Capicchioni and Fracassi, part 1

The careers of two fine craftsmen who helped to put 20th-century Rimini on the violin making map

By Dmitry Gindin September 11, 2019

Before joining the Kingdom of Italy between 1859 and 1861, the regions of Emilia-Romagna, The Marches and Umbria had shared a long history as some of the oppressed Papal States. Romagna, however, led a fairly separate existence from its big sister, Emilia, until they were united in 1947.

While the main cities and towns of the adjoining regions (Bologna, Perugia, Fermo, Ancona and Ascoli Piceno) had seen their share of excellent violin making during the 18th and 19th centuries, the craft failed to develop in Romagna until the early 1930s, when Marino Capicchioni and Arturo Fracassi began making their mark.

Marino Capicchioni (1895–1977)

Capicchioni was born in 1895 in a tiny village in the mountainous Republic of San Marino – a microstate located around 30 km southwest of Rimini – where he spent his childhood and much of his youth. He was the second of seven children of Bernardo Capicchioni, who worked as a carpenter in San Marino and Virginia Cecchetti.

Capicchioni workshop in San Marino

The Capicchioni family house and workshop in the tiny village of Santa Mustiola, San Marino. Photo: courtesy Marcello Villa

Marino Capicchioni began his working life at an early age in his father’s workshop. Having been exposed to music (he played the saxophone in the village military band), he soon started to repair guitars, mandolins and violins. It is said that he began making violins as an amateur during World War I, when he was about 20.

By 1923 Capicchioni was skilled enough to win a silver medal and a diploma of merit for his violins at a local trade fair. Naturally, his violin making was still quite rudimentary, similar in style to other Romagnolo makers scattered about the area’s villages. In that year he officially declared himself as a maker of violins. The following year he married Antonia Stacchini and their first child, Mario, the future violin maker, was born in 1926.

An early violin by Marino Capicchioni, dated 1927. Photos: courtesy Sotheby’s

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Work was scarce in San Marino, so in 1928 Capicchioni left for France to work at a guitar factory in Caen. He also worked briefly as a builder in his cousin’s construction business. However, the following year he returned to his native land to pursue his career as violin maker in Rimini. This proved to be a good decision. One of the two largest cities in Romagna, Rimini enjoyed a fairly active musical life, and demand for repairs and new instruments – both in Rimini and nearby cities – began to increase substantially.

In 1931 Capicchioni won a gold medal in the national violin making competition at the Padua trade fair, and he won further awards in Forli and Padua the following year. In 1933 his second son, Luciano, who went on to become a professional violinist, was born.

Among Capicchioni’s clients were already some well-known Italian musicians. These included the Roman cellist Arturo Bonucci and his wife, the famous violinist Pina Carmirelli, who together helped to spread his name among the many musicians in their circle.

The big break in Capicchioni’s career came when he won a third prize and a silver medal for a quartet at perhaps the most prestigious event to have taken place in the history of violin making: the 1937 Cremona Exhibition and Competition. Over 300 instruments by 119 contemporary Italian violin makers were entered and the winners were some of the greatest names in modern Italian lutherie: Ornati, Garimberti, Pedrazzini, Sderci and Sgarabotto. Capicchioni now joined their ranks. His success in Cremona resonated back to San Marino, where he also received honors for his achievement. Capicchioni now entered the golden period of his career, though he continued to perfect his skill.

Marino Capicchioni signature

Signature of Marino Capicchioni. Photo: courtesy Dmitry Gindin

During World War II the Capicchionis moved back to San Marino (the tiny republic was neutral in the conflict) to escape the upheavals taking place in Rimini. Capicchioni was able to work quite productively during those difficult years, constructing instruments that later found their way into the hands of some of Italy’s most famous musicians. His son Mario began assisting him from 1943, further increasing productivity.

The family returned to Rimini in 1945. The post-war years proved fruitful both for the booming economy of Rimini, which became one of Europe’s best-known resort towns in the 1950s, and for Capicchioni, who was now approaching the top echelons in modern Italian violin making.

Soon after the war the collector Paolo Peterlongo purchased a quartet by Capicchioni from its previous owners, Carmirelli and Bonucci, to benefit the Nuovo Quartetto Italiano (later famous as the Quartetto Italiano). Its members were Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, Piero Farulli and Franco Rossi, some of Italy’s best-loved musicians. This gave Capicchioni great publicity and orders began pouring in from across the country and beyond. He further reinforced his fame by winning a silver medal for a 1947 viola at the 1949 International Violin Making Exhibition and Competition in Cremona (in which he participated in the ‘hors concours’ section).

Marino Capiccioni in his workshop in the early 1950s. Photo: courtesy Marcello Villa

By the early 1950s Capicchioni’s career was comparable to those of his finest contemporaries, Poggi, Ornati and Garimberti. The quality of his work had reached its apex and would not decline for many years to come. Many Italian musicians, including the chamber orchestra I Musici, performed on his instruments, as did the legendary virtuosos David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin. It is widely believed that Capicchioni also gifted some of his instruments to the greatest musicians as a means of self-promotion.

From the early 1950s his work increasingly began to make its way abroad, across Europe and to the USA. Whereas previously he had enjoyed some free time, going to the cinema or hunting, from now on he immersed himself completely in his work. He worked ten hours daily, often including weekends.

Despite winning many awards in national competitions, Capicchioni never seems to have presented his work at international competitions. He died aged 82 in 1977. The Republic of San Marino erected a monument in his honour in 1981 and also named a square after him. After Marino’s death, his son Mario continued working in his footsteps into the mid-1990s.

Dealers and collectors admire Capicchioni’s excellent technique and easily identifiable style, and his work has greatly appreciated in value during the last 20 years.

Arturo Fracassi (1899–1973)

Originating from the Cesena area of Emilia-Romagna, Arturo Fracassi was about three years Capicchioni’s junior and also began his career as a carpenter. He played the violin and began learning the rudiments of violin making in 1919 from various local makers, though he always claimed to be an ‘an authentic self-taught violin maker’ (see Artemio Versari, La Grande Liuteria Italiana). By around 1924 he was making his first amateurish instruments nearly simultaneously with Capicchioni. During the 1930s, like Capicchioni, he improved his violin making technique and developed his own style. His subsequent career continued to run parallel to that of Capicchioni, reaching its peak during the 1950s, when he won gold and silver medals at numerous competitions in Rome and Florence.

An early small violin by Arturo Fracassi, Cesena, 1926. Photos: Tarisio

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In 1959 Fracassi relocated to Rimini, which had been dominated by Capicchioni for the previous 30 years. The resort town now turned into a kind of hot spot of ‘Romagnolo’ violin making. By contrast, the once-flourishing violin making schools in Turin, Genoa, Naples and Venice had little to offer by this point. Most of their greatest makers had either died or retired and their stylistic descendants were rarely as capable. This left Emilia-Romagna, which had Poggi and Bignami working industriously in Bologna as well as Capicchioni and Fracassi in Rimini, as by far the most productive region in Italy. The quality of its best instruments was arguably unmatched anywhere else.

Fracassi was Capicchioni’s near-equal manually, but he lacked his colleague’s drive and work ethic, and therefore never achieved the same commercial success. Apart from new making, Fracassi busied himself with repairs. Though the two makers had vastly different approaches, both stylistic and in terms of self promotion, they were friends throughout their time in Rimini until Fracassi’s death aged 74 in 1973.

In part 2 Dmitry Gindin discusses the stylistic development of Marino Capicchioni and Arturo Fracassi, plus some of the area’s lesser-known makers.

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