Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Milan, 1757
Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711–1786) is generally regarded as the finest maker of the late-18th century and was certainly its most prolific. Over his 44-year career, Guadagnini made more than 600 instruments, almost rivalling the output of the Stradivari workshop – a remarkable feat given it appears he worked for much of his career unaided and in five different cities across Italy.
His earliest instruments date from the early 1740s, less than a decade after Stradivari’s death and just a few years before the deaths of the last two great Cremonese makers, Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ and Carlo Bergonzi. Although there is no evidence that Guadagnini worked in Cremona, as he claimed on a handful of labels from 1758, the legendary success of the Cremonese makers clearly loomed large over him. On his later labels he even claimed to be a student of Stradivari, which almost certainly was not true.
There is ample historical evidence that Guadagnini was a “musician’s luthier”, a concept we are familiar with today but for which there is little precedent before Guadagnini. We know, for example, that Guadagnini moved to Milan, the city where Tasmin Little’s violin was made, at the request of Carlo Ferrari, an influential cellist. When Ferrari later moved to Parma, Guadagnini followed. We can only assume such close contact with musicians helped the acoustic development of Guadagnini’s instruments.
The instruments Guadagnini made in Milan are generally of a flat, broad model. They almost always have his iconic oval-shaped lower soundhole and are finished with a rich reddish-brown varnish.
Commentary by Jason Price
Tasmin Little, Wigmore Hall Saturday 30 September 2017