Working at the Metropolitan Museum. March 2020

Posted on March 12th, 2020 by

Celebrating an extraordinary violin. Playing the wonderful 1737 Testore violin in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum 11 3 20

This week (beginning March 11th 2020) I have been working with the fantastic Musical Instruments department at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, on a number of projects. My first day was very full: All morning and afternoon, together with the extraordinary team of curators and instrument technicians, I worked with and on a mysterious instrument by Giovanni Battista Grancino (1637 – 1709).

Playing the 1700 Grancino. But what is it?

I have been looking at this instrument for year (there are three more which Grancino made in the same year). Wednesday was my first chance to begin exploring is sound, which is remarkable, and to begin asking the big question – what is it and what was it. I was very lucky to have the brilliant young luthier Ana Guadalajara with me to make adjustments, talk about strings, and so on.

Ana Guadalajara measuring the distance between the bridge and the tailpiece on the Grancino

Exploring the instrument ranged from trying out possible works written at the end of the 17th century, which might offer clues as to it’s purpose (I brought Matteis, De Machy, Colombi, and more), through to improvisations, just seeing what colours are to be found in this instrument, which has, to the best of our knowledge, not been heard for many decades.

Central to the work at the museum, was the opportunity to record the next disc in my ‘Great Violins’ Series. On my last visit, at the end of Summer 2019, I was introduced to a wonderful 1737 violin by Carlo Antonio Testore. I had been thinking about this instrument ever since!

The back of the exquisite Testore violin.

So, at the end of my first day, I was able to go to the beautifully re-hung Musical Instruments Gallery in the museum, and record a large group of works by G B Vitali (see above) and Bononcini.

What a place to work!
The 1669 Amati, on my knee

Also on the table, to be discussed and played ( I am using it for my Beethoven lecture ) a fascinating 1669 violin by Nicolò Amati ( 1596–1684). This beautiful instrument, in Baroque set-up, is highly decorated. However, the decorations do not date from the time of its making, but were added, when the instrument was given to a winner of the Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatoire at the beginning of the 19th century. The back of the violin has been painted with the cithera of Apollo, and the laurel wreath of the victor.

Apollo’s lyre, and the victor’s laurel wreath!