In 1937, during the 15th year of the
Era Fascista, the 200th anniversary of Antonio Stradivari’s (1644–1737) death—the Bicentenario stradivariano—took place in the Lombard city of Cremona. If we take a closer look at the print media of the time, several names appear in connection with a discussion about the state of violin making. In Il Regime fascista, the newspaper printed in Cremona (but circulated nationally), the news that an Austrian physician had discovered the working methods of the old Cremonese violin makers appeared; his name was Franjo / Franz / Francesco Kresnik (1869–1943). The newspaper’s founder, owner, and director, Roberto Farinacci (1892–1945), was a leading figure in the Italian Fascist Party. Kresnik’s name had already been featured in February of the same year in an issue of the liberal-national newspaper Il Piccolo, which was based in Trieste, the former Habsburg monarchy’s most important commercial harbor. Depicted as Viennese by birth and Italian in spirit— Il Piccolo was a supporter of the idea of “Italianness” in cosmopolitan Trieste and the surrounding area of Venezia-Giulia—Kresnik is mentioned as the teacher of Carlo Schiavi (1908–43), a young violin maker who had come from Cremona to Fiume / Rijeka to study with him and who became the first teacher of the violin making school founded in Cremona in 1938.
This raises a wide range of questions relevant to both the history of violin making and that of the Habsburg Monarchy’s successor states. For instance, how was music and violin making exploited by the fascist regime? And how was the Croatian-, German-, and Italian-speaking physician Kresnik, who worked after 1924 on the border between Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, involved in the
Bicentenario? The territory of Venezia-Giulia, the former Österreichisches Küstenland, became part of the Italian national state after 1920, and repressive politics, along with forced Italianization of the Croatian- and Slovenian-speaking population, were on the agenda; nevertheless, the Croatian-speaking Kresnik was highly regarded by proponents of the regime as an expert in the field of violin making. Today, he is celebrated alongside Giovanni von Zaytz alias Ivan Zajc (1832–1914) as a Croatian national figure in the field of musical culture. A closer look at Kresnik’s biography and his achievements in violin making will therefore illustrate how a representative of the multilingual, well-educated social class, who grew up in Habsburg society, dealt with the sociopolitical situation after the monarchy’s collapse.
An analysis of available printed media and archival material will be used to investigate the role played by Kresnik at the
Bicentenario stradivariano and in the foundation of the violin making school in Cremona in 1938, the aim being to show how an enthusiastic but amateur violin maker served as a link between the “classic Italian” violin making tradition of the 18th century and the Cremonese violin making school of the 20th century. The core issue lies in how far the “Italian violin making tradition” (on whose “legacy” the violin making school was founded) can be understood as an “invented” one. It cannot be denied that the history of Italian violin making is characterized much more by discontinuity than by continuity, as the narrative of the “lost secrets” of Stradivari suggests. As the historian Eric J. Hobsbawm states, “the peculiarity of ‘invented’ traditions is that the continuity with [a historic past] is largely factitious;” he further claims that these traditions “are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations, or which establish their own past by quasi-obligatory repetition.” The question is: in which form did references to “old situations” appear, and how, if at all, did they influence the Cremonese violin making school in the 20th century? Before providing the answer, we will need to shed light on the reception of Stradivari in the fascist era. Bicentenario stradivariano
To this very day, Stradivari and the instruments from his workshop represent the quintessence of violin making. His name often comes up in the news whenever scientists report about new findings which could explain the acoustic properties of his instruments (which never happens), and he also figures in musicians’ biographies—playing a violin made by Stradivari, a “Strad,” is regarded
per se a sign of talent and professionalism. The reception of Stradivari in the 18th and 19th centuries is quite complicated to reconstruct, not least because of the lack of sources. We can understand his contribution to violin making in part by observing how his design was reinterpreted, if not outright copied, by other violin makers, and by following the documented passage of many instruments from generation to generation. This narrative often has a strong mythical aura. The surge in the importance of printed media has also made it possible to investigate the reception of Stradivari and other Cremonese violin makers, like Giuseppe Bartolomeo Guarneri del Gesù (1698–1744), in a wider social context: in the 20th century, violin making, and Stradivari along with it, played a role in the ideological—and economic—construction of the Italian fascist state.
The image of Stradivari by Edouard Jean Conrad Hamman (1819–88), a Belgian artist who worked in Paris in the 19th century,
may serve as a model for a series of variations which seems to dominate the concert programs as well as the posters for the 1937 bicentenary celebration. Figure 1: Antonio Stradivari at work in his workshop (lithography by Edouard Jean Conrad Hamman); by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica
Figure 2: Cisari Giulio, Poster for the Bicentenario stradivariano (1937), Treviso, Museo Nazionale Collezione Salce, Polo Museale del Veneto; by courtesy of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism
 Stradivari, holding a violin in his hands, ponders his work, and the serious expression on his face and his long hair remind us of the iconography of Beethoven. Thus, the idea of the true genius was evoked; like Prometheus, who had brought fire to mankind, Stradivari gave us the sound of the violin. On the large-format poster, a particular feature catches the eye: Stradivari is depicted working alone under a starry sky in front of the Cremonese cathedral with its
torrazzo—one of the tallest brick towers in Europe. This depiction is, however, quite an unrealistic one, considering the febrile activity in the house of the Stradivari family, which also served as workshop. More than 600 instruments were produced, and Stradivari’s sons, Francesco (1671–1743) and Omobono (1679–1742), were also involved in the family business. The cathedral, as a symbol of the ecclesiastical power of the Roman Catholic Church, in combination with the two fasci—the representation of fascist secular power—flanking the word “Cremona” on the bottom of the poster, reminds us of the Lateran Treaty, which was signed in 1929 by Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) and the cardinal Pietro Gasparri (1852–1934). The conflicts which had begun during the Risorgimento, taking place between the church, which had lost its territories after national unification, and the state of Italy, finally came to an end. Italy recognized Vatican City and papal sovereignty; religion became a compulsory subject in all schools, including violin making workshops.
The aforementioned poster with Stradivari working under the starry sky was also printed in English and German, probably because the fascist party official and editor of the Cremonese newspaper
Il Regime fascista Farinacci, along with his personal secretary and journalist Renzo Bacchetta (1897–1975), intended to promote Cremona internationally. However, the use of music for purposes of propaganda was not new. 1934, for example, saw the centennial celebration of the birth of opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–86), another prominent figure in the history of music born in Cremona. The final goal of the Bicentenario was to establish an instrument making school which would export newly made stringed instruments to an international market. This was never to happen because of World War II. The goal can be understood as a part of the regime’s policy of trying, in imitation of the medieval guilds, to increase the production of artisanal goods in order to boost national and international commerce. In Florence, for example, industrialists and merchants tried to establish an image of the city as the most important manufacturing and commercial center in Italy and Europe by referring to its Renaissance history. Expositions and fairs played an important role in conveying this idea and in promoting tourism. Furthermore, references to Roman and Renaissance history, as well as to artists and musicians, were used by the fascist government for the purpose of constructing cultural symbols and practices that most of the population could identify with. Through the use of such “invented traditions,” like the popularization of the once-elitist cultural phenomena of classical music, concerts and exhibitions were staged in public and became part of the public discourse, which was of course reflected in print media. In order to increase the popularity of Stradivari, who was at that time well known only to specialists, the committee of the Bicentenario planned the production of a film, but the idea fell through.
Although Farinacci’s political power declined after 1937, the regime promised him significant financial support to hold the event. The Stradivari celebration took place between May and October. In May, both the exhibition of newly built instruments (350 instruments) in Palazzo Soranzo Vidoni and the exhibition of old instruments (136 instruments) in Palazzo Cittanova were opened. In the run-up to the exhibition of old Cremonese violins, collectors from all over Europe were invited to send in their instruments. An international committee of experts—consisting of Leandro Bisiach (1864–1946) from Milan, Fridolin Hamma (1881–1969) from Stuttgart, Simone Fernando Sacconi (1895–1973) from New York, Max Möller (1915–85) from Amsterdam, and Paul Deschamp (n/a–1963) from Paris—assisted by the violinist Mario Corti (1882–1957), would then test their authenticity.
Stradivari fever broke out: everyone who found a violin at home sent it to Cremona. The school archive records that the majority of the instruments with an “Antonius Stradivarius” label were cheap, manufactured in one of the numerous factories which had sprung up in France, Germany, and Bohemia during the 19th century. This also led to comments in the press: in the magazine Cremona, Giuseppe Guarneri published a humorous piece about “authenticity mania” taking the form of a “delirium stradivarianum,” which was to be understood as “psychopathological” human behavior. Apart from that, this magazine displayed a historic cross-section of fascist cultural policy: Cremona : Rivista mensile illustrata della città e della provincia pubblicata a cura dell’Istituto Fascista di Cultura, published between 1929 and 1943, was a monthly magazine (bimonthly starting in 1939) that aimed to illustrate the cultural policy of the regime in Cremona and its Provincia (the political unit between Commune and Regione). The contributors—Carlo Bonetti (1866–1951), Illemo Camelli (1876–1939), Tullo Bellomi (1878–1956), Agostino Cavalcabò (1893–1960), Ugo Gualazzini (1905–95), and Pier Maria Trucco—were well established in Cremona’s cultural and political life. As shown in Cremona, Stradivari had begun to be used as a kind of cultural centripetal force, attracting international interest and playing an instrumental role in the staging of several politically relevant events, such as the visits by the Argentinian director of civil aviation F rancisco Mendes Gonçalves, by the Minister of Public Works Giuseppe Cobolli Gigli (1892–1987)—a former irredentist from Trieste, who was the engineer responsible for roadway development in Ethiopia—and by 250 physicians from all over the world who were visiting the nearby city of Salsomaggiore for a congress.
Cremona reported meticulously about the organization of the Bicentenario. The unveiling of a marble statue of Stradivari was considered, but it was instead proposed that a violin making school be founded. In November 1937, a delegation led by Farinacci visited Mussolini in Rome, and the school was opened in the fall of 1938, after Mussolini, impressed by the international recognition of the Bicentenario , had promised his personal patronage. In order to secure international visibility, the committee tried to cooperate with Sacconi, offering him the position of director at the violin making workshop. At that time, Sacconi was working as a restorer for Emil Herrmann (1888–1968) in New York and was already recognized as one of the finest violin makers worldwide. The Cremonese Carlo Schiavi, Kresnik’s pupil, was engaged as an assistant to Sacconi. Although the Minister of Education made the funds for Sacconi’s salary available, the plan failed—perhaps because Sacconi was not able to produce his Aryan certificate. As a result, Schiavi led the workshop from 1938 until his premature death in 1943.
But who was Kresnik, and where did he learn enough about violin making to be able to train the instructors, whose purpose was to transmit Stradivari’s “legacy” to further generations at the newly founded school?
Figure 3: Riva Cristoforo Colombo, Fiume; Kresnik’s medical practice was located at number 8; by courtesy of the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral A Physician and Violin Maker in Vienna, Fiume / Rijeka, and Cremona
Kresnik was born in Vienna in 1869. Soon after his birth, his mother Ottilia Sachs and his father, Franjo Kresnik (senior), moved to Fiume / Rijeka. His father taught classics and then became director of the Croatian gymnasium in Sušak, the city district with a Croatian-speaking majority.
At that time the city was growing, and at the beginning of 1867 it was the main commercial port of the Hungarian Kingdom in Austria-Hungary. Railways to Trieste, Agram / Zagreb, Laibach / Ljubljana, Budapest, and Vienna were built in the 1870s, and the nearby town of Abazzia / Opatija grew into a well-known seaside resort in the last decade of the 19th century; tourism for the upper classes developed, and with it the touring of artists. The flourishing economy and industry, with an oil refinery, a shipyard, and a torpedo factory, among other enterprises, favored fast economic growth. A massive wave of immigration almost doubled the population of the city in the last decades of the 19th century. In this economically burgeoning city, the growing bourgeoisie felt the need for cultural activities. A theater had already been built in 1805 at the suggestion of businessman Andrea Lodovico Adamich (1766–1828; in Croatian: Andrija Ljudevit Adamić). After this building was demolished in 1881, a new theater was opened in 1885. It was planned by the well-known Viennese architectural firm Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, which was responsible for the design of a huge number of buildings in German-speaking territories and thus contributed to the “homogenization” of architecture throughout the region.
Consistent with the habitus of bourgeoise society, Kresnik started learning violin at the age of eight. Although he was interested in studying music at the Vienna Conservatory, he chose instead to study medicine in Vienna, Graz, and Innsbruck. In accordance with his father’s wishes, he opened a medical practice in Fiume / Rijeka in 1900 and pursued his interest in music by playing the violin and making violins. At that time, numerous well-known musicians performed there. Recommendation letters with complimentary remarks from Arrigo Serato (1877–1948), Jaroslav Kocián (1883–1950), and Franz von Vecsey (1893–1935) confirm that Kresnik had shown them his instruments. In June 1912, the nineteen-year-old Vecsey wrote about one of Kresnik’s violins: “I have played a violin made by Dr. Kresnik, and was much surprised at its melodious tone. His violins have a wonderful tone, and the strings are in a harmonious accord. It was a real pleasure to play them. Later on, I bought one.”
Kocián and Vecsey belonged to a generation of virtuoso-composers born in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy who enjoyed international careers. Vecsey was highly esteemed by Joseph Joachim, and Jean Sibelius dedicated his Violin Concerto in D minor to him; both Kocián and Vecsey also played in Kurorten on the Austrian Riviera. The Italian virtuoso Serato lived and taught in Berlin before moving to Rome after the outbreak of World War I.
Between 1900 and 1910, Kresnik developed considerable skill in craftsmanship, although he was a largely self-taught violin maker. One of the first instruments made by Kresnik, currently exhibited in the
Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral (the date on the label is not completely legible—perhaps 1903 or 1905), bears the marks of an inexperienced hand, while the instruments made after 1910 display a clear development in craftsmanship and a deep understanding of working methods. Being a self-taught artisan was not uncommon at that time: Giuseppe Pedrazzini (1879–1957), one of the most prominent violin makers of the 20th century, who established his own shop around 1910 in Milan, was largely self-taught; later he received advice from Romeo Antoniazzi (1862–1925). Marino Capicchioni (1895–1977), another distinguished violin maker, did not receive any formal training. Kresnik learned from books and from examining and playing 18th-century instruments. Several journeys led him to Vienna, where he made contact with the industrialist and patron of the arts Theodor Hämmerle (1859–1930). Hämmerle was an instrument collector who had, over the years, acquired an impressive set of violins from Cremona as well as from Vienna. Apart from violins made by Nicolò Amati (1596–1684), Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri (del Gesù), Pietro Guarneri, and Stradivari, violins made by Jakob Stainer (c. 1617–83), Martin Mathias Fichtl (1682–1768), Johann Georg Thir (1710–79), Sebastian Dallinger (1735–1809), Martin Stoß (1778–1838), and Nicolaus Sawicki (1793–1850) were in his possession. As proven by the many notes preserved in the archive of the Maritime and History Museum, Kresnik began to analyze and study old instruments—their form, the arching, and the varnish—in order to investigate the relationship between their construction and their acoustic properties.
 World War I was a turning point with far-reaching consequences on life in Fiume / Rijeka and therefore on Kresnik himself. Fearing that the city would not become part of Italy after the peace negotiations in Paris, in 1919 the Italian poet and nationalist Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), with a legionary troop under his leadership, occupied (on a historically doubtful basis, but with poetic and heroic display) the city under the banner of “Fiume o morte!”
After the Treaty of Rapallo, Fiume / Rijeka was a free state between 1920 and 1924; with the treaty of Rome in 1924, the city was divided between Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Sušak became part of the latter, and Kresnik became a citizen of the newly founded kingdom, although the border—formed by the small river Rječina (in Croatian), Eneo or Fiumara (in Italian), Flaum or Pflaum (in German)—remained open. Figure 4: Northern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia today (Google Maps); Cremona and Rijeka are highlighted. Figure 5: Eastern boarder of Italy, 1924–41, published in Il confine mobile: Atlante storico dell'Alto Adriatico 1866–1992, ed. Neva Biondi, Istituto Regionale per la Storia del Movimento di Liberazione nel Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Monfalcone: Edizioni della Laguna, 1996), Map nr. 9. Figure 6: Physical map of the upper Adriatic; the river Eneo / Fiumara / Rečina is highlighted, published in Biondi, Il confine mobile, Map nr. 1. Kresnik in the Press
Meanwhile, the doctrine promoted by fascism tried to Italianize Venezia-Giulia. However, a publication from 1926, a small pamphlet about Kresnik’s work, was published in three languages (Croatian, German, and Italian),
proving that the transnational and multilingual Habsburg heritage did not lose its relevance despite the nationalist doctrine, which forced the exclusive use of the Italian language. But the pamphlet can also simply be interpreted as an attempt to promote Kresnik’s work at the international craft fair which took place in Fiume in the same year. Kresnik exhibited his instruments there and won an award as a representative of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes with a violin based on a Guarneri del Gesù model. On this occasion, La Vedetta d’Italia, the strongly nationalist Italian newspaper in Fiume, which supported the annexation of Fiume by Italy, published an article about the winner of the gold medal. Kresnik is depicted as a “sympathetic, studious person who loves music and art in general. He is—and how could he not be—a great enthusiast of Italian music. Stradivari’s excellent work and the lutes hold no secrets from him. He is familiar with the deepest secrets of the famous master violin makers from Northern Italy.” As an expert on acoustics and the so-called “old Italian varnishes” (perhaps, to this very day, the two most discussed and mythologized aspects of violins made in the 17th and 18th centuries), Kresnik seemed to be an ideal carrier of Italianness (despite his Yugoslav citizenship) in the Kornati archipelago, in spite of—or indeed, because of—the multicultural environment. The diploma, which he received at the fair, is decorated with a woman as an allegoric representation of Italy, holding the coat of arms of Fiume: a shield with a one-headed eagle. This coat of arms is based on a very common and widespread iconography of that time. It was a symbol of Austria’s lost power: the Habsburg eagle, seen on the cupola of Fiume’s city tower, had lost one of its two heads and instead received the Italian flag.
In the 1930s a large number of articles on Kresnik appeared in the daily press. Kresnik’s first publication, a product of his comprehensive work on theoretical issues, was published in Paris.
It was an article about the properties of the “old Italian varnish” and was mentioned in Il Piccolo in Trieste , which also referred to Kresnik’s 25 years of research in the field of “this sublime and specifically Italian art” (“questa arte sublime e prettamente italiana”). It described violin making as a traditionally Italian domain, even though the history of the violin up to the 16th century is not very clear, and instruments by Jacob Stainer, the best known luthier from the German-speaking region, remained very popular until the early 19th century. In 1933, the Fiume newspaper La Vedetta d’Italia published a review of Kresnik’s treatise Studio sull’antica liuteria classica italiana , which was at that time available only in manuscript form. The work was described as follows: “the principles and rules of construction discovered intuitively by the ancient Italian masters are critically analyzed and scientifically explained in this work.” An image of Kresnik as a scientist who represented the missing link between the “ancient masters” and the present day (in an invented tradition) was thereby suggested.
In 1935, a craft exhibition took place in Abbazia / Opatija near Fiume, and
La Vedetta d’Italia published another article about Kresnik and his violins. The exhibition was organized by the Istituto delle Piccole Industrie e dell’Artigianato per Trieste, L’istria e il Carnaro (Institute of the Small Industries and Crafts in Trieste, Istria, and Carnaro), which was the area that corresponds to the former Österreichisches Küstenland. Kresnik was said to be “a fine and sharp connoisseur of the ancient masterpieces from Cremona, a representative of ancient classicism, showing in his work a refined sense and fine artistic taste that comes close to the incomparably beautiful and noble lines of the immortal ancient Italian art.” In the light of the political situation, the coding of the multilingual Kresnik in the media as a representative of “Italian art” may have had the goal of reinforcing the idea of an Italian creative genius loci in the Kornati archipelago. However, it remains questionable to what extent Cremonese violin making of the 17th and 18th century can be understood as “Italian”: until 1861, the term Italy was primarily a geographical one and did not designate a national state with a shared cultural heritage. Apart from that, to consider Cremona as a pars pro toto for violin making on the entire peninsula seems to be, to put it mildly, an overstatement.
 These examples show the perspective taken on Kresnik by a national press closely aligned with the fascist party, a press which tried to refer to an (“invented”) Italian tradition of violin making in public discourse. However, he was also mentioned in the
Primorske novine, a Croatian newspaper printed in Sušak, but not in the way that one might expect; a reader—at the end of the article the acronym Mn. is found—had written a letter to the editorial office expressing surprise that Kresnik’s name did not appear in the article “Sušak and its inhabitants in our national arts” ( “Sušak i Sušačani u našoj nacionalnoj umjetnosti ”). After praising Kresnik’s achievements, the author of the letter mourned the ignorance of his work in Sušak. Considering the favor with which the Italian press reported on Kresnik and his feeling for “Italian art,” the absence of Kresnik’s name in the Croatian press can be seen as a reaction to his enthusiastic reception by nationalists in bordering Italy. It seems logical that he should be ignored in an article about “our national art” ( “našoj nacionalnoj umjetnosti ”) published in Sušak, which was then a part of Yugoslavia. On the other hand, Politika, a Serbian newspaper, described him as the Yugoslav Stradivari: during his studies in Innsbruck he presumably had established contact with Serbian students. On the one hand, it can be seen that Kresnik had already within his lifetime served as a screen for the projection of different nationalist agendas; on the other hand, this text shows the tendency to link national histories to European “high culture.” Kresnik at the Bicentenario
The extent to which the “classical Italian art” of violin making can be understood as an “invented tradition” in the sense meant by Hobsbawm becomes more keenly felt when we consider the role which Kresnik played at the
Bicentenario stradivariano and at the newly founded violin making school in Cremona, led by his pupil and assistant Schiavi. Kresnik was involved with the Bicentenario in 1937, as the letter written by the president of the Stradivarian committee Farinacci shows. Farinacci expressed gratefulness to Kresnik for his voluntary engagement in guiding visitors through the exhibition and explaining to them the characteristics of the exhibited instruments in different languages.
Kresnik’s achievements resonated in the Cremonese newspaper
Il Regime fascista, as stated at the beginning of this article. The author of the cited article, Bacchetta, spoke of Kresnik as “exceptionally studious” ( “uno studioso di eccezione ”) and of his treatise on violin making as “a successful work” ( “un’opera riuscitissima ”). Kresnik was also interviewed by Bacchetta, who asked him to explain his opinion on the exhibition of old instruments which took place at the Palazzo Cittanova:
It is a unique experience in the world … that will be hard to repeat because it will be nearly impossible to gather together so many valuable masterpieces from the immortal Cremonese. … The exhibition is the only opportunity for those who are interested to see in these valuable masterpieces the chronological evolution of the sound of the violin through the various phases of its construction principles, starting with the Amatis, then proceeding to Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù. They succeeded in realizing the ideal sound of the ancients: the human voice. I can’t help thinking on this occasion about the Duce, creator of the Imperium, supporter of this enormous renaissance of Italy, and outstanding patron of the fine arts. Under his guidance Italian luthiery can look to the future with optimism. I am persuaded to hold the highest hopes for the school of Cremona, which I hope will again become the homeland of the most classical of the stringed instruments.
Kresnik was known in Cremona as “a man who reads violins” (
“uomo che legge i violini ”), and when Bacchetta asked him how he could recognize the acoustic properties of instruments by just looking at their construction and varnish, Kresnik did not answer. But he promised that he would tell the “secret” to his Cremonese pupil—he was referring to Schiavi—who would teach at school. Schiavi, born in Cremona in 1908, came to Fiume between 1933 and 1936, where he studied violin making with Kresnik. He had gained experience in the Officina di liuteria artistica Claudio Monteverde [sic], a workshop founded by Aristide Cavalli (1856–1931) in 1880. His teacher commended him for a position in the violin making school and described him as “animated by a deep love and dedication for this noble ancient art, extraordinarily gifted in violin making” ( “animato di profondo amore e di dedizione per questa nobile antica arte, dotato di un straordinario talento per la liuteria ”). Kresnik emphasized that Schiavi would then educate the future violin makers from Cremona in the best “local tradition,” following a “blood and soil” narrative strategy. Kresnik and Schiavi in Berlin
A similar narrative strategy appeared in
Il Regime fascista a year later, when in the spring of 1938 an international craft fair took place in Berlin and Schiavi and Kresnik traveled to Germany. As stated in Il Regime fascista, they brought along several “cimeli Stradivariani” —tools and drawings which had once belonged to Stradivari—to give “an exact idea of the activities in the famous workshops of the city of Cabrino Fondulo” ( “un’esatta idea di quelle che furono in piena attività le celebri botteghe della città di Cabrino Fondulo ”). In the article by Bacchetta, Kresnik is presented as the mind that discovered the old violin making methods “on paper.” In order to realize his theories, he needed “a good artisan from the soil of Stradivari” ( “buon artigiano della terra di Stradivari ”), as Schiavi is referred to in the article. What appears here is a narrative that validates the Cremonese (and moreover Italian) violin making tradition, in which Kresnik appears merely as a helper. In accordance with the Rome–Berlin axis, a link to Germany was found by Bacchetta in Giuseppe Fiorini (1861–1934), the violin maker who brought the collection of the Count of Salabue and the “cimeli Stradivariani” in 1930 to Cremona. Born in Bologna, he established a workshop in Munich, then in Zurich, and later in Rome. He was one of the founders of the German violin makers association and served for a long time as its president. Bacchetta’s text clearly suggests the continuity of an (imagined?) tradition that was rediscovered by means of the “cimeli,” brought to Cremona by Fiorini, who worked in Germany. Nevertheless, an emphasis had to be placed on the concept of “rediscovery.” In actual fact, the history of violin making is very varied and strongly characterized by makers who worked with different building concepts. A “rediscovery” of such approaches and procedures is an impossible oversimplification. However, the Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945), and the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler (1900–45), were deeply impressed by the work of the two men, as Il Regime fascista reported. Figure 7: Kresnik and Schiavi in Berlin at the International Craft Fair, 1938 (unidentifed photographer); by courtesy of the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral Kresnik and the Violin Making School
 When the violin making school, which was annexed by the Royal Technical and Industrial School “Ala Ponzone Cimino,” opened its doors in the fall of 1938, the engineer Antonio Ferrara was nominated as headmaster. The training was divided into two two-year courses. Students who did not pass the exam at the end of the first two-year course would be encouraged to dedicate themselves to the building of plucked instruments like lutes and guitars and to the production of accessories for string instruments. Schiavi was nominated to lead the workshop, and Bacchetta, the journalist from
Il Regime fascista, taught violin making history. Bacchetta’s most highly regarded contribution to the history of violin making was his transcription of the manuscript of Count Ignazio Alessandro di Salabue (1755–1840), published in 1950, which contains interesting notes about 17th- and 18th-century violin makers and their instruments.
Two documents prove that the unpublished manuscript of Kresnik’s violin making treatise was seriously taken into consideration as educational material for the newly founded school. A letter is preserved in the school archive, sent from Arturo Marpicati
(1891–1961) to Farinacci. Marpicati, who was federal secretary in Fiume between 1928 and 1930 and then became vice secretary of the Fascist party and director of the Istituto nazionale di cultura fascista (until 1937 known as the Istituto fascista di cultura), wrote Farinacci to ask whether Kresnik’s work could be printed by the publisher Cremona Nuova. In the summer of 1939, Kresnik received a letter in Fiume from Antonio Ferrara, the director of the school, who also expressed a deep interest in his treatise and asked Kresnik to inform him when the book would be available in order to use it at the school. However, the book did not appear until 1951 and was never used in school.
The role played by Kresnik at the school is further shown by the correspondence between Kresnik and Schiavi from the time when Schiavi taught at the school (it is archived in Fiume). The barely 30-year-old was apparently stressed by the position, and his former teacher helped him cope with the situation by sending him written material for entire lessons. To give an example, Kresnik responded as follows to Schiavi in 1940: “I answer your letter from the 17th of this month as soon as possible because I see that you urgently need an explanation. 1. I see that you don’t have a clear vision of the construction principles. … 2. Then, as you wrote: you believe to be doing a calculation in millimeters, that is in tones. You are confusing the thing itself with the sound of the inner space of the instrument.”
Besides the technical details, the reader’s attention is drawn to the benevolent, paternal tone in which Kresnik gives advice to his former pupil—perhaps due to the difference in their ages. However, other passages show that Kresnik really was convinced of the veracity of his own theories. In a later text—his explanations often ran longer than ten typewritten A4 sheets—he tells Schiavi about a method that would produce an instrument with excellent acoustics. In order to achieve this, Schiavi would have to send an unvarnished instrument from Cremona to Fiume, where Kresnik would do his calculations on the basis of the specific characteristics of the wood used in its construction. Later, he would send the instrument back to Cremona. Whether the exchange actually took place remains an open question.
The school was relevant to political propaganda, as exemplified by a short film from 1941 produced by
Istituto Luce, L’unione cinematografica educatica (founded in 1924) about the school in Cremona under the heading of “Artigianato” ( “craftsmanship ”). Two dozen working luthiers appeared at the beginning of the film. But this does not correspond to evidence from archival material. In the first two years, three students were accepted every year. In the 1941–42 academic year, two more students began their training. Considering that the film was made at the end of January 1941, the student population at that moment numbered six. It can therefore be concluded that the film was largely staged, most likely for purposes of propaganda. Italy had declared war on France and Great Britain in 1940, and the shortages that had plagued the school certainly were not to be relieved. Even in 1939, Ferrara, the director, asked Kresnik if he could obtain calipers for measuring the thickness of wooden plates and send them to Cremona—at the beginning of the school’s operation, the most basic tools were evidently not available. In any event, Schiavi was there to see to the teaching. Kresnik’s Archive
In his old age, Kresnik was burdened by financial trouble.
After his bank had become insolvent, Kresnik lost his estate. This may in part explain his interest in dealing with wood and tools. In his letters to Schiavi, Kresnik often offers wood, resin for the production of varnishes, and other materials for the school. It comes as no small surprise that Kresnik had these materials at his disposal in Sušak. He might have had contacts among violin makers from Prague, Budapest, and Vienna, as well as among wood dealers from the Balkan region, who were able to provide him with the finest maple. The correspondence between him and the violin maker Francesco Zapelli (1898–1992) supports the conjecture of financial trouble. Zapelli conveyed some of Kresnik’s instruments to a certain Otoschka, who held the violins as a financial guarantee. Kresnik died in 1943 and left behind 52 violins, two violas, two cellos, and a quartet which was sold in New York. Kresnik’s protégé Schiavi died in military service in Piacenza, just a few months before Kresnik. His position at the school went to the Hungarian violin-maker Peter Tatar (1909–73), who, according to legend, had come to Cremona on foot, paying for accommodation and food by playing violin.
 After the surrender of Italy to the Allies, Fiume / Rijeka was, after the Armistice of Cassibile in 1943, annexed by Germany as part of the Adriatic Littoral Zone. After World War II, Fiume / Rijeka became part of the Federal State of Croatia in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia with the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.
Under the new sovereign power, the oppression of the Italian-speaking population began. However, in 1947 Giuseppe Schiavelli—a journalist and writer who had become a refugee from Fiume in Rome—contacted Kresnik’s longstanding partner and heir Maria Seljan after his death in 1943. He wrote to her that the “Stradivari secret” had been discovered in Poland and that, in order to “bring out the truth” ( “esaltare la verità ”), he was interested in Kresnik’s work. His idea was to publish a pamphlet about Kresnik in Rome, with the support of the Yugoslav embassy: “I think it is time to bring out the figure of the maestro in the context of the friendship between the people of Yugoslavia and Italy” ( “Credo sia giunto il momento buono di esaltare la figura del maestro in quadro di amicizia dei popoli Jugoslavo ed Italiano ”). Kresnik’s work fulfilled the role of building a bridge between East and West—Josip Broz Tito’s (1892–1980) split with Josif Visarionovič Stalin (1878–1953) in 1948—in accordance with the new political situation. A year later, in 1948, Marija Seljan and Jaroslav Kresnik, the son of Franjo Kresnik from his marriage to Berta Baron, along with Justin Cuculić—a friend and admirer of Kresnik’s—signed a contract for the copyright of Kresnik’s treatise on violin making. When Schiavelli wrote from Rome again in 1949, he already knew about the intention to have the treatise published in Zagreb at the Yugoslavian Academy of Science (where the book was indeed published in 1951). Nevertheless, Schiavelli wished to popularize the book in Italy. Cuculić later came into possession of the whole collection of Kresnik’s drawings, tools, and many violins, which he donated in 1952 to the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral, where they remain preserved until today.
In spite of Schiavelli’s intentions, Kresnik long remained marginalized in Italian literature. In his monograph about the
Bicentenario from 1996, for example, Elia Santoro just mentions Kresnik as “the German Dr. Kresnick” ( “il tedesco dott. Kresnick [sic] ”) in the description of a photograph of him and Schiavi in Berlin. It was only Francesco Torrisi who, in 2002, extensively described Kresnik’s role and his relation to Schiavi in the first year of the school’s history. Figure 8: Violin built by Kresnik in 1910, front view (unidentifed photographer); by courtesy of the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral “Italian Violin Making”: An “Invented Tradition”?
The last part of this article tries to relate the previously presented insights to the contemporary discourse on lutherie and its history.
There are difficulties in finding a proper approach to the history of the fascist era, as literature on the
Bicentenario and the founding of the violin making school as phenomena rooted in the fascist era has only recently appeared and is therefore scarce. The officially accepted perspective on this subject was to describe the school during the fascist era as having been in an incubation phase, eventually leading to a flourishing in the years of the Italian economic miracle.
At first glance it might be surprising that Kresnik was involved in the
Bicentenario , considering that well-established violin makers such as Leandro, Andrea (1890–1967) and Carlo Bisiach (1892–1968), Pedrazzini, Antoniazzi, and Ferdinando Garimberti (1894–1982) were then working in Milan. But if we take into consideration that the production of instruments in Cremona would have economically harmed these artisans, it makes perfect sense that they refused to even lay a finger on Cremona and its school—in fact, Garimberti, after the death of Schiavi in 1943, refused to work there as a teacher.
How Kresnik came into contact with Bacchetta is not yet clear. But his life and interests reveal some aspects of the fascination held for Stradivari in the early 20th century throughout Europe. From 1900 on, Kresnik’s life revolved around the violin and the “lost secrets” of its Cremonese makers. When Kresnik began his research—in order to show that a “secret” did indeed exist—the violin market had become polarized. On the one hand, soloists and collectors had access to the old Cremonese instruments, which were not seldom sold for exorbitant amounts of money by unscrupulous dealers.
On the other hand, the market for factory-made instruments was supplied by Mittenwald, Mirecourt, Bohemia, and even Cremona itself, providing cheap instruments for students and amateur musicians. The majority of these instruments were rough copies of Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù models—a fact that further reinforced the myth of the superior acoustic properties of old violins. Copying was in any case also seen in the work of well-known violin makers; from the time of Alessandro Gagliano (1664–1732), and through that of Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711–86), Vincenzo Panormo (c. 1734–1813), Nicolas Lupot (1758–1824), Giovanni Francesco Pressenda (1777–1854), Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (1798–1875), and Giuseppe Rocca (1807–65), the Stradivari and Guarneri models were omnipresent.
Sacconi, the author of the most prominent treatise on violin making of the 20th century, also developed into a skilled copyist.
The instruments that Sacconi built throughout his career are today highly sought-after, accurately executed copies of Stradivari’s violins. In fact, during his activity as a restorer in New York, the majority of the instruments from the most important Cremonese violin makers passed through his hands. On the basis of his experience, he published a highly influential treatise on Stradivari’s working methods, which appeared in 1972 in Cremona. But this treatise is, in its conception, very similar to Kresnik’s work. Both Sacconi and Kresnik were in search of a working method—which might not be reconstructible—and followed a by-the-book approach that basically consisted of copying. In the Cremonese school, production of instruments on the basis of only a few models appeared, not unlike in the manufacturing practices of the 19th century. Considering the individuality and spontaneity of the workmanship—often departing from technical perfection—that characterizes the instruments of the so-called “golden age” of violin making, it becomes clear that the search for a “tradition” undermined the workflow that had originally led to the flourishing of violin making in 17th and early 18th century.
 At this point a question arises: to which degree are the Cremonese instruments made by Stradivari and Guarneri acoustically superior to modern instruments? And did the Cremonese violin makers have any “secrets”? Many tests—the latest was the
Paris Projection experiment from 2017—have shown that new violins are preferred by both musicians and the public. Nevertheless, the search for the “secrets” of older violins has not stopped. An alternative approach to violin construction based on a text from 1778 ( , published in Venice) has been discovered in recent years: it is possible that the Cremonese violin makers first carved the inner arching of the top and bottom pieces and then the visible outer arching—the opposite of today’s well-established practice, which probably appeared in Paris in the 19th century. Dizionario delle Arti e de’ Mestieri With it, the “tradition” of searching for construction techniques (and their corresponding acoustic properties) continues today. Rather than being characterized by specific approaches, the “Italian violin making tradition” is characterized by their absence due to the obsessive search for the “forgotten” methods, as the paradigmatic works of Kresnik, Sacconi, and many others show. Through this practice, new situations “take the form of reference to old situations,” as Hobsbawm notes. The core of this so-called tradition is its constant (re)invention. This process had possibly already begun within Stradivari’s lifetime: the London violin maker Daniel Parker (c. 1700–c. 1730) made violins following Stradivari’s model in the early 18th century—and an instrument made by him was played in concert by none other than Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962).
In summary, we might state that the particular sociohistorical circumstances in northern Italy and the Venezia Giulia in the first half of the 20th century show how the multilingual, well-educated bourgeoisie operated, beyond the scope of nationalism. Although the template of national membership played a primary role in the historiography of the successor state of the Habsburg Monarchy, Kresnik is an example of how social class and education were far more important elements, the usefulness of which could not be underestimated. His contacts with members of the highest social classes and the rulers of the Italian fascist party enabled him to actively participate in the discourse on violin making, in no small part because his presence in Fiume / Rijeka supported the narrative of
Italianness in Istria and in the Kornati archipelago espoused by the nationalistic press. However, the fact of the Croatian-, German-, and Italian-speaking Vienna-born physician Kresnik giving Schiavi advice by post on how to teach the “classical art of violin making” in fascist Cremona shows that violin making is a multilayered, tangled thing; craftsmanship and ideology coexist within it. Still, the ideological component was seldom questioned, not least due to economic reasons, as is often the case. In any event, the “Italian” Stradivari played by Kreisler had to be more valuable than his “English” Parker Stradivari—as Kreisler used to sardonically call his Daniel Parker violin, because no one could tell that he was not playing an “Italian” one in concert. References