Raffaele and Giuseppe Fiorini, part 2

How the work of the Fiorinis diverged, as Giuseppe fell under the influence of the Cremonese school

By Dmitry Gindin and Roberto Regazzi December 12, 2018

The differences between the mature work of Raffaele and Giuseppe Fiorini are immediately apparent. Raffaele’s approach, deeply rooted in the early to mid-19th-century Italian style, paid little homage to Stradivari’s method or modeling. As we saw in part 1, he learned his early violin making techniques from the traveling musician Ignazio Tadolini, who in turn had picked them up in Paris. This is the reason why Raffaele adopted the so-called French method, which he handed down to his school of violin makers. Meanwhile Giuseppe, apart from his early Bolognese instruments which are strongly influenced by his father, adhered to the Cremonese method based on the internal form and progressively fell under the spell of Stradivari.

Raffaele, while exercising great artistic freedom in his making, showed only a vague familiarity with Amati’s model and somewhat more so of the Guarneris’, using his own interpretation of these models or a fusion of them; this was common among Italian violin makers after Pressenda and Rocca. There exist a few violins, violas and basses by Raffaele, but his cellos are particularly sought-after. These scarce instruments were all built in Bazzano or Bologna from the late 1850s until 1897, when Raffaele ceased his activity due to illness.

Raffaele Fiorini violin, 1872. Photos: courtesy Roberto Regazzi

Many of these instruments were made of local woods such as poplar for the backs, sides and scrolls, often with natural defects. They are generally of a brown color and tend to appear older than their actual age. All show a strong charisma and, apart from his use of the external form, they look totally Italian. They represent the epitome of the ‘romantic’ notions of many Italian makers of the period, where freedom of expression is valued above any established dogmas in violin making. And yet, due to the rarity of his instruments, the impact of his violin making remains rather vague compared to his importance as the founder of a major violin making school that produced some of the very best Italian makers of the period. He taught his son Giuseppe, Augusto Pollastri and Cesare Candi, while other influential makers such as Carlo Carletti and Ettore Soffritti were greatly influenced by his workshop. All of these makers, despite showing their own strong characters, could be seen as belonging to the Raffaele Fiorini school.

Raffaele Fiorini viola label dated 1893. Photo: courtesy Roberto Regazzi

Giuseppe Fiorini constructed his first violin in about 1877, but very few instruments from his first period are known. There is no doubt that he was particularly gifted and early on, intent on becoming a great violin maker, he spent considerable time traveling around Europe, learning of other approaches to his art. He soon broke away from his father, operating independently from 1885, and began to follow the style of the classical Cremonese masters. As we saw in part 1, his exposure to Antonio Stradivari’s relics in 1881 left a lasting impression on him, leading to a lifetime’s study of the Cremonese master’s instruments, forms and drawings.

Giuseppe began to shun the somewhat loose and haphazard Emilian ways of making, exemplified by the work of his own father as well as Raffaele’s older contemporary, Giuseppe Sgarbi and his son Antonio, who worked in nearby Reggio Emilia, and Giovanni Cavani in Spilamberto, near Modena. The concept of deriving models and styles directly from the old masters had been widely accepted outside Italy, yet Giuseppe was the first and best of the modern Italian makers to pursue this course seriously. The diverging working philosophies of the two Fiorinis, however, contributed to the development of modern Italian violin making as a whole in their own unique ways.

FIORINI, G., Bologna 1882, 1100w

Giuseppe Fiorini, violin, Bologna c. 1882. Photos: courtesy Dmitry Gindin

Unlike his father, Giuseppe always used woods of superior quality in his mature work – mostly highly flamed two-piece backs, pinned very much like Stradivari’s – but also lavish one-piece maple backs with a precise, sloping flame direction. Giuseppe became ever more precise in his work, with a clear preference for the Stradivari model and more rarely Guarneri, while abstaining altogether from the Amati pattern.

The varnish of the two makers was also different: Raffaele’s mostly oil varnish was more inclined to brown hues, while Giuseppe mostly favored warm and vivid orange and red hues, with perfectly balanced alcohol-based varnish formulas. Later this change in varnish color and consistency would define the final stage of a complete transformation from his early Bolognese work.

Giuseppe started carving scrolls for his father at a very young age, and his unfaltering hand produced consistent and perfectly proportioned scrolls for his own instruments; in his mature work these have blackened chamfers à la Stradivari. His f-holes in general are more elegant than those by his father, regardless of the model used.

Giuseppe Fiorini’s approach was rational and practical; he aimed to create instruments that could be substitutes for classical masterpieces, which were already becoming unaffordable

Giuseppe Fiorini’s approach was rational and practical; he aimed to create instruments that could be substitutes for classical masterpieces, which were already becoming unaffordable to most. As he matured, he showed a clear intention to impress his own convictions and taste on the increasingly competitive market for new instruments, to show buyers that something new and different was occurring in modern Italian violin making. This violin making philosophy inspired a following of influential makers including Simone Sacconi and Ansaldo Poggi.

Fiorini generally rejected the idea of copying or antiquing instruments. Instead he believed that it was the methodology of the great classical Cremonese makers that yielded such excellent acoustic results, and so rediscovering this could produce the essence of the old masterpieces in a contemporary and non-antiqued instrument. Thus the knowledge and study of classical violin making, parallel with a trade in them, brought him closer to the Cremonese violin makers he so admired.

Fiorini also introduced a method of ‘tonal quality control’ deduced from his studies of classical Cremonese masterpieces. This was a practical and effective system, even for non-acousticians, aimed at balancing critical measurements according to the woods’ diverse intrinsic qualities. He believed that controlling acoustics could be achieved by means of the tap tones and cavity resonances. This idea was central to his teachings and has been employed by many others since.

Giuseppe Fiorini cello, Munich 1907. Photos: Claudio Mazzolari, Linea 3, reproduced from ‘Between Bologna and Stradivari. The European journeys of Giuseppe Fiorini’, Cremona-Bologna 2011, Edizioni Novecento

Fiorini moved to Munich (see part 1) at almost the same time that Leandro Bisiach opened his own premises in the center of Milan. Bisiach believed that the market needed instruments that could fuse Italian flair with, until then, the generally foreign concept of studious emulation of the great trio of  Cremonese masters – Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri. Both he and Fiorini appear to have wanted to recreate what they imagined classical Cremonese instruments looked like when new. Perhaps they could be seen as the first neo-classical violin makers, who inspired a newer generation to copy the old masters exactly, while adding their individual marks within the comparatively rigid copyist’s framework. It is fascinating to observe, however, that such a similar philosophy could produce such disparate end products. It is equally interesting to ponder what each maker achieved commercially while capitalising upon their manual and intellectual abilities fused with a good business acumen.

Fiorini’s best instruments are characterised by a finesse and precision of workmanship matched by very few other violin makers. However, a certain stiffness and his unusually meticulous paraphrasing of the greatest classical makers may invite comparisons to the work of the very best of his non-Italian predecessors and contemporaries. Yet at times, without a hint of the ‘quirkiness’ associated with most of his Italian peers, his works show more fluidity and personality; these instruments are usually those made in Italy and, apart from his very early examples, are his most valuable. In Munich, in an effort to emulate the classical Cremonese varnish, with its more vivid general aspect, the color of Fiorini’s varnish became less reddish-brown, now favoring orange hues.

This exceptionally fine Giuseppe Fiorini violin bears a label dated 1900 but was almost certainly made later as it shows the hand of Poggi. Photos: Tarisio

More photos

The graphics and contents of Fiorini’s labels, rather than mimicking the classical Italian makers’ fonts and use of Latin, are always in the modern Italian language, and during his Munich period he opted for a fine, very modern Liberty style. He also seemed to disassociate himself from the common marketing ploy of Italian makers (including Bisiach) desperate to associate themselves with old Cremona on their labels, instead referring to his Bologna origins.

The Munich firm Rieger & Fiorini catered to a wealthy and professional clientele but also supplied new instruments of a lower grade to students and amateurs. Neither was every worker there a Fiorini pupil. Makers either passed through the workshop for a brief apprenticeship or had had a more permanent position as repairmen and assistants. Given the presence of a number of workers in the shop, for clarity’s sake Fiorini began adding the letters ‘m.p.’ (‘mano propria’ – my own hand) to his labels, in order to distinguish his personal work from that constructed in collaboration with or by his various pupils.

Giuseppe Fiorini label showing the letters ‘m.p.’ to indicate he made it himself. Photo: Tarisio

By the 1920s Fiorini was already concerned about fakes of his work on the market. Some of these were probably workshop instruments made when he was still with the Rieger firm – either they had acquired Fiorini’s labels later, or of course the letters ‘m.p.’ could have been added to labels that did not originally have them. In September 1953 Gaetano Pollastri wrote in one of his letters that in fact Fiorini’s personal work is rare, implying that most of his production was indeed made by or with the assistance of his numerous pupils.

A rare Guarneri-model Fiorini violin, Zurich 1922. Photos: Tarisio

More photos

The work produced during Fiorini’s Zurich period from 1915 has a slightly different aspect, both from his previous Munich work and from the instruments made after his return to Italy in 1923. His Zurich period also coincides with his greater exposure to the Stradivari relics, which he had finally managed to acquire in 1920, when he had only a few years left of his productive life. Generally speaking, the Zurich instruments are colder and perhaps a bit stiffer in their woodworking than those made in Munich or in Italy. Perhaps influenced by the Stradivari ‘long pattern’ moulds, some of the violins are as long as 360 mm; their thinner varnish, both in texture and color, is perhaps the one feature that somewhat devalues some of these examples compared with his Munich and Italian production.

Fiorini’s final working period was spent in Rome, where he moved in 1923 aged 62. Despite failing eyesight, he continued to produce fine instruments with assistance from Sacconi and Poggi. Poggi, who had already received his initial training from Fiorini in Zurich, is believed to have assisted his master in the making of about 12 instruments between Zurich and Rome, while Sacconi’s hand can be seen in the occasionally perfect purfling on otherwise rougher Fiorini violins made around 1925.

Late Giuseppe Fiorini violin and viola, both built in Rome in 1924 using the original forms of Stradivari, which Fiorini donated to the city of Cremona; now part of the Museo del Violino’s collection. Photos: Claudio Mazzolari, Linea 3, reproduced from ‘Between Bologna and Stradivari. The European journeys of Giuseppe Fiorini’, Cremona-Bologna 2011, Edizioni Novecento.

Apart from these two followers, both of monumental significance in 20th-century violin making, Fiorini also taught less important makers while still in Munich, whose personal work shows little of the ‘Fiorini school’: among them were Giuseppe Castagnino, Pietro Messori, Wolfgang Türke-Bebié, as well as Fiorini’s own nephew, Arrigo Tivoli. None of these makers, in their own very individualistic making, seem to have followed Fiorini’s approach and modeling; there is also little, if any, stylistic consistency between them and they all lived and worked at considerable distance from one another in Italy and Switzerland. Pietro Messori, who quite consistently preferred the Guarneri pattern for his f-holes, in particular seemed to adhere more to Raffaele’s vision of violin making than to that of Giuseppe.

Therefore, if one were to speak of the true Giuseppe Fiorini school, the maker whose style and level of workmanship is very similar to and on par with that of Fiorini was Poggi. Sacconi ended up taking Italian violin making in yet another direction. His bench copies of specific classical instruments, or close imitation of a style associated with a period of that maker’s work, often resulted in giving the instruments a truly old appearance – something to which both Fiorini and Poggi seem to have been categorically opposed.

Apart from several hundred violins, Fiorini appears to have built fewer than ten cellos and ten violas during his career. These numbers include instruments he made in collaboration with his pupils. Most instruments are branded ‘G. Fiorini’ both internally and at the joint above the end button.

Dmitry Gindin is an expert, consultant and author of ‘The Late Cremonese Violin Makers’. Roberto Regazzi is a violin maker in Bologna and co-author of ‘Lutherie in Bologna: Roots & Success’.

We are delighted to include the cello by Giuseppe Fiorini made in Munich in 1907 (pictured above) in our forthcoming February 2019 New York auction. Please direct inquiries to info@tarisio.com. 

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