When I was in elementary school, my father gave me a violin. I think I was in fourth grade. I joined the orchestra and stuck with it for six years up to my sophomore year in high school. I remember it wasn’t cool to play the violin, but that wasn’t what stopped me. Frankly, I just wasn’t very adept as a violinist. It wasn’t a natural talent for me. In other words, in my case, practice did NOT make perfect. However, I did enjoy playing the classics in our school concerts, something I’ll always remember. But I knew I was not destined to be the ‘first chair.’ So I gave it up.
I recall as a kid looking inside the violin at the label and puzzling over the strange words. If I asked my father where the violin came from, I don’t remember doing so. It was a hand-me-down, something that had been in the family maybe for generations.
Last year, after my mother died, I went back to Minneapolis and helped my sister clean out the house where we had both grown up. In the closet of my old bedroom, I found the violin in its somewhat battered case. I didn’t have room to take it back with me on the airplane so I had it carefully packaged and sent through the mail.
Last week we visited friends who are professional classical musicians and have played many international venues. One of their daughters is a violinist and I noticed her violin case near the door. For some reason, that triggered my interest in my old violin. I took it out of the closet and examined it closely for the first time in many, many years.
I realized that now with Internet resources, I could look up the Latin or Italian writing on the inside. A few of the letters have become difficult to read, but by Googling what I could read, I was able to figure out the entire label. Here it is:
Andreas Guarnerius fecit Cremonae fub
Tituto Sanctae Theresiae anno 1701
That translates to:
Andreas Guarnerius made this in Cremona under the title Saint There’s in 1701.
I also found out that Guarneri dedicated all of his instruments to St. Theresa. Do I have an antique Guarneri violin, I wondered. Andreas Guarneri was a student of Antonio Stradivari. He died in 1698 and his son or nephew continued his work under his legend. I continued my research and found that there were thousands of copies of Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins made in the late 19th century and early 20th century in Germany and Italy. Finally, those luthiers were stopped from continuing those copies because so many people around the world were wondering—and still do—if they owned a real Stradiverius. Unfortunately, most do not. Same with the Guarnerius violins.
Out of curiosity, I’ve recently sent out photos of my violin to two luthiers, who requested pictures of the violin after I described the label. I have yet to hear back from either one, but in all likelihood I have a Guanerius copy. Regardless, it’s a very nice instrument…though now missing a couple of strings.
If I get an interesting update from the luthiers, I’ll add it on here.