New York, March 4, 1984
When I met Mr. Sacconi for the first time, he was still working for Mr. Emil Herrmann, the most famous dealer in violins at that time. He impressed me immediately with his great knowledge and uncanny instinct in judging any instrument that was put into his hands. The minute he looked at a violin, he knew what it was, how it was made, and whether or not it was genuine. He could put his finger on the violinmaker, Italian or French, out of the hundreds he was familiar with, and could even say if he had had help in making the instrument. It was amazing! The same thing was true of bows, simply wonderful!
I came to love the man. When I came to him for something, he knew exactly what I had asked for, and in a few minutes it was done. With others you had to wait ages. Sacconi could do something with one stroke of the knife that others simply were incapable of doing. He was also expert in judging a novice by the way he used his hands, and knew whether he could ever make an expert carver. At the time when we got to know each other, I was living on 57th Street, and so was Herrmann. Sacconi used to come to my house often and talk about instruments over a glass of wine. I learned a great deal from him, even about bows. In my childhood I was one who asked a thousand questions a day, and when you ask questions, you often get answers you remember. Sacconi liked me because of this, and we became good friends. Most violinists do not know much about their instrument, how to take care of it, or what can go wrong with it – like the lady who looked under the hood of her Volkswagen and thought she had lost the motor, and her friend in another Volkswagen who offered to lend her the extra one she had in the back of hers! Violinmakers often have trouble in making adjustments for clients who simply do not know what they are after.
While Sacconi was with Herrmann, he had three assistants, D'Attili, Weisshaar, and Hertel. Today they are experts, and it was Sacconi who taught them everything they know. When the time came for Herrmann to consider giving up his business after its decline due to Second World War, Sacconi talked with me about the idea of his moving to Wurlitzer. I told him I thought he should, if he felt the company was stronger than Herrmann. In fact, both he and D'Attili decided to go with Wurlitzer, and Weisshaar went to Los Angeles. Bellini, also trained by Sacconi, and Nigogosian were at Wurlitzer, too.
At that time I had a small format Stradivarius, and I wanted something larger. By chance I came across a larger Stradivarius which I loved, but was difficult to play on. I took it to Sacconi and told him I didn't like the fingerboard. He took it off and found that the neck had been carved wrong, and said, “I'd have to put on a fingerboard the thickness of one for a cello to correct it. You need a new neck!” I had to play with the New York Philharmonic in less than a month, and didn't see how he could possibly make me a neck in time, but in just ten days he had finished it. It was like a metamorphosis: the violin sounded better and was easy to play, and he had done this marvellous job so quickly and masterfully!
Another time I took him my Lupot violin because I felt it didn't have enough sound on the lower strings. He examined it, found that the original notches in the f-holes had been replaced by two lower ones, and said that the only solution was to restore the original notches which were cut by Lupot. This was a tiny detail that no one else had ever noticed, and it made the instrument deeper in sound.
I took him still another fine Italian violin that I had bought in London and asked him if he could improve the sound of that, too. He went to the trouble that time of making not one, but three bass bars, one after the other, until the sound was right! That's the kind of man he was. There is no one today who can compare with him.
Once he made a copy of my Stradivarius for me, but then took it back because he wasn't happy with the way the varnish had turned out. I never even knew what happened to it after that. He was such a perfectionist that he was often not even satisfied with his own work.
Stradivarius was, of course, his god. He went right to Cremona and made such a special study of Stradivarius's work that I don't think anyone in this country or anywhere else could touch it. When you went to his private workshop at Point Lookout, you felt that he had tried to bring Stradivarius's shop into modern life. He had moulds there that showed how the master constructed his violins from the inside, out, and he, too, started from the inside. That fascinated me! In his little barn he had a long string of violin bridges, and once he told me, “These are my pride and joy. There are no bridges like these any more.” I have one of those bridges on my Stradivarius. He made it for me when I had to go to the Soviet Union, because I was afraid my original bridge would become too low because of the cold. The one he made for the trip has been on my violin since 1965. I've never had to change anything he fixed, and there is no one that could replace his work, anyway.
As time went on, Sacconi began to have trouble with his heart. Mrs. Wurlitzer loved him, and told him he only had to come in once or twice a week. At that time others at Wurlitzer were vying for power, and in the end Mrs. Wurlitzer became discouraged and gave up the entire business. I still used to visit Sacconi on Long Island. I really loved the man, and was with him just a couple of weeks before he died. He was an angel of a man who didn't have a bad bone in his body. Perhaps he was too good.
What is certain is that he was one of the greatest men in the art of building and restoring string instruments that this country ever knew, and not only this country. Sacconi set the standards, and it's hard to find people today who can come up to them. Today there are some fine violinmakers in the United States – all of them learned from him.
New York, March 4, 1984
Taken from the book: «From Violinmaking to Music: The Life and Works of Simone Fernando Sacconi», presented on December 17, 1985 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (Cremona, ACLAP, first edition 1985, second edition 1986, pages 209-211 - Italian / English).
© 2024 - In memory of Francesco Bissolotti in the 5th anniversary of his death