Steffen Nowak, Maker of fine Violins, Violas and Cellos in baroque and modern style

Viola after Paolo Maggini, Brescia ca. 1630


A Viola after Giovanni Paolo Maggini of Brescia.
G.P.Maggini trained and worked with Gasparo da Salo from around 1586, after ca. 20 years! he started to work in own name to ca. 1630. His labels are generally undated (just like his teachers').
Magginis are rare, instruments in excellent condition of that age even more so. My latest viola is a closely modeled on the one in the Austrian National Banks' Collection of Bowed Stringed Instruments. The known history of the original goes only back to the 1950's when it was aquired by Arthur William Beare.
It has been on long term loan to Veronika Hagen, the Violist of the Hagen Quartet, and can be heard on many of their recordings. The sound is rich, deep and sonorous, and has this wonderful ability to stand up on its' own to the quartets voices.

The model is very interesting as it demonstrates the main difference to the Cremonese design. Appart from a somewhat higher arching with Maggini's usual double purfling (did he charge extra for this?), the slightly less elegant looking head and pegbox, certainly looking back to earlier viol designs.

What makes this viola a 'players instrument' is the placement of the ff soundholes in the geometrical center of its' length - the stop and bridge position.. The back length of 413mm - 16 1/4'', the stop at 205mm, giving a very comfortable string length of 354mm. In its' original baroque set-up with the shorther neck this would of course have been even shorther.
The Cremonese makers in contrast put the stop and bridge position (governed by the outline and ff position) a fair bit further down the front. A comparable Cremonese viola, like a brothers Amati or Andrea Guarneri would have a string length of about 370 to 372mm - a difference of 16+ mm. This results in higher tension, for which modern strings with their gauges are of course well suited, and likely finding favour for those violists who are auditioning with the Bartok concerto.
The Magginis shorter string length gives more flexibility in sound production, from a deep warm sonority to clear and cuuting clarity. Modern strings offer choices the early makers and players didn't have, so anything is really possible with this instrument. Presently it's strung with Obligato and is certainly a worthwhile viola to try.

When deciding to make this Maggini model I was struck by the choice of wood the Brescian master had available: a georgious slab back with a subtle mottled figure, not birds eye maple which would have been even more uncommon (though you can see that with some Venetian makers and even more often North of the Alps).
Searching through my woodstore I struck proverbial gold, a close match in a well seasomed Bosnian slab back, bought in the 1990's, with a beautiful shimmering mottled curl and a good density for the sound I was looking for. The old split Italian Alpine spruce front also a visual close match (from the so called 'Stradivari forest', the Panaveggio National forest in the Trentino in the Dolomites).

Undoubtely many makers today would antique ('fake') such a model. But who are we kidding, however skillfully this is done, and there are not many makers really equipped to 'pull that off', a scratch is a scratch, even if 'artistically' applied.
And to varnish an instrument as 'new' is challenge even bigger than just rubbing acres of varnish down afterwards and adding some black and brown to those scratches. To me varnishing is about enhancement, both accoustically and visually.

It's about surface textures, letting the wood grain shimmer through to the surface, allowing the oil varnish over one or two decades develop a little shrinkage, on the normal contact points of skin and surface the varnish will loose some lustre. This is normal and should be anticipated. This is not a cheap Mirecourt, the varnish hard, scratched.
Look at a low angle over the instruments' surfaces, with sunlight, on a cloudy day, discover how the wood reflects, the prism effect of the varnish, compare it with the slightly shaded areas.

 Do you want to try this instrument  or have any questions?     e-mail me here

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