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The historical recovery of the "Cannone"

Paganini's violin, the famous Guarneri del Gesù from 1743, was to undergo an overhaul of the mounting, in other words of the accessory parts most subject to wear (fingerboard, pegs, etc.). The luthier-conservator, Bruce Carlson, assisted by his colleagues Alberto Giordano and Pio Montanari presented a proposal to the Genoa City Council for an intervention involving the replacement of these accessories.

The project envisaged an intervention that would go well beyond a merely functional perspective and allow the historical recovery of the image of the 'Cannone' as it was left by Niccolò Paganini to the city of Genoa. In fact, the 'Cannone' was handed over to the city in July 1851 and from that moment on it was kept in the Genoa City Hall under a glass bell and left in the same condition in which it was played by Paganini. When luthier Cesare Candi was commissioned to restore the instrument in 1937, in addition to consolidating the neck set-up, replacing the chain and stabilising the backbones, he took care to retain the original accessories used by Paganini. It was after World War II that, as the instrument was used more intensively, it was decided to replace these parts with others of modern use and taste. The major differences were found in the fingerboard: the 'old' one, 8 mm shorter, was wedge angled to achieve the correct projection, while the modern one used a strip of maple to achieve the correct angle.

Two factors were therefore decisive in setting up the proposed work: the first was the 'discovery' of these accessory parts used by Paganini and their study; the second was the search for iconographic material and the consequent analysis. The old photographs of the Cannon dating back to the end of the 19th century found in the Historical Photographic Archive of the Genoa City Council and those from the personal archive of Cesare Candi were thus decisive in reconstructing the historical image of the violin and verifying that there were no substantial alterations in its static and acoustic balance: they were also able to provide very useful information for the study of Paganini's violin technique.

At the conclusion of this work, the most important dealt with the violin since 1937, it was decided to organise, as part of the 2004 edition of the Paganiniana, the Violin-making conference "Recovery and Conservation of the Guarneri "del Gesù" Violin known as the "Cannon" (1743), in order to share with the public the historical, organological and also musicological aspects that have resulted from it.

The speakers present, some of the leading national and international experts in the field, were:

  • luthiers Carlo Chiesa, John Dilworth, Bruce Carlson and Alberto Giordano,
  • the bowmaker Pierre Guillaume,
  • the researchers Gabriele Rossi-Rognoni of the Museum of Musical Instruments of the Accademia Gallery in Florence and Marco Fioravanti of the University of Florence (DISTAF) - Associate Professor of Wood Technology
  • Paganini scholars Maria Rosa Moretti and Philippe Borer.