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Richelme viola, late 19th century - top view
Richelme viola, late 19th century - top view
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Provenance: Marseille
Maker: presumably Antoine Marius Richelme
Length of back: 41.4 cm
Year: approx. 1890
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French Richelme viola, late 19th century

“A violin maker who does not understand anything about the acoustics of stringed instruments is truly a mere carpenter.” Antoine Marius Richelme (1832-1896) was as unyielding in his opinion as he was exceptional in his art and ahead of his time. The Marseille-based luthier worked on geometric studies that placed him amongst the distinguished tradition of such craftsmen as François Chanot (1788-1825) and Félix Savart (1791-1841). The spectacular instruments of these two men were not able to establish themselves commercially, although they did manage to influence modern violin making, as can be seen in Savart's influential work with J. B. Vuillaume and other endeavours. Like his predecessors, Richelme did not succeed in founding a new school in the field, but he did leave behind stringed instruments of outstanding quality; interestingly enough, they were more of a stylistic return to the older style of violas da gamba. This viola, which was very likely made by Richelme himself, is a typical example of his work; the most defining characteristic of his craftsmanship is the unusual contours of the upper and lower bouts. As a luthier, Richelme not only enjoyed experimentation but demonstrated solid skills in his trade, as can be seen by the excellent tone woods he selected, such as the tightly flamed and strikingly lovely maple of the back. The very well-carved scroll has an aristocratic air and is set off by its blackened edges. The full breadth of Richelme's artistic talent as a violin maker, however, was focussed on acoustic matters, and the unusually lovely, warm and mature sound of this viola is indeed the clearest testimony to his model, which is precise, resonant and perfectly balanced across all of the strings. We offer this great instrument in excellent condition, checked by our luthier and ready to play.

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