Interview with Bruce Carlson
You are in charge of the conservation of Paganini's violin made in 1743 by the violin-maker Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri called "del Gesù" and because of your job very often you handle other historical violins. What's the main difference between the "Cannone", as Paganini used to call it, and other historical violins?
This particular instrument is significant not only because it was made by one of the greatest violin-makers of all time, but because it was the faithful companion of one of the most important and influential violinists, Niccolò Paganini. The state of preservation is excellent, because of the fact it has been relatively little played since the time that Paganini willed the instrument to the city of Genoa.
Conservation and use of historical violins. The pros and cons.
The violin unlike a painting has to be played in order to fulfil its role as musical instrument. An excess of usage, however, exposes the instrument to undue risk of damage and wear. Although we feel it is important that violin lovers and musicians have the opportunity to appreciate the sound of this instrument, we take care to avoid excess usage in order to preserve the instrument for future generations.
Winners of the Paganini Competition have the great opportunity to play the "Cannone" on October, 12th during the Christopher Columbus Celebrations and in a concert. What are your impressions from the backstage?
It is easy to see the joy of the winner when he finally plays and tests this violin for the first time. It is the fulfilment of a dream, mixed with the adrenaline of having just successfully concluded such an arduous task as the Paganini Competition. Most of the winners I have heard feel that they are challenged yet one more time in having to familiarize hemselves with a different violin in only a few hours prior to the concert.
In last century the "Cannone" has been played by a long list of violinists, in concert, live or in studio recording sessions. If you had to choose a violinist, who would you trust to play it again? And why?
The foremost characteristic I would look for in a musician would be an awareness of the importance of this instrument in the history of violin playing and to respect the violin accordingly. This has to do with a proper attitude towards the conservation and preservation of this instrument. This special violin represents more than a mere musical instrument: it is a part of our cultural heritage and cannot be misused in an egotistical or self-serving way.
As an instrument, during the centuries the violin has gone through adjustments in some of its parts due to the different ways of playing used by violinists (for example, the "Cannone" has a shorter fingerboard than today's violin). Do you think that in the near future there will be other changes?
Many of the changes or modifications made to the violin before and during the time of Niccolò Paganini were carried out as music and the needs of musicians changed along with the developing playing technique. Any type of music can be interpreted on the violin without further modification and, historically speaking, it is important that we preserve the instrument as we received it from the past.
Born in Flint, Michigan (U.S.A), in 1947. At the age of twenty he became intrigued with violinmaking and in due course, 1972, travelled to Italy to study at the International Violinmaking School of Cremona, where he received his diploma. Wishing to further his studies in the techniques of restoration, he worked in Los Angeles, from 1974 to 1977, for Hans Weisshaar. In 1979 he opened his workshop in Cremona. He was a member of the Scientific Committee for the Cremona exhibition "Capolavori di Antonio Stradivari" on the occasion of the 250º Anniversary Celebrations of the death of Antonio Stradivari. In 1995 he was a member of the Scientific Committee for the Exposition of Violins by Joseph Guarnerius "del Gesù" and worked for the preparation of the commemorative catalogue. Member of the International Society of Violin and Bow Makers, he has served as part of the jury for the Violin Society of America competition in Minneapolis-St Paul.
In June 2000 the Municipality of Genoa appointed him violin-maker in charge of the maintenance of the two historical violins, the "Cannone" (the famous Guarneri del Gesł belonged to Paganini) and its copy, the "Sivori".