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