Giuseppe Pedrazzini was born in 1879 and spent his youth working as a carpenter in the village of Pizzeghettone, which lies some 20 km north-east of Cremona in the direction of Milan. In 1903, aged 24, he moved to Milan to work for his uncle, who was a woodworker. He soon began to teach himself violin making, with some advice from Romeo Antoniazzi, and in around 1906 set up his own workshop. Like the Antoniazzis, who were actually born in Cremona itself, Pedrazzini always claimed on his labels to have been from Cremona.
Throughout his career Pedrazzini remained quite independent from the more established, older makers such as Leandro Bisiach, the Antoniazzis and the Monzinos, something that cannot be said of most other makers of his generation – all trying to make a living in Milan’s competitive atmosphere.
We know that Pedrazzini married and had at least one child – a daughter named Yolanda, who played the violin. By around 1910 he had established an excellent reputation as a violin maker and commenced a steady production of fine instruments. A well-deserved gold medal in Rome’s 1920 violin making competition followed and he was appointed as the violin maker of the Milan Conservatory and the Milan opera house.
Following the death of the Antoniazzis (Riccardo in 1912 and Romeo in 1925) there was a void in both fine and more commercial instrument production in Milan – one that Pedrazzini was quick to fill. His reputation and output then further increased, and from the early 1920s he was already employing such budding talents as Ferdinando Garimberti to make instrument parts for him. At a much later stage Romeo Antoniazzi’s pupil Piero Parravicini also seems to have worked for this ‘other’ significant workshop in Milan.
The failing health of Pedrazzini’s older contemporary Celeste Farotti from the mid-1920s until his death in 1928 meant further opportunities for a maker of Pedrazzini’s stature. And, although not on par with Bisiach, Giuseppe apparently also dealt successfully in antique violins and was considered an expert in older instruments.
During the 1920s and 30s Pedrazzini’s workshop supplied instruments to Hawkes & Son in London, who marketed his new and older works as his sole agents in the UK. Anecdotally, in their adverts for his instruments they claimed that he was born in the same town as the greatest old Cremonese violin makers. In 1930 Hawkes & Son merged with Boosey & Company to form Boosey & Hawkes and continued selling scores of Pedrazzini instruments in the UK.
From the later 1920s his sister’s son, Natale Novelli (c. 1908–1981), became his apprentice and continued assisting him into the 1930s and 40s, when he began his own production very much in line with the Pedrazzini model and style. By 1937, when Pedrazzini won a further medal in the great Cremona exhibition, his business was booming. He continued working until the very early 50s, even making an occasional instrument without any visible assistance.
Pedrazzini died in Milan in 1957, aged 78. By then only two fine, traditional violin makers remained working in Milan: Ornati and Garimberti.
As with such makers as Romeo Antoniazzi, Pedrazzini’s work comes in several grades ranging from quite simple, more commercial instruments to his fine, personally made ones; the latter are among the finest instruments ever made in Milan. The lesser works have similar characteristics to the finer ones, and it is primarily the quality of the materials, woodwork and varnish that determines the quality of the individual pieces. The speedier production was due to an ever-increasing demand for the Pedrazzini brand, which he had firmly established from the late 1910s, one that suited his wealthier clients as well as the developing student and export markets.
Although his work is extremely distinctive, Pedrazzini was unusually versatile in that as well as following the usual Grand Pattern Amati, Amatese Stradivari and, more rarely, Guadagnini models, he also paid tribute to the old Milanese school by incorporating Giovanni Grancino’s influence into his own models and varnishing. The only other modern maker in Milan who ever tried his hand at this unusual model was Celeste Farotti, and this only in his antiqued copies, whereas Pedrazzini did so subtly in his straight work.
Pedrazzini rarely antiqued his new instruments, practically ignoring this trend, which was so successfully practised by the Bisiach firm, Farotti and, further afield, by Sgarabotto, Sannino and Sacconi. Yet in one of his letters Gaetano Pollastri refers to Pedrazzini as being ‘unscrupulous’, with reference to his copies of Pressenda, which were apparently being passed off as original during the late 1940s. However, such works are indeed rare and the very few Pressenda copies by Pedrazzini known to me bear his own labels. Probably with more justification, Pollastri did not respect Pedrazzini’s expertise, throwing him into the same category as Gaetano Sgarabotto, who was a known copyist, while also possessing a very dubious reputation as an expert.
Pedrazzini’s highly distinctive scrolls – which are extremely symmetrical, very round, large yet delicate and deeply cut – are strongly influenced by those of Grancino with perhaps a bit of Amati. These masterfully carved, heavily chamfered scrolls, as well as the angled position of the precisely cut, lightly fluted f-holes, are the features that most recall their classical Milanese prototypes. Pedrazzini’s, wide, rounded back buttons complement the scrolls.
His wood choice is nearly always of excellent quality and the purfling, positioned close to the neat channeling of the edge, is quite thin and often not very strongly stained. The backs are pinned with well-centered, round pins that are removed slightly from the purfling, although he sometimes omits the pins, particularly in his earlier work. The corners are quite triangular and generally stubby.
The varnish texture varies between being hard and chippy, similar to the work of Romeo Antoniazzi, and a rather softer, oil varnish that Pedrazzini seems to have reserved for his best personal work; its color fluctuates from light amber to deeper reddish-brown hues.
It is difficult to call Pedrazzini’s work elegant; in recompense it shows precision, stability and strength
Overall, despite a highly skilled and steady hand and something of Amati found in the outline of his models, it is difficult to call Pedrazzini’s work elegant; in recompense it shows precision, stability and strength. The archings of the plates are rather flat, ostensibly for better tonal projection, and as a rule his instruments are tonally more than satisfactory.
While Pedrazzini’s personal style and workmanship is easily recognizable, some confusion presents itself with regard to the collaborative works he made with his nephew Novelli, in particular those instruments entirely made by Novelli, which were marketed as Pedrazzinis during Giuseppe’s life. This is exacerbated by the fact that other instruments made by Novelli for his own account have later been upgraded to Pedrazzinis. Novelli’s work is strongly influenced by Giuseppe, yet quite individual in style; those instruments by him made during Pedrazzini’s lifetime and bearing the uncle’s labels and brands should be considered as, by far, his best works. These were most likely made during the last decade of Pedrazzini’s life.
I have seen several excellent instruments by Ferdinando Garimberti’s little-known brother and collaborator, Afro, bearing Pedrazzini’s labels and brands. It is unclear whether these were originally made for Pedrazzini or whether they later acquired the more famous name.
Pedrazzini was one of the most prolific Italian makers of his era: during his career he produced a great number of violins, many very beautiful cellos, several violas, some double basses and a few guitars. He used many different labels and about four different brands.
Dmitry Gindin is an expert, consultant and author of The Late Cremonese Violin Makers. The articles in this series are adopted from his forthcoming book on a selection of the greatest modern Italian violin makers, featuring high-quality photographs of iconic and interesting examples.