Everyone who deals in violins and bows has their little obsession, and mine is the Prague school, in particular the instruments made by Strnad and his apprentices and followers. And this particular violin is about as good as they get…
Caspar Strnad ran a busy and successful workshop in Prague in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, producing instruments of great quality for the many accomplished musicians of the city. A lot of these instruments have been passed off as Italian – the combination of exquisite tone and fine idiosyncratic workmanship makes them easy prey for reclassification!
Here we have a violin from the Strnad workshop dating from around 1800. The scroll, while made to Strnad’s model, shows the hand of Carl Schombera – since Schombera worked with Strnad only till around 1805, this helps us to date the violin. Otherwise the model is typical with those long elegant corners – the wood also highly characteristic of the Prague makers, very wide in grain.
The condition of the violin is excellent, with no significant cracks or damages – not even a post crack in the table, quite unusual for a violin of this age. There are two repaired wing cracks and a few minor edge cracks, that’s all. There has been some American style over-varnishing – some people think this is an improvement, purists are not so keen. Overall this is an unusually well preserved example of this great makers work.
It’s no wonder that so many Prague violins have “disappeared”, only to resurface with Italian labels. The fact is that if you are looking for top level sound, it’s very hard to beat the best violins from Prague and Vienna made around this time. This instrument is a perfect example, powerful, clear yet refined, beautifully balanced from bottom to top, consistent throughout the range, easy to modulate… just a great violin. It has a full and dark lower register, and the high reaches of the E are fantastic. I really can’t find any weaknesses in this violin, and I would urge any serious violinist to put their prejudices to one side and try it. It’s very rare to find Italian violins that are as consistent and as competent, and a good one from the late 1700s would cost five times as much if not more.