|Italian Violin strings... - The centres of production|
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3. The centres of production
During the eighteenth century the main centre of string production was Rome, which in 1735 boasted as many as twenty workshops (controlled by very strict statutes) (36). Roman chanterelles remained famous throughout the eighteenth century until the eventual disbanding of the powerful Roman corporation. Thereafter primacy in quality production was taken over by the accomplished string makers of Naples, closely followed by those of Padua. In 1786, the two most important Paduan workshops were those of Antonio Bagatella and the firm of "Gio. Battista, ed Antonio fratelli Priuli detto Romanin", founded in 1613 by Antonio Romanin, a string maker possibly of Roman origin, and closed down in 1911 (37).
De Lalande wrote that: "La fabrication des cordes de violon est une chose qui est presque réservée a 1'Italie; Naples & Rome en fournissent toute 1'Europe, & il y a touiours beaucoup de mystère dans ces branches exclusives de commerce" (The making of violin strings is a phenomenon that is almost completely restricted to Italy, with Naples and Rome supplying the whole of Europe and there is always a great mystery surrounding these exclusive branches of trade) (38). Galeazzi gives the following indication: "Veniamo finalmente alle corde: devonsi provvedere le corde alle migliori fabbriche d'ltalia; quali sono quelle di Padova, di Napoli, di Roma, di Budrio sul Bolognese, e delI'Aquila nell’Abbruzzo. Vi sono ancora altre fabbriche in Citta di Castello, Perugia, Rieti, Teramo, ed altri luoghi; ma le prime portano il vanto, specialmente quelle di Padova, e di Napoli" (Let us finally consider the strings: they should be acquired from the best manufacturers of Italy, such as those of Padua, Naples, Rome, Budrio near Bologna and L'Aquila in the Abruzzi; there are other manufacturers at Città di Castello, Perugia, Rieti, Teramo and other places, though the first to be mentioned, particularly those of Padua and Naples, are the most prestigious) (39). Interesting information on string making in the Bologna area is supplied by Natale Cionini (see Appendix). Spohr reports: "Es giebt Italiänische und Deutsche Saiten. Letztere sind aber viel schlechter wie jene und zum Solospiel gar nicht zu gebrauchen. Auch die Italiänischen Saiten sind von ungleicher Güte und in der Regel die Neapolitanischen den Römischen und diese denen von Padua und Mailand vorzuziehen" (There are Italian and German strings. The latter are much worse and cannot be used for solo playing. Even the Italian are of unequal quality and as a rule the Neapolitan are to be preferred to the Roman, which in turn are to be preferred to those of Padua and Milan) (40).
The incomparable quality of the Neapolitan violin chanterelles — but also those for other instruments (41) — remained a mystery to the French string makers, who succeeded in making all types of strings except the violin chanterelles, which were imported to France in large quantities and at prohibitive prices. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the French offered a prize to the maker or makers capable of producing a chanterelle equalling in quality the Neapolitan strings. The gold medal went to Philippe Savaresse, the Parisian string maker of Neapolitan origin (!), who brilliantly solved the problem: as had already been noted several decades earlier in De Lalande’s Voyage, the "secret" was that in Naples and in other parts of Italy, but not in France, the guts of rather young animals were used (42).
The superiority of Italian strings was still acknowledged at the end of the nineteenth century, as George Hart testifies:
"Musical strings are manufactured in Italy, Germany, France, and England. The Italians rank first, as in the past times, in this manufacture, their proficiency being evident in the three chief requisites for string, viz. high finish, great durably, and purity of sound. There are manufactories at Rome, Naples, Padua, and Verona, the separate characteristics of which are definitely marked in their produce. Those strings which are manufactured at Rome are exceedingly hard and brilliant, and exhibit a slight roughness of finish. The Neapolitan samples are smoother and softer than the Roman, and also whiter in appearance. Those of Padua are highly polished and durable, but frequently false. The Veronese strings are softer than the Paduan, and deeper in colour. The variations described are distinct, and the more remarkable that all the four kinds are produced by one and the same nation; as, however, the raw material is identical throughout Italy, the process of manufacture must be looked upon as the real cause of the difference noticed. The German strings now rank next to the Italian, Saxony being the seat of manufacture. [...]. The French take the third place [...]. The English manufacture all qualities, but chiefly the cheaper kinds [...]." (43)
Hart's assessment is confirmed by Luigi Forino who, in 1905, singles out for mention:
“furono celebri le fabbriche di Berti, di Colla a Roma, di Ruffini a Napoli. In oggi sono assai apprezzati i prodotti di Righetti a Treviso, di Raffaele di Bartolomeo a Napoli, di Nicola Morante a Tavernale di Barra (Napoli), di Nicola Di Russo e di Raffaele Pistola Profeta (sucessore di Ruffini) a Salle (Pescara), di Luigi D'Orazi anche a Salle e di Conti a Musellaro (Rieti) [...]. All'Italia ed alla Germania segue terza la Francia che produce eccellenti corde soprattutto per arpa: le corde di Lione godono fama di ottime “. (44)
(The famous firms were those of Berti and Colla in Rome, of Rufini in Naples. Highly prized today are the products of Righetti in Treviso, Raffaele di Bartolomeq in Naples, Nicola Morante at Tavernale di Barra (Naples) of Nicola Di Russo and Raffaele Pistola Profeta (Ruffini's heir) at Salle (Pescara), of Luigi D'Orazi again at Salle and Conti at Mugellano (Rieti) [...].
After Italy and Germany comes France, which produces excellent strings above all for the harp; the strings of Lyon have an excellent reputation).