Copying the best of Cremona: a brief survey
Italian violin makers are famous for their creativity and versatility. From the days of Andrea Amati they produced a mind-boggling array of variations on the same basic theme. This diversity is the fundamental hallmark of Italian violin making and, as a result, identifying the greatest old instruments is both fascinating and challenging. Practically every maker's work is individual enough, even within the same school and period, to make it unique and identifiable. Minor or major misattribution only happens as a result of our lack of knowledge, aided by the long-standing practice of relabeling instruments, and by the rarity of these instruments themselves.
Italian makers - including Stradivari - were adept at creating their own models based on the work of their direct predecessors, but copying directly or even indirectly was never high on their agenda and those copies that do exist are normally not highly reminiscent of the prototypes by today's standard. What is interesting is that both during Stradivari's life and for a time after his death in 1737, his style was neither understood nor widely copied. Once the classical Cremonese period had ended in the mid-18th century, most Italian violin making centers focused on the styles of Amati and Stainer. This nevertheless provided some outstanding results from makers such as Pietro Guarneri, Domenico Montagnana, David Tecchler, Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi, Carlo Tononi, Matteo Goffriller and a few others. Even those instruments that Stradivari's own sons, Francesco and Omobono, made after his death are generally faithful in concept to those of their father, but still have a unique character and are distinctly recognizable.