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Mini Lectures at Open Mic Classical

Continuing and expanding on the idea of past lectures, and unusual instruments (like the one about Fanny Mendelssohn, by Sylvia Karkush Furash; or the presentation of Nyckelharpa by Ellen Adamson) we started short lectures on different music related topics at Open Mic Classical.

We would like to involve you, and we are inviting you to give us ideas, or prepare a short lecture you can share at Open Mic Classical.

Or even a musical joke!! Why not? Let's inspire each other!

Open Mic Classical, May 21st topic was a short presentation by Bob Marcus, of the book ANTONIETTA by John Hersey.

Antonietta is a story by John Hersey about violin makers, musicians, writers, and other creative types, famous and infamous, including a few crooks, covering the period 1699 to the present. The thread holding the stories together is the series of tales of the successive lives of a special violin, “Antonietta”, made by Antonio Stradivarius in Cremona in 1699. Hersey, once a violin student, writes with knowledge and understanding of the craft of violin making and of music, and Antonietta's voyage through the centuries is both romantic and informative.

While working in his violin shop, Antonio and his two apprentice sons happened to look out the window and saw a beautiful woman walking across the piazza. All three men were instantly captivated by the sight. Antonio ordered his sons back to work, while he began two simultaneous projects: he began to romantically pursue his new love, Antonia, and also to began fabrication of a new violin named “Antonietta” after his new-found love. So begins the story.

After Stradivarius died in 1778, Antonietta found its way to Paris where the young Mozart had also come in order to teach, compose and initiate (and end) various romances with young Pariesiennes. In addition to his enchantment by the sound of Antonietta, owned by the violinist Lahoussaye, Mozart also kept up romances with a number of his 15-16 year old cousins, at one point sending four of them identical letters that began, “My Dear _________ , Today I played a violin that reminded me of you.”

Lahoussaye sold Antonietta in 1818 to a London dealer who lost the violin to pirates during the voyage to England. After rediscovery and repairs Antonietta was eventually sold to the Paris violinist and composer Pierre Baillot, who worked closely with Hector Berlioz until Baillot’s death in 1842. During this period audiences and violinists likened the sound of Antonietta to “…brandy, strong snuff, daring décolletage, candied ginger, a stolen kiss, chutney, Egyptian perfume, and a flirt’s pout”.

The fourth part of the story mostly revolves around the new owner of Antonietta, Pavel Federovsky, and numerous musically creative exploits with Stravinsky and the writer Ramuz. After emigrating to America and performances with Leopold Stokowski and then Eugene Ormandy, Federovsky died in 1955.

Antonietta’s fortunes precipitously declined when the Strad was in turn sold to various show people, wealthy non-musical business types, and finally crooks.

I found this book to be musically informative, and also a fun read. Facts and fiction are seamlessly intermixed, and a delightful mixture of technical information on the fabrication of viols and sometimes fascinating insights into the mostly European musical world of strings from the days of Cremona to the present.

If you want to learn more about Stradivarius violins check out this interesting documentary:

or listen to a Stradivarius guitar, the Sabionari:

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