Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Russian Violin Makers

In terms of fame, and very likely in terms of expertise, Italian, French, and German violin makers have the Russians beat by a long shot.  At least that’s the general opinion.  Whether that is so because the violin was actually invented in Italy (around 1530) and the most prolific makers worked from there and were the first to become famous is anyone’s guess.  The names of da Salo, Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri, Maggini, Carcassi, Storioni, Gagliano, Guadagnini, Ventapane, Rogeri, Ruggieri, Pressenda, Albani, Gobetti, and Montagnana, are certainly very well known.  Their violins are prized above all others.  On the other hand, Russian makers are not known at all.  This peculiarity is striking since the whole world knows that most of the world’s celebrated violinists are Russian.  To filter them further, most among these superlative Russian players are Jewish – Oistrakh, Goldstein, Kogan, Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, Milstein, and Gitlis, to name a few.  So, why aren’t there any great Russian violin makers – makers whose names are household words – Jewish or otherwise?  Perhaps it has to do with tradition – like the tradition of exceptional French wine making or fine watch making by the Swiss.  After Amati (and his relatives) and other early makers started violin making enterprises, the violin construction economic engine took off; soon, imitators sprang up elsewhere in Italy - some of them really good.  Entire families (such as the Guarneris and the Stradivaris) got involved in the trade and the tradition of fine Italian violin making was thus established.  By the time the ideas and patterns for violin making spread to other parts of Europe, the Italians had been at it for more than fifty years.  Then the Italian violin virtuosos got going as well.  Up until 1750, they were dominant in the violin playing sphere.  Italian violinists like Corelli, Somis, Pugnani, Tartini, Geminiani, Vivaldi, Tommasini, and Locatelli had few (if any) corresponding contemporaries in the other European countries or Russia.  There was a time when Spain ruled the seas.  There was also a time when the Roman Empire ruled the world.  Nothing lasts forever.  Who knows whether the Russian violin makers will not some day soon take over the business?


  1. Thanks for such an interesting explanation. It is surprising that a large country so devoted to the music and specially to the violin hasn't any violinmaking school.

  2. you have to know more about Russian history from 19th century. There was a huge unflux of forein masters in many disciplines including lutherie.
    Big names of Russian violin makers are Ivan Batov 'Russian Stradivari', Nikolai Kittel, Arkhusen, V.V. Ivanoff, August Didelot, Ivan Krasnoschekov, Anatoly Leman, Ludwig Otto, F. Spidlen, E. Vitachek, Mitzkevich, Zlochanski, Dobriansky, Ernest Salzard just to name a few.

    1. Thank you so much for your informative comment. I shall look these violin makers up.