The luthiers of Cremona

Antonio stradivari

The most famous violin maker of all time was undoubtedly Antonio Stradivari.  What is less well know is that there was a whole group of luthiers living in Cremona at the same time, of which Stradivarius was the most successful.

These days, a Stradivarius instrument can command enormous sums of money, but it's not just his instruments that are so highly prized.  Whole dynasties of instrument makers seemed to spring up in Cremona during the end of the seventeenth century, and the beginning of the eighteenth.  One such family was the Guarneri, who lived just a few doors away from the Stradivarius, near the Piazza San Marco.

It is easy to imagine the envy and jealousy of the other luthiers when they saw their successful neighbour, with his rich and powerful customers bestowing their favours (and cash) in return for a genuine Stradivarius instrument.  With Stradivarius dominating the market of kings and princes, the Medici, the church, the others were forced to sell their instruments to anyone who would pay - itinerant musicians, travelling players - none of whom had anything like the resources to buy one of Stradivarius's creations.

The Guarneri family was clearly overshadowed by Stradivarius.  The impossibility of competing with Stradivarius inevitably set up tensions within the family, and the eldest brother, Pietro,  left to set up his own business in Venice.  The younger son remained, but it takes little imagination to feel the pressure 

It was this background that convinced me that I could use one of the Guarneri family as a main character at the start of the book.  And the ideal member was Giuseppe (also known as Bartolomeo), the son that stayed at home, and remained under the thumb of his father.  Meanwhile, a few doors away, there were tensions too within the Stradivarius family.  None of the children from Stradivarius' first marriage were able to come up to the level of their father, and the eldest, Omobono, also decided to leave home to escape the dominating influence of his father.  However, he was forced back because of his mother's final illness.  Stradivarius had eleven children in total, and it would be unthinkable that the Guarneri family did not know their neighbours.  In particular, Stradivarius' daughter by his second marriage was called Francesca, and I found that according to most accounts she 'died' at the age of twenty.  However, other accounts have her present at the death of her father some twenty years later than this.  Amazingly for me, it also seems that she entered a nunnery at a most convenient point for my story.  I decided that Giuseppe Guarneri (later known as Del Gesu) would display his ambition to rise above his father's relatively poor livelihood by marrying into the Stradivarius family, and by doing so, displace the great man;s sons as the natural successor to the Stradivarius name and business.  The obvious way for him to do this was to marry Francesca.

Giuseppe Guarneri is reputed to have had weaknesses for both wine and women, and finally married - not Francesca Stradivari - but Katarina Rota, an Austrian.  I decided that the Creponi mentioned at Richard Charke's arrival in Jamaica, should be the step brother of Katarina Rota, and that the reason for Guarneri to give the flawed violin to Creponi was the result of his being blackmailed over the affair with Katarina, and the fact that Francesca was already pregnant by him.

© Katisha Limited 2013