GiveBack: a fine viola made under the direction of Simone Fernando Sacconi, New York, 1938

A viola made under the direction of Simone Fernando Sacconi is presented as part of GiveBack, a special benefit auction supporting musicians around the world who have been affected by COVID-19.

By Jason Price April 30, 2020

This fine viola was made in 1938 under the guidance of the man often credited for being the most influential violin maker of the 20th century: Simone Fernando Sacconi. It bears two labels, the first an accurate facsimile of Guadagnini, ‘Joannes Baptista Guadagnini, Placentinus fecit Mediolani 1751’ and the second, ‘Fatta sotto la disciplina di Simone F. Sacconi, N. Y. 1938.’ Stradivari himself had started the ‘fatto sotto la disciplina’ concept by inserting a similar label in instruments dating mostly from the 1720s and 30s that were of lesser quality and often show the hand of his sons and other workers.

In 1931 Sacconi arrived in New York to work for Emil Herrmann and the years that immediately followed were productive and formative. There are more surviving instruments made by him in the decade from 1931 to 1941 than there are from the three decades thereafter. Moreover, his fame and influence were spreading. In 1937 he was selected to be on the committee responsible for the 1937 Stradivari Bicentenary in Cremona. In that same year he entered a quartet in the Bicentenary competition and won a gold medal. In 1939 he was asked to be the director of the new Cremona school of violin making, an appointment that never materialized after the advent of World War II.

There are more surviving instruments made by him in the decade from 1931 to 1941 than there are from the three decades thereafter.

Sacconi’s copies can be either exacting scratch-for-scratch replicas or loosely inspired imitations. This 1938 viola is one of the latter type, inspired by Guadagnini’s Milan period. The interpretation is less than exact in model and detail but nevertheless achieves the spirit of Guadagnini. The template marks around the eye of the scroll recall Guadagnini from this period even if the outline of the scroll itself seems to be a closer match to the Stradivari pattern Sacconi used for a series of violas in the late 1920s.

To other details the viola holds only a loose adherence such as the anachronistic Parma-style soundholes. In other aspects there are even greater liberties, such as the back length of 42.7 cm, which far exceeds the length of any known Guadagnini viola.


Sacconi was ahead of his time in recreating the techniques of classical violin making and in advocating a conservative approach to restoration. His research and teaching informed a generation of makers, restorers and dealers in America and Europe.

Among Sacconi’s most successful discepoli were Dario D’Attili, Hans Weisshaar, Charles Beare, Mario D’Alessandro, Luiz Bellini, Erwin Hertel, Hans Nebel, Rene Morel and Vahakn Nigogosiani. But Sacconi was also generous with his time, teaching those who weren’t to become front-line professional makers such as Louis Condax, an engineer at Kodak and amateur violin maker. There even exists a stamp ‘Pupil of Simone F. Sacconi’ found on a label from a 1946 violin by the amateur New York maker Harry Stoutenburgh. The label seems designed for a significant volume of production, with blank lines for the maker’s name and a blank Stradivari-inspired double circle.

There’s no indication as to who specifically made this 1938 viola but we can set forth four possibilities:

– Hans Weisshaar, who joined Herrmann in 1937 and worked in New York for a decade before moving to Los Angeles in 1947.
– Dario D’Attili, who came to the US in 1935 and joined Sacconi at Herrmann from 1938–1951.
– Mario Frossali, who emigrated from Florence to New York and worked for Herrmann under Sacconi before moving to Los Angeles in 1939.
– Erwin Hertel, a German maker who came to the US in 1933 and worked with Sacconi at Herrmann sometime thereafter.

It’s also possible that the instrument was made by someone as yet undiscovered to us or that it was a collaborative effort of multiple makers working under Sacconi’s guidance. Whoever he may be, it’s clear that the maker of this informed and tasteful copy wanted us to know that it was made under the aegis of the 20th century’s greatest violin making pedagogue.

This viola has been in the same family since around 1941. The original owner attended the Eastman School of Music and Juilliard, and played in the New Orleans and Dallas symphonies. This violin was sold in our May 2020 GiveBack auction. All commissions went to musicians affected by COVID-19.

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