Silverman tells the tale of Luigi Tarisio, a legendary figure in the history of the violin, credited by some as being the savior of the violins of Cremona. Written in 1957 after years of meticulous research, the story feels fresh and alive over 50 years later and is a must read for violin and instrument enthusiasts.This book belongs in the realm of Historical Fiction, but many of the facts are easily verified.

Any student of the violin and its sister instruments knows the names of the makers from Cremona who first designed and built the instruments we now know as violins, violas and cellos – Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati, Bergonzi and many others. What many may not realize is that by the late 1700’s the violins by the Cremonese makers had fallen out of favor in Italy and were judged obsolete next to the “modern” instruments of the time. The Old Masters were all long dead, leaving behind no heirs to their knowledge and precious little in the way of documentation. No one wanted to buy violins by what we now call the Masters and so they were stored (often in deplorable conditions) or donated to monasteries or other institutions for eventual disposal to raise funds. There were a number of collectors who valued the instruments and kept them safe, if out of the public eye, but it seemed that the Golden Age of the Violin was over.

Enter Tarisio. His life’s mission was to find these Cremonese instruments and put them into the hands of people who appreciated and would play them. Those people resided in Paris, and so he set off on foot with a sack containing 10 violins made by the Masters slung over his back.

Upon arriving in Paris, Tarisio sought out the shop of a noted violin dealer called M. Aldric. It was through this dealer that Tarisio was to meet a violin maker, dealer and historian who would become an important figure for the rest of his life, one Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. The two would become a team of sorts, Tarisio finding the Cremonese instruments and Vuillaume repairing and selling them, while also making a good number of copies, but that is another story.

I won’t give away  more of the plot, but simply say that without the mission of Luigi Tarisio most of the Cremonese masterpieces being played and exhibited (and yes, even locked away in private collections) today would have been lost to history.

Here is a link to some of the instruments attributed to Tarisio.

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