The Making of a Violin from Start to Finish: Watch a French Luthier Practice a Time-Honored Craft

Two fam­i­lies have been cred­it­ed with mak­ing the great­est vio­lins of the clas­si­cal peri­od: the Stradi­vari and the Guarneri. The first luthiers with those names were trained in the work­shops of the Amati fam­i­ly, whose patri­arch, Andrea, found­ed a lega­cy in Cre­mona in the mid 1500s when he gave the vio­lin the form we know today, invent­ing f‑holes and per­fect­ing the gen­er­al shape and size of the instru­ment and oth­ers in its fam­i­ly.

But there’s far more to the sto­ry of the vio­lin than its famous Ital­ian mak­er names sug­gest, though these still stand for the height of qual­i­ty and pres­tige. Vio­lin-mak­ing cen­ters arose else­where in Europe soon after the Stradi­vari and Guarneri set up shop. In France, the town of Mire­court became “syn­ony­mous with French vio­lins and the craft,” notes Corilon vio­lins.

From 1732 on, French Mire­court crafts­men fol­lowed the strict rules of their guild to uphold their high stan­dards, and appren­tices trained there were in demand far beyond the con­fines of the town. They fre­quent­ly went on to found their own stu­dios in oth­er cities, espe­cial­ly Paris. Some­times they lat­er returned to Mire­court after sev­er­al years of suc­cess else­where. As a result the local art of mak­ing French vio­lins had a strong effect on the out­side world, whilst at the same time incor­po­rat­ing oth­er influ­ences. 

Famous Mire­court mak­ers includ­ed Nico­las Lupot, called “the French Stradi­var­ius.” The pri­ma­ry influ­ence came from Cre­mona, but “impor­tant tech­ni­cal insights were adapt­ed from Ger­man vio­lin mak­ing.”

The city entered a new phase when Didi­er Nico­las became the first to man­u­fac­ture vio­lins seri­al­ly in Mire­court at the turn of the 19th cen­tu­ry. His fac­to­ry “employed some 600 peo­ple, mak­ing his busi­ness the first large-scale oper­a­tion of its kind in the tra­di­tion-rich town in north­ern Frances Vos­ges moun­tains,” and inau­gu­rat­ing an indus­tri­al peri­od that would last until the late 1960s.

The post-indus­tri­al late-20th cen­tu­ry saw the col­lapse of Mire­court’s great vio­lin-mak­ing com­pa­nies, but not the end of the city’s fame as France’s vio­lin-mak­ing cen­ter, thanks in great part to Nico­las’ found­ing of L’É­cole Nationale de Lutherie, “where excel­lent mas­ters and vio­lin mak­ers keep the time-hon­ored art alive and dynam­ic.” The city’s “guild her­itage” lives on in the work of con­tem­po­rary mak­ers like Dominique Nicosia.

A mas­ter luthi­er and instruc­tor at the school in Mire­court, Nicosia shows us in the video at the top the time-hon­ored tech­niques employed in the mak­ing of vio­lins in France for hun­dreds of years, using met­al tools he also makes him­self. Watch the tra­di­tion come alive, learn more about the famous vio­lin-mak­ing city, which remains the bow-mak­ing cap­i­tal of the world here, and see Nicosia pass his skills and knowl­edge to a new gen­er­a­tion in the video above from L’É­cole Nationale de Lutherie.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Vio­lins Have F‑Holes: The Sci­ence & His­to­ry of a Remark­able Renais­sance Design

Watch the World’s Old­est Vio­lin in Action: Mar­co Rizzi Per­forms Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 on a 1566 Amati Vio­lin

Behold the “3Dvarius,” the World’s First 3‑D Print­ed Vio­lin

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.