Violin by Gaetano Chiocchi, Padua, Italy, 1870
Made for Cesare Trombini

 
 
 
 


Description — Robust
This violin's remarkably broad model (36.5 cm) pays homage to Maggini, but with very shallow ribs (26-28 mm) and low arches, which give it an unusually flat appearance. At the bottom of the symmetrical two-piece back, a dedication to Cesare Trombini is inlaid into a third piece of wood (with imagination, one can see the violin's legs open). The wide-grained spruce of the belly is "backwards" — its annual rings narrowing towards the edges. Similarly, the maple of the head is turned "backwards" — its stripes showing on the front and back sides of the scroll. The soundholes sit surprisingly low and far from the flanks,
Portrait of Cesare Trombini, oil painting by Domenico Peterlin. Musei Civici of Padua.
their cut slightly angled towards the sides of the body. Plates are quite thick, especially the back (5.2 mm in the soundpost area), and extend over the rib line by as much as 4 mm. Typical of the Venice region, and of Chiocchi, the triple purfling (black-white-black-white-black) is worth noting. The overall impression is of a bold, highly personal, completely original violin.

Dedicatee — Trombini, Music Ambassador
Cesare Trombini (1835-1898) was a violinist and opera conductor. Son of a famed surgeon, he committed his life to music, and by age 10 was already a violin prodigy. He later formally studied classical music in Vienna and violin technique with Joseph Mayseder. In 1856, he toured Europe with Giovanni Bottesini "the Paganini of double bass." My guess is that the low sound of the double bass must have moved him. In fact, he decided to abandon his virtuoso career soon after their return.
Chiocchi dedicated this violin, his #32, to virtuoso Cesare Trombini.
I imagine that Trombini asked his friend Chiocchi — they had both played in the orchestra of opera house La Fenice in Venice (Trombini as concertmaster) — to build a violin with a deep voice reminiscent of the double bass... hence the large, Maggini-esque pattern of our violin. Trombini went on to become an acclaimed orchestra conductor throughout Europe. In 1874 he immigrated to Poland where he became the director of the Imperial Opera House at Warsaw — and also taught voice, composition, and conducting at the Warsaw Conservatory. Among others, he conducted the Polish premiere of Verdi's Requiem in 1876 and of Wagner's Lohengrin in 1879. He likewise introduced Russian audiences to contemporary new works in St-Petersburg, where he held the post of Opera Director from 1881-1890. He left many compositions for violin, mainly virtuoso pieces inspired by opera arias.

Maker — Chiocchi, the Complete Artist
Gaetano Chiocchi (1814-1881) was at the pinnacle of his career when he made this violin in 1870. His reputation was that of the best maker and restorer in Italy. Being a musician himself, he understood musicians and was much appreciated by them. He had built a violin for Camillo Sivori a few years before this one, but without decorations. Engraving the dedicatee's name into the body of the violin seems quite obvious now, but no maker had done it before (that I'm aware of). Chiocchi's vast education (humanities, chemistry, medicine, violinist) and life experience (theatre director, political activist, prisoner of war) nourished his freedom of expression. Here's a wonderful example of a violin maker who successfully integrated invention into tradition.

Gaetano Chiocchi's initials, "CG" were branded in several places, including the pegbox.
The original saddle was inset into the ribs. On this picture, the exceptionally wide grain of the top is noticeable.
Tone — An Italian Voice
This violin's tone is powerful, very dark, and open. The low range is amazingly deep, but the high range still sounds high and bright like a normal violin. I'd say the E string sounds like a dramatic soprano, the A string like an earthy mezzo-soprano, the D string like an Italian tenor, and the G string like a velvety bass-baritone. There is a definite step in sound color between the strings, so one must decide fingerings accordingly. It's not an easy violin to play. As a shy person, I have to assume the extrovert in me to speak with its unashamedly big voice. The high register is obnoxious, focused and incredibly penetrating. The low register as well is incredibly penetrating, yet a mellow, introspective tenderness smooths it. It's the sorrowful voice, full of emotion, of someone who has earned wisdom.

The label, signed by the maker.
Varnish — Stradivari's Formula?
The varnish is a marvel of color and texture. Once a luthier told me this is the Cremonese varnish — whose recipe was supposedly lost at the end of the 18th century. Is it possible that Giuseppe Ceruti, the last descendent of the classical Cremona makers, had transmitted this knowledge to Gaetano Chiocchi? Certainly, as Ceruti was already past 70 years old when he encouraged Chiocchi (who himself was past 40) to take up the dying art of violin making, around 1855. Of course I'm biased, but I haven't seen such supple, soft, textured and vibrant varnish on any other violin. The color, very vivid, almost saturated yet clear, is a sublime balance of brown, orange, and red, on a golden ground.

Acquisition — A Chance Encounter
I was with friends in Florence, Italy when we decided to go see the shop of Carlo Vettori, just for fun. I was by no means searching for a violin. When I held this one, I thought it was the ugliest violin I had ever seen. But Mr. Vettori insisted I try it... After playing the first open G string I was in love! I had never heard such depth and sweetness. The violin suddenly appeared beautiful. Many people discouraged me from acquiring a large violin, but I followed my heart and came back the following weekend to purchase it. Now it's been 30 years, and I've never regretted.

The pegbox is elongated, in keeping with the violin's large body size. The eyes of the spiral were originally painted in black, along with the outside chamfers of the head. The back fluting keeps going around the volutes into the throat, seamlessly continuing into the turns of the scroll.

Bibliography
More about this Violin:
  • "Liuteri & Sonadori - Venezia 1750-1870" by Stefano Pio, Venice Research, 2002, illustrated on pages 266-269. 
  • The Cozio Archive on Tarisio.com, violin number 55431. 
More about Gaetano Chiocchi:
More about Cesare Trombini:
Measurements & Data
Maker: Gaetano Chiocchi (1814-1881)
Made in: Padua, Veneto, Italy
Year: 1870
Number: 32
Name: the "Trombini"
Made For: Cesare Trombini (1835-1898)
Back Length: 365 mm *
Upper Bouts: 172 mm *
Middle Bouts: 118 mm *
Lower Bouts: 217 mm *
Stop Length: 200 mm
Rib Height at Neck: 26 mm *
Rib Height at Endpin: 28 mm *
Thickness of the Top: 3.4 mm
Thickness of the Back: 5.2 mm
F-hole Length: 78.2 mm *
Distance Between F-holes: 40.5 mm *
Distance Edge-Purfling: 3.5 mm
Scroll Width: 42 mm *
Weight: 437 grams
Label:
GAETANO CHIOCCHI N° 32
G.Chiocchi fece in Padova 1870

Brand: Branded "CG" in the pegbox.
Inlay: Inlaid into the lower back,
"N° 32
G. CHIOCCHI   A   C. TROMBINI
PADOVA 1870."
Triple purfling.

Condition: Soundpost crack on top (repaired with a patch). Original neck, reshaped and reset. Rebushed pegs. Possibly original tailpiece.
Restoration: Claude Lebet, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1992.
Horst Kloss, Needham, MA, USA, 2003.
Pierre Mastrangelo, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2009.

Certificate: Carlo Vettori, Florence, Italy, 1991.

* measured with a caliper

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