On the history of violin making in Brescia

In the early days of Italian violin making, Brescia violin makers and the musical culture of Brescia were at least as important as Cremona, which is now much more prominent. It is true that "the" violin was not "invented" by Gasparo da Salò - one of the best and most influential masters of his guild in this city - as earlier research assumed. But that both he and many of his contemporaries and predecessors were involved in the decisive steps of this musical revolution is beyond question - even if their respective contributions can often only be traced in rudimentary detail.


  • The earliest violin makers of Brescia
  • Classical violin making in Brescia: Gasparo da Salò - G. P. Maggini - Giovanni Battista Rogeri and Pietro Giacomo Rogeri
  • Giuseppe and Stefano Scarampella

The earliest violin makers of Brescia

As in many other historical violin making centers, Brescia knows a founding figure whose existence is not proven with certainty and whose story belongs, at least in part, to the realm of myth. We are talking about Giovanni Kerlino, to whom instruments dating far back into the 15th century were attributed - but which are no longer preserved today and were most likely forgeries of the 18th or 19th century. There is also much speculation about his name, from which resourceful historians have sometimes distilled a Breton, sometimes a German origin - in order to be able to use it to claim nothing less than the invention of the violin itself for their own nationality.

On the other hand, there is no doubt about the existence of violin makers such as Giovan Giacobo dalla Corna (1484 - ca. 1560) and Zanetto Micheli (ca. 1489-1561) as representatives of the oldest tangible generation of their guild in Brescia; they were followed by Pellegrino Micheli (ca. 1520 - ca. 1609), the son of Zanetto Micheli, as well as Battista Doneda (ca. 1529-1610), Girolamo Virchi (1523 - ca. 1588) and finally the great Gasparo da Salò (ca. 1540-1609). The fact that no or only a few instruments by these masters have survived - with a certain exception in the case of Zanetto and Pellegrino Micheli - reinforces the aforementioned focus on da Salò's work and the overvaluation of his personal contribution to the development of the violin.

The classical violin making in Brescia: Gasparo da Salò - G. P. Maggini - Giovanni Battista Rogeri and Pietro Giacomo Rogeri

Gasparo Bertolotti, called Gasparo da Salò, was born in Polpenazze near Salò on Lago di Garda. He probably received basic musical training from members of his family - and perhaps even learned the basics of instrument making from his grandfather. From 1562 he lived in Brescia and became friends with Girolamo Virchi, by whom he was apparently introduced more deeply into the secrets of violin making. Insofar as the surviving instruments allow conclusions to be drawn about his development as a craftsman, they present a talented liutaio who was initially largely uneducated and hands-on, who did not shy away from aesthetic concessions, but who quickly penetrated the conditions of good violin sound and, as his personal skills grew, contributed nothing less than fundamental definitions of the nascent violin type. Beyond the historical significance of his complete works, the violas and double basses in particular are still highly regarded today for their musical quality - and the "treasure chamber violin" devotedly revered by Ole Bull went down in music history as a richly decorated individual piece.

But it was not only through his own work that da Salò earned the reputation of being one of the definitive founders of the Brescia school of violin making, which until the rise of Antonio Stradivari was at least as influential as the still young Cremonese tradition. Thus, in terms of Gasparo da Salò's impact, the name of Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-1632) should be mentioned first, who was born near Brescia in 1580 and came to the workshop of the now extremely successful and wealthy da Salò as a boy barely eight years old. There he was to remain until the age of 21, receiving an excellent education, after which he was not only to create his famous, profusely decorated masterpieces of carving and marquetry, but also to achieve significant improvements in the violin model, the effect of which on the classical masters in rival Cremona is more than circumstantial.

Giovanni Battista Rogeri (ca. 1642 - ca. 1710), a pupil of Nicolò Amati in Cremona, who settled in Brescia in 1664, stands in a special way for this quite close relationship between the two violin making cities, whose contrast is often portrayed in the literature as stronger than it probably was historically. Together with his son Pietro Giacomo Rogeri (1665-1724), he created great instruments that, in retrospect, seem like echoes of the founding years of Brescian violin making, before the music world finally turned to Cremona and largely forgot Brescia as a violin making city.

Giuseppe and Stefano Scarampella

And indeed, it was to be more than 100 years before Brescia would once again see the emergence of a family of violin makers claiming a prominent place in the history of the violin. It was founded by Paolo Scarampella (1803-1870), a carpenter who had learned violin making from an unknown master - perhaps even self-taught - and pursued it with great dedication and remarkable success. His varied œuvre includes violins, violas, guitars and mandolins - and cellos, among which are his most accomplished works.

Paolo taught his elder son Giuseppe Scarampella (1838-1885) the basics of violin making, which he refined as an apprentice to Nicolò Bianchi. With Bianchi he matured into an interesting representative of the Genoese school, but after a brief stay in Paris he ended up in the Florentine workshop of Luigi Castellani and eventually became conservator of the Istituto Musicale in Florence.

However, Giuseppe left lasting traces not only as a violin maker, but also as a teacher, in the work of his brother Stefano Scarampella (1843-1927), whom he trained from about 1890. Stefano had initially become a carpenter, like his father, and in the short time between 1902 and 1915 created much of his extensive oeuvre, which, in addition to the classical models Stradivari and Guarneri, was particularly influenced by Balestrieri - an exponent of the school of Mantova, where Stefano had settled and, as Gaetano Gadda's teacher, was to have a lasting influence on this remarkable luthier and his son Mario Gadda.

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