London, July 4, 1985
Link: Charles Beare
This book commemorates, a dozen or so years after his death, the life and work of one of the greatest personalities of this century in the world of violins. Fernando Sacconi's inquisitive mind explored everything to do with violins and bows, and he became renowned both as a maker of new instruments, and as a connoisseur, restorer and adjuster of the finest old ones. Many of his closest friends and most valued customers have also passed away, but from the accounts of the musicians who have kindly contributed to this book comes a picture of a liutaio devoted to them and uniquely qualified to serve their needs. From the violin makers the reader will sense not only the unique respect in which Maestro Sacconi was held, but also something of his greatness as a teacher, and of his warmhearted generosity with the knowledge that he had so painstakingly acquired.
He was born in Rome, on the 30th of May 1895, a son of Gaspare Sacconi and his wife Laura (née Mongardini), at 23 Via del Gambero. His father was a tailor by profession, and also a good violinist, and Fernando had two sisters and a brother, all older than himself. In 1896 the family moved to Monte Carlo, where Gaspare opened a tailor's shop specialising in evening clothes, but when Fernando was eight years old they returned to Rome, due to an inheritance left to the family by his mother's brother.
By the age of nine Fernando was becoming very interested in the violin, finding its shape fascinating and drawing it on paper. One day when his parents were out he noticed an opening in the seam of one of his father's violins, and taking a kitchen knife he proceeded, out of curiosity, to remove the table. Far from being angry, his father appreciated the young boy's urge to become a liutaio, and before long he was taken to the shop of Giuseppe Rossi, who had been a pupil of Eugenio Degani in Venice. Each day for about four years Fernando would clean out the workshop and see Rossi's two daughters to school before going off to elementary school, himself. After school he was set to work on repairs, mostly mandolins, in which he took no interest at all. When twelve years old he announced one day that if he ever found another mandolin on his bench he would smash it. Next day sure enough along came another one, but after it had been reduced to smithereens he was taken seriously, and from then on specialized in instruments of the violin family.
At fourteen his work already had a certain reputation in Rome, and soon he was to have his first Stradivari to hand. It was the violin of Franz von Vecsey, known as the «Berthier», and he made a copy of it. Rossi had occasionally allowed him to make a new part for an instrument, but never a complete one, and was incensed that his pupil's new violin should show nothing of his own influence! At sixteen Sacconi was well established on his own, and set out for Paris with the intention of making his work known there. One of the violins he took was on the model of the «Berthier», the other a copy of a Gennaro Gagliano, which Bianchi in Nice could not believe was other than an original. Bianchi offered to buy his entire output.
This rapid progress continued until the First World War, in which he was slightly wounded twice, but thereafter Sacconi's fame spread quickly through Europe. Among his many clients were the Busch Quartet, all of whose instruments he copied, the «Paganini» Stradivari viola of 1731 several times. An important moment came when he was commissioned to repair the «Piatti» Stradivari cello of 1720, which far the first time gave him an opportunity of studying the interior of one of the great master's instruments. At about the same time he met and helped the ageing violin maker Giuseppe Fiorini, and thus had his first acquaintance with Stradivari's patterns, moulds and tools, which Fiorini subsequently presented to the city of Cremona.
In 1925 Fernando married Teresita Pacini, the daughter of a famous baritone, and sister of a cellist for whom he had made his first cello at the age of sixteen. Teresita is a person of great charm and wit and it was by all accounts a beautiful marriage. Their son, Gaspare, is an engineer, and Teresita lives on in the family home at Point Lookout, Long Island, where her husband's workshop remains as it was on the day he died. The main turning point in Sacconi's life came in 1931, when the dealer Emil Herrmann persuaded him to go to New York. It meant leaving an Italy that he never ceased to love, but in the U.S.A. he of course had a much better opportunity to examine fine old instruments, and it was there that he set out to develop the techniques of repair that were, perhaps, his greatest achievement. In 1937 Sacconi returned to Italy to play an important part in the celebrations for the bicentenary of Stradivari's death, but soon came the War, and he was not to return again for several years. In 1951 Emil Herrmann retired from business in New York, and both Sacconi and his pupil Dario D'Attili were invited to join Rembert Wurlitzer. The new combination of expert dealer and outstanding craftsman created an atmosphere second to none in the premises at 120 West 42nd Street in New York. Encouraged by the scholarly knowledge and enthusiasm of his new patron, Sacconi built up a workshop of such importance that there was scarcely a string player of any standing who did not have his instrument serviced and adjusted there. In the fifteen months that I was privileged enough to spend in Mr. Sacconi's workshop in 1960-61, for instance, I noted no fewer than a hundred and ten Stradivari instruments passing through, together with half as many by Guarneri del Gesù.
The tragic and untimely death of Rembert Wurlitzer in 1963 left a huge gap in the lives of Sacconi and everyone else at 42nd Street. With great courage and devotion his widow, Lee, came forward to take charge of the business, which continued to thrive for the last ten years of Sacconi's life. In 1965 a great coup was achieved with the acquisition of the Hottinger Collection, and those who visited New York while the thirteen Stradivari violins and the others were on display will recall the pride Sacconi took in handling them and showing off their finer points. The next year another exhibition was held in honour of his seventieth birthday, and throughout the increasingly difficult times that followed Lee Wurlitzer had no more loyal or dedicated colleague and friend than Fernando Sacconi. It was she who encouraged him and gave him the time to make his great contribution to the city of Cremona.
Since his early days with Fiorini Sacconi had dreamt that one day Cremona would be great again, and the weeks that he was able to spend each year teaching and reorganizing the Stradivari museum bore abundant fruit. His enthusiasm made him many instant but enduring friends in the home city of violin making, while his unrivalled craftsmanship demonstrated even to the proudest local liutaio that all sorts of things could still be learnt. His book «The 'Secrets' of Stradivari», the work of many years, was conceived with the idea of passing on as much as possible of what its author had been able to learn in a life-long study of his great predecessor and idol. Appropriately it was finally written and published in Cremona, and in the intervening years has made an enormous impact on the quality of new violin making in many countries.
Despite the fact that he was much loved and respected by Mrs. Wurlitzer, her daughter Marianne, and many of their staff, the last year at Wurlitzer's was one of some frustration for the great master, now in his middle seventies. His eye for old instruments was, inevitably, not quite what it had been, and he was troubled by high blood-pressure, but his work at the bench was still perfect, exemplified by a scroll that I recall him making for a Stradivari of the last period. It was agreed that he would work at his home at Point Lookout for all but two days of each week, and there he died on 26th June 1973.
This book conveys many personal impressions, but Sacconi's true legacy, apart from what he achieved himself, is to be found in the world-wide improvements that have taken place in violin repair and manufacture. Many of his pupils have now had pupils of their own, who in turn have established their own businesses. Whether one looks at the prizes won in international competitions for new instruments, or enquires where the best restorations are carried out, it becomes clear that many of today's leading liutai owe a direct debt to Fernando Sacconi. Nevertheless, for all his qualities as a maker of new violins, as a restorer, and as an expert, the fondest memory that many of us have is of the warmth of his personality, and of the love that he had for his profession and those who shared his enthusiasm for it.
London, July 4, 1985
From left, in the foreground:
Hans J. Nebel, René A. Morel, Vahakn Nigogosian.
From the left, in the background:
Mario D'Alessandro, Charles Beare, John A. Roskoski, Simone Fernando Sacconi, Luiz Bellini and Dario D'Attili.
© 2023 - In memory of Simone Fernando Sacconi in the 50th Anniversary of his death