisp and refined E string and there’s plenty of articulation in the sound, but this intense warm midrange is the thing that stands out immediately.
While this is not the right violin if you’re planning to blast out the Bruch in front of the Berlin Phil, it’s not shy either. It would be a great instrument for chamber music, and the sound is strong enough for a small hall.

Needless to say, it’s nigh-on impossible to find a professionally made 18th century Italian violin with a good sound at this kind of price…

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