The Maestro Sacconi in the testimony of the violinmaker Wanna Zambelli
Cremona, June 29, 1985
I saw Simone Fernando Sacconi for the first time in 1968 at the School of Violinmaking in Cremona, where I was then in my first year. I remember him surrounded by the small number of students in the School (we were about ten, in all), curious and most attentive to his explanations. Already long before his arrival a climate of great expectation had been created, as if his visit were an exceptional, terribly important event. And I asked myself who this great expert might be, that came from America with the reputation of having repaired an enormous number of antique instruments. I would have liked to talk with him, but being just a beginner, completely green and timid, I lacked the courage. Instead, I talked with him in 1971 during one of his later visits to the School; I remember that as he passed among the work benches, he stopped at mine, too, looked with interest at the cello I was making, and gave me very valuable suggestions.
After that, I encountered him in the shop of master violinmaker Francesco Bissolotti, where I did my specialization from 1972 to 1975 after having finished the School. It was, in fact, in the summer and fall of 1972 that I had the chance to get to know Sacconi, to learn from him above all that great love for violinmaking which for me is still today a reason for living. I remember him at the bench with Bissolotti, intent on the construction of a violin modeled after the 1715 Stradivarius called «The Cremonese», constantly surrounded by people who bombarded him with questions and requests for explanations and for his opinion. During those months he was preparing his book, The 'Secrets' of Stradivarius, and the person who was helping him write it up came to him almost every day. He was so busy that at a certain point, in order to be able to work with greater calm and concentration, he began to come to the laboratory earlier than expected in the afternoons, when there was no one there but me; as I came every day from outside Cremona, I had a sandwich in the laboratory during the lunch break. It was especially in those moments that I had the chance to learn from him. I talked freely with him, feeling sure that he would understand what I asked him even if my questions were rough and imprecise, and that he would satisfy my curiosity down to the silliest little details. His kindness and great willingness to give me attention (and he had so little time!) helped me over my shyness, uncommunicative character and seeming touchiness, which many people have told me made me very difficult to deal with then. With Sacconi, I managed to communicate without hesitation or fears; he talked with me, the last one on the totem pole, as if he were talking with one of his colleagues or with a famous violinist; he explained things to me with great simplicity, with a clarity that rendered them almost obvious. I understood later that besides being a great violinmaker, he was above all a great man.
Another thing which struck me about him was his unlimited interest, his mania for Stradivarius, a sort of fanaticism. One thing that seemed strange to me – and it was only later that I experienced its importance – was the fact that during the work on the copy of «The Cremonese» Stradivarius, Sacconi made and used tools and implements like those Stradivarius used in his day. I asked myself why, when the utensils we were using at the time in Bissolotti's shop seemed more modern. Then I realized that although apparently more primitive than the modern ones, those tools were more functional, more practical, especially if one wanted certain results. One day Bissolotti, Andrea Mosconi and I went to the hospital – where Sacconi was taking care of his wife Teresita, who was recovered there – taking with us the belly of a violin in which we were to make the resonance f-holes (the eyes of the f-holes) experimenting the use of little tools that Sacconi, himself, had made copying those of Stradivarius. No one wanted to run the risk of ruining the belly, so after he explained exactly how to do the job, he told me to make the first hole, because as the least expert of the group I also had less responsibility. It worked marvellously.
In addition to the construction of implements, Sacconi worked with the help of Bissolotti in his shop preparing a new type of varnish, which he wanted to be similar to the one used by Stradivarius; in his book he described every detail of the procedure they used. He was constantly in search of natural substances, of resins that were impossible to find – it was one continuous experiment. He also talked with me about violinmaking the times I drove him in my little Fiat 500 to see Teresita in the hospital. I remember that at first it was a somewhat tragic situation, because he didn't trust my tiny car one bit, thinking it could wind up stuck in some hole. But out of necessity he had to take the risk, and I never heard him complain about the driver.
I was fascinated by his great love for antique instruments; he loved them almost more than anything else. When he picked them up, it seemed almost as if he were caressing them, and yet he handled them normally, and even with a certain force. He spoke of instruments calling them by name, as if they were people, and he remembered every detail about them – he bad an incredible memory. He said that he would have liked to write a book about restoration, too, in which he would have explained all the techniques he perfected over the years while working for the Herrmann Company, and then for Wurlitzer; unfortunately, he didn't have time to do it.
He would have liked for me to come with him to America to learn restoration, but I felt at the time that I bad too little experience, and I was also insecure and convinced that I would never have been able to live up to the esteem he had for me. I gave up the opportunity for fear of deluding him, but perhaps also because I was more attracted to the construction of new instruments, even though I understood how moving the work of a restorer could be. Sacconi's research, his experiments with varnish – which I followed in Bissolotti's laboratory – his explanations of techniques and also of apparently insignificant details made me understand how things have gotten little by little more complicated since Stradivarius's time; this process has lowered the quality of procedures and substances which were originally simple and natural; and it is that very simplicity and quality that Sacconi, with all his vast knowledge and experience, wanted to recuperate.
Sacconi was not my teacher, but the few months that I spent with him and the great love for violinmaking that he managed to transmit to me will always make me regret that I wasn't his pupil.
Cremona, June 29, 1985 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 172-174 - Italian / English).