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Review: The Manuscript on Violinmaking by Giovanni Antonio

Review: The Manuscript on Violinmaking by Giovanni Antonio Marchi

Reviewed by Don Overstreet

Originally published in American Lutherie #11, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

The Manuscript on Violinmaking
Giovanni Antonio Marchi
Arnaldo Forni Editore Bolgna 1786.

Those of us who make instruments, particularly violins, are always hoping that ancient road maps will surface which will guide us along the mysterious paths that lead to the skill to build consistently good sounding and beautiful instruments. Over the centuries there has developed a considerable body of practical and historical information as well as enough “learned lore” to keep even the most hard-boiled luthier confused throughout his or her entire career. There will never be a substitute for excellent training, and all those who have made a serious study of instrument making have a firm foundation. Yet we cling to the belief that there are secrets, known only to a privileged few.

Thus it was that in the winter of 1986 there was published in Bologna, Italy (for the first time), a translation of a two-century old manuscript on violin making by an Italian violin maker named Giovanni Marchi. Not a familiar name, but there he was in 1786 making instruments, repairing “old” ones, and actually having the wherewithal to commit his thoughts on the subject to paper. Could this work conceal information about 18th-century Italian violinmaking that had been lost?

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