The Italian city of Cremona does not attract hundreds of tourists only because of its landscapes, but also because of its musical history. The violins made there continue to give something to talk about, as the musical culture of Cremona combined with traditional craftsmanship and quality wood techniques may be responsible for the excellence of its instruments.
No matter how far in the past you go in search of the history of violins, undoubtedly, at some point, you will come across the name of this small town. Anyone heading to Italy to learn more about the musical art that characterizes its past and present will not head to Rome, but to Cremona, home of the best violins in the world.
Cremona, a great little city
With less than 100,000 inhabitants, Cremona is a small province located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. Its visitors can delight in beautiful natural landscapes, in addition to the various famous structures such as the Stanga Palace and Palazzo Fodri, as well as the main cathedral, however, many tourists interested in music will want to head to two places: The official school of Luthiers, in the Marconi square, or the Violin Museum, formerly known as the Stradivarius.
This is because one of the great contributions of Cremona to the world are excellent violins and incomparable musicians who, with their musical pieces, achieved the recognition of the violin, making it one of the best known instruments. Without all the great musicians and luthiers born in this beautiful city, it is likely that the violin would have been forgotten as “the bastard son of the viola” as it was known in the 16th century.
The history of the violin is quite old and it had to go through various transformations to become what it is today. Renaissance music, so accustomed to violas, looked suspiciously at the creation of the violin, limiting its use as an accompaniment to dance music, while the viola remained a favorite in the houses of the nobility.
However, this changed when Claudio Monteverdi was old enough to compose opera musical pieces and made people begin to see the violin in a different way. This Italian born in 1567 is a pride of Cremona, as he is considered the first great violinist in history.
By the end of the 1500s, Claudio began to compose musical works that, contrary to his time, exalted singing in the opera and focused on the use of the violin instead of the viola. Some were skeptical at first, having heard about the mediocrity of the instrument called the violin, however, little by little people began to attend the magnificent recitals of Monteverdi and, with the arrival of Orpheus, his most important piece in 1607, this instrument it was consecrated, coming to be qualified as an instrument of the royalty and nobility of Italy.
Due to this first step, the violin was consolidated in the baroque music scene years later.
First class luthiers
After the great success of Claudio Monteverdi, the manufacture of violins advanced exponentially, since a great violinist such as he needed the best violin to produce his masterful operas.
Luckily, Cremona seems to be the land of choice for violins, as this city has also stood out for centuries in the manufacture of these instruments. Perhaps there is something magical in the forests of Cremona, because, being between a forest of maples and another of fir trees, the wood used in the manufacture of their violins is of the best quality.
Antonio Stradivari, born in Cremona in 1644, gave proof of this by becoming the most famous and important Italian luthier in the history of music.
The Armati family and the Guarnier, both originally from Cremona, were already famous for the manufacture of their violins, making use of the excellent wood that the forests of the region provided, however, Stradivari took these instruments and created violins with a new style improved bows, stronger bows, sturdy masts, and carefully measured structures.
To this day, Stradivarius violins are respected as the best ever for their great sound. Auctions have reached up to three million dollars for an original model. Antonio perfected the manufacturing and technique to create violins that, even today, have not been able to be imitated.
The collections open to the public are protected in the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Library of Congress of the United States. The rest are in the National Museum of Music in South Dakota and in Cremona, in the Violin Museum that annually attracts music fans from all over the world.
Today, Cremona is a city like any other, with the great difference of having more than seventy workshops in the region where the artisan tradition of violin making is transmitted, using the techniques of the great masters, such as Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri , and Andrea and Niccolò Amati.
The musical tradition is also passed on to children, who can attend multiple music schools for young talents.
People from different parts of the world prefer to discover the city of Cremona by attending the Violin Festival, where, in addition to classical music, other genres are explored, using the violin as the main instrument. While those who prefer more relaxed visits opt for a walk through the city, following the violin route and learning more about this beautiful instrument on every street in the city.
No matter what activity takes place, Cremona is full of an artistic musical air that surrounds everyone who visits it, so it is impossible that, when visiting Cremona, you do not immerse yourself in a world full of violins.