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"Making" music in Bologna and province

Let's continue our journey among arts and crafts strictly "Made in EmiliaRomagna". Today we move to the province of Bologna to discover an ancient manual art dedicated to musical instruments. As many of you know, Bologna in 2006 was declared by Unesco the City of Music.

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The only one in Italy to be affiliated with this network of Unesco Creative Cities, Bologna boasts a rich musical tradition, to the extent that between the 17th and 19th century it was destination and home to some of the major European composers of the period. Even today, the city continues to keep alive this illustrious tradition, with rich concert seasons and numerous music festivals of all kinds (from classical to electronic music to that for children), including the famous Jazz Festival that has turned it into the European capital of Jazz since the 50's.
But today we are here to talk about a musical tradition linked, rather than to composition and practice, to the real manufacturing of instruments in the historic workshops of luthiers born in the shadow of the Two Towers of Bologna. 

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Lutherie is the art of manufacturing and restoration of stringed instruments (such as violins, cellos, double basses) and plucked instruments (guitars, basses, mandolins), which has remained almost unchanged over the centuries. The name derives from the lute, a plucked instrument widely used in the Baroque era and which came into use in the mid-18th century. Bologna's lutherie tradition has its roots in the middle ages: the first documents that prove the presence of luthiers in the city date back to the end of the 15th century and the first document concerning a local company of luthiers is dated 1508. Another famous evidence of the popularity of musical instruments in medieval Bologna (probably also due to the great university vitality of the city) is the rebec of Santa Caterina de Vigri, still preserved in the Corpus Domini Museum. The true fame of Bologna's lutherie, however, was born with Luca Maler (1485 – 1552) and Hans Frei (1505 – 1565), two German artisans who established their workshop in Bologna. The great skill and personality of Maler made Bologna's lutes famous all over Europe as a synonym for quality tools; just think that the price of these instruments was three/four times higher than those of the competition! During the following centuries several famous families (such as Brensi, Guidanti and Tononi) managed to keep high the name of Bologna's lutherie by producing articles of undisputed artistic and commercial value, despite the decline suffered by this art in the first half of 19th century.

A new golden age for Bologna's lutherie came in the second half of 19th century (time of great ferment for the city), thanks to the charismatic Master Raffaele Fiorini. Born in Musiano di Pianoro, he re-launched in the chief town of Emilia the old-fashioned lutherie workshop, employing many apprentices who in turn have continued this art with great success in the next century.

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His students were some of the best makers of stringed instruments of the Italian 20th century: Augusto Pollastri, Cesare and Oreste Candi, Armando Monterumici, Giuseppe Fiorini (his son) and Ansaldo Poggi. The tradition was then carried on by the renowned Otello Bignami, teacher of most luthiers operating today in the city. Among them: Roberto Regazzi, pupil of Otello Bignami and president of several Italian and international luthiers associations; Alessandro Urso, also a pupil of Otello Bignami and one of the founders of Gruppo Liuteria Bolognese (G.L.B), formed in 2000 and affiliated to Associazione Liutaria Italiana; Ezia Di Labio, who manufactures, repairs and restores violins, violas and violoncellos according to the tradition of the school Scuola di Liuteria Artistica Boognese and of his master Otello Bignami; Gabriele Carletti, descendant of a famous family of luthiers present in Bologna for over 100 years; Luca Stanzani, also son of art, who builds and restores stringed musical instruments by hand, with a strong specialization in Jazz tools. Their skilful hands create violins, guitars and lutes, all built according to the techniques of traditional craft lutherie.

The nearby town of Budrio is famous for the production of the ocarina, a simple wind instrument of popular music generally built in terracotta. The name derives from ucareina (little goose in bolognese dialect) due to its elongated ovoid shape resembling the shape of a goose without head. 

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The standard ocarina used today in Western music was invented in Budrio in 1853 by Giuseppe Donati. It seems that the Master has invented the first ocarina at the age of 17! Later he made five more ocarinas of different sizes, creating a real family of ocarinas tuned to each other and able, with bass and treble, to achieve an extension of notes equal to that of a piano. The five instruments were handed down to five players selected among the most passionate ones of Budrio, including Donati. They formed the Concert of Ocarinas, which became famous throughout Europe, performing in London and Paris; their repertoire included first only dance music, then it expanded to opera music too. Today this 100-year-old musical tradition is continued by the Gruppo Ocarinistico Budriese and an annual festival; the city has also dedicated an interesting museum to the ocarina, which shows its history and diffusion. Finally, Fabio Menaglio, the only craftsman in the world who can still manufacture this traditional and unique musical instrument, is still active in Budrio.

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Author

Elisa Mazzini
Elisa Mazzini

My roots are in Bologna but I love to travel, both physically and imaginatively, with books and movies. @lelimaz

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