Cremona, October 7, 1983
I met Simone Fernando Sacconi in 1961, when I was twenty, hardly more than a boy. It was my first trip to the United States. After that, I encountered him three or four more times. The main thing I remember about him was his incredible humanity, especially with young people. During the period in which I frequented the Wurlitzer Company, Pinchas Zukerman came in, too (in fact, that is where I met him). I remember how hard Sacconi worked, because he was the director of that great American company. He was the one who often decided to lend instruments to young people that needed them – like Zukerman, whom nobody knew at the time (he was a just young student who needed an instrument and had no money). Sacconi went out of his way for these young people, giving them violins and finding them work. With me, personally, he was terribly nice. I even went to his house on Point Lookout, and we went fishing together. He had that incredible accent from his Roman dialect, and when he was with other Italians he would come out with the funniest things – enough to make you die laughing.
Then there was a wonderful relationship between Sacconi and my father, who accompanied me on my first tours of the United States. I was only twenty, alone, and pretty scared... so I was always with my father on my first tours. Every once in a while be would disappear when I had things to do. He'd go off and see Sacconi – they'd strike up a conversation, then go have a cup of coffee or take a walk together. There was a great rapport of extraordinary friendship between them, also because they must have been about the same age.
Sacconi helped me out when I got my Montagnana from Wurlitzer's. I remember that I wasn't exactly rolling in money at the time; I was just at the beginning of my career, and even then instruments cost a great deal. I was playing a Giuseppe Gagliano in that period, and had a Gian Battista Guadagnini, which was nothing exceptional – just two mediocre instruments. When I went to meet Sacconi, he asked to see my instruments and said, “What?! These aren't instruments for you!” I answered, “I know, but what can I do?” Sacconi reassured me, “I’ll take care of everything – don't worry, don't worry.” After a quarter of an hour, he showed up with a Maggini and had me try it – I wasn't very enthusiastic about it, and he wasn't convinced, either. Then he said, “Maybe I do have just the violin for you” and he came back with a Montagnana. He showed it to me and handed it to me to try it out: it was an extraordinary violin with a marvellous tone, and I immediately fell in love with it. He said, “Look, don't worry – here's what we'll do: I’ll take these two violins, the Gagliano and the Guadagnini, and then let me handle things.” In all practicality, I didn't have to spend a cent. I took the Montagnana, and he told me, “Keep it for two or three months. I have to be back within four months, and you can let me know then whether or not you like it. If you don't, maybe we can try something else. In any case, if I have the chance to sell these instruments, I will, because they're not for you. I manage to get really good prices, and then... we'll see." Instead, I called after just two weeks to tell him that the violin was wonderful, and that I was euphoric. This was just one example of that great Maestro's exceptional humanity. He had understood that I needed a violin that responded to my interpretative demands, to what I wanted from an instrument, and he really helped me out.
Then I also got my Francesco Stradivari from him – a marvellous... gorgeous violin which he enabled me to get at a reduced price. His word was the gospel at Wurlitzer's! There, he was the one who really counted – he was the soul, the security of the firm. When you went there, you didn't ask for just anyone – you wanted to see Sacconi, you wanted his opinion. Rembert Wurlitzer was the business expert, but Sacconi was the guarantee for everything. The most beautiful thing in my opinion, however, was this enormous interest and availability he showed young people. He used to say, “The only thing I can leave to the world is what I do for the young.” He also had extreme conscientiousness in his profession; he was incredibly reliable, with a sense of responsibility that is quite rare at his level, which was also the level of big business.
He kept me with him, and showed me the restorations he was doing. I remember one viola that he restored, and the photo he showed me of it before the restoration: it looked as if someone had sat on it. The work he had done was incredible – you absolutely couldn't see the repair, and the viola seemed intact.
I was fortunate enough to be in New York right when the Wurlitzers repurchased the Hottinger Collection, which was one of the greatest collections of instruments in the world. Sacconi called me at my hotel and said, “Listen, this morning all these instruments are going to arrive – come see them, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime occasion!” I must have seen 8-10 Stradivariuses, 4 Guarnerius del Gesùs, some Amatis and Montagnanas, the Stradivarius IV, the Stradivarius quarter. Then he had me try every one of them, saying, "Look, I'll let you try them, but I really shouldn't – not because it's not allowed, but because I'm not exactly doing you a favor, since you'll get the feel of them and then not be able to buy them.” In any case, it was a chance in a million to see all those instruments at one time (twenty-five to thirty instruments) – I still tremble when I think about it. They were all in marvellous condition, and every one really extremely beautiful – extraordinary. You can understand if you think that the whole collection had been bought from the Wurlitzer Company earlier and thus, in all practicality, came from Sacconi's hands.
Sacconi was an oracle for us violinists. Whenever we got together and asked each other about a violin – what it was, or wasn't – the first question was, “Has Sacconi seen it? What did he say about it?” He always had the last word – it was the gospel, and not just for us, but for all his colleagues, as well, This is even more important, because he had some extraordinary colleagues, but all of them agreed that Sacconi had the last word – especially when it had to do with Stradivarius. Thus he was held in immense respect – really enormous; both among my colleagues and among his, he was a sort of myth. Sacconi was a myth, and that's how I want to remember him... as a great guiding light, an essential point of reference for musicians and violinmakers, alike – a great, great expert, and a really superior man of extraordinary humanity.
© 2023 - In memory of Simone Fernando Sacconi in the 50th Anniversary of his death