Maestro Sacconi was in Italy for his summer vacation when I was hired at Wurlitzer's. At that time I was 24 years old and had come to the United States two years earlier to continue my studies in fine arts. When he returned two weeks later, my apprenticeship with him began and soon the admiration we had for each other developed into a kind of father-son relationship.
I still work as a luthier thanks to Sacconi. In fact, many of the most important things about my work that have happened to me in my life since I met him are due to him.
He was a man of incalculable value and was unsurpassed among the luthiers of the twentieth century. The only one that could be compared in terms of his intuition in building instruments is the famous Vuillaume, who lived in the last century. As for his extensive knowledge of the instruments and his ability to repair them, I don't think there's been anyone like him in the last two hundred years. Many of the most respected luthiers in this country and in Europe have had working relationships with him. His reputation was firmly established and his personality influenced whoever came into contact with him. To give you an example of what he was like in his work, I will tell you about the restoration we did on the ribs of a Guarneri del Gesù. He took such care in finishing the details that when he had finished the work it seemed that the whole instrument had returned to its original state. Sacconi was always part of everything he did and took his work so seriously that every detail enveloped him completely. It was really impressive to behold!
He often went to Europe, where he spent most of his time in Cremona, working with local luthiers and helping them in every way possible. These trips rejuvenated him and he would say, "You know my blood pressure was always normal while I was in Italy!" He was so dear to me and I cared so much about his welfare that I encouraged him to go and stay in Italy if it made him feel so good, even though it would have been a tremendous loss for me not to be able to work with him. However, when he returned at the end of the summer, there were always so many instruments waiting to be identified. At Wurlitzer's, Sacconi and D'Attili's decisions were the only ones that really mattered when it came to identifying an instrument.
I once asked him why he didn't have his own shop and he just replied with a smile. I even went so far as to tell him that I would work for him for free if he did; I was so fond of him! However, he knew that if he had his own shop he would no longer be able to devote himself completely to the construction and restoration of the instruments (I understood in the meantime, from personal experience, that he was right). Besides, he wasn't a businessman: he was an artist.
His semi-retirement toward the end of his life created a lot of difficulties for me, but somehow or other I managed to learn an incredible amount from him in the only two or three days a week that he came to the workshop, because we had a close relationship. Of course, I missed his full-time guidance so much, but I was glad that he had more time to devote to work in his workshop at home and to the morning fishing he loved so much. The way he worked with me always made me feel like he was explaining the art of lutherie to his son. He had such confidence in me that he brought me the Hellier (a famous violin by Antonio Stradivari, ed.) and the copy that he had made of it, so that I could take care of them for him, only to spur me even more into the work.
It may seem strange, but I could never call him "Fernando". I had to call him "Maestro". I grew up with the conviction that teachers or mentors deserve great respect; therefore, I could never even call him "Mr. Sacconi", because only "Maestro" seemed sufficiently respectful to me.
I found his teaching extremely clear, I could understand every detail that this man explained to me about what to do or not to do, thanks to his ability to show how the work had to be performed. I made such rapid progress with him that in about six months I was already able to do most of the general repairs and, after about a year, I was already working on the restoration of valuable instruments. He deserves a great deal of credit for all this, because he taught me so exceptionally.
It was above all in the art of retouching that we understood each other very well, on account of my background in the fine arts. When I started working with him, I was totally dedicated to my work as a painter. I was very serious in my intention to leave lutherie to devote one hundred percent of my time to painting and exhibitions, and I had already exhibited my works in numerous galleries in New York. The only reason I was still at Wurlitzer's was because Sacconi kept insisting that I stay, especially after the many lunches we had together, during which he told me about the great luthiers who had been painters and sculptors, like himself.
When I got married, he began to make my wife an ally to help him convince me not to leave the violin shop. He called her and said, "Carlos has to continue! You have to use your influence to convince him to stay, because he will be great." I kept saying no and Sacconi was afraid that I would abandon lutherie altogether. At that time, I worked on violins only two or three days a week and spent the rest of my time painting and preparing exhibitions. In the two months before he died, Sacconi kept calling my wife and me, and every time he said, "You have to go back to this work!" Meanwhile, without telling me anything, he had told various musicians about me.
In June of the same year we met him at the wedding of a luthier, where he asked me to assist him in the construction of a quartet; we set the date, which turned out to be only a week after his death. Two weeks after this encounter, we received the phone call announcing his passing and both of us, my wife and I, were shocked. It was terrible to think that he was no longer with us, since he had been such a strong presence in our lives. Sacconi had been like a father to all of us; my heart was broken and I truly wept for this great loss.
On the evening of his death, my wife and I and three of his students went to pay homage to him with a pillow of red roses, to see him for the last time. The scene was very moving because when we entered, Mrs. Sacconi, Teresita, came to us with open arms exclaiming: "Here are his children!"; then she embraced us all affectionately. We all loved her very much and were so moved by her gesture that I couldn't hold back the tears.
He was a model for me not only in my work, but also in my marriage, since both of us, my wife and I, admired the love that he and Teresita had for each other, a love that never really ended, because she still feels his presence. My wife and I know that he really loved us too.
Because Maestro Sacconi cared so much about me continuing in lutherie, after his death I felt almost obligated to continue. I even had the strange feeling that I didn't have a choice. That year we took a whole summer of vacation and went to Europe, because I needed time to reflect. When I came back almost convinced, it was the customers who decided the matter. I began to receive phone calls from the most varied people who said: "Mr. Sacconi told us about you, so we know that you are good!" This was the beginning of everything.
I have a photograph of Sacconi in my shop, hanging behind me while I work. I call him my guardian angel; I know it may seem silly, but I have conversations of sorts with him, especially when I'm in difficulty and I tell him what my problem is. Somehow I feel that, with him there, I can solve the problem better: it's like having a shoulder to lean on. If anything goes wrong, I turn around and blame him, then I think about what he would have done in a similar situation. I still try to follow his ideals, to be mentally elastic and to take care of every detail of the restorations I am doing in the way he would have adopted. We had, and still have, a kind of spiritual relationship. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing things more his way than mine! I think that's what keeps making me successful in my work.
© 2024 - In memory of Francesco Bissolotti in the 5th anniversary of his death