1726 ‘Saveuse’ Stradivari cello: Small is beautiful

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The 1726 ‘Saveuse’ is one of the smallest cellos Antonio Stradivari ever produced. John Dilworth discovers the unique characteristics of this rare model

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This article appeared in the May 2012 issue

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There are many qualities that make an instrument great. It may have a distinguished history in the hands of a series of virtuosos and a legendary, defining sound. Or it may have been preserved, untouched and unheard, but in flawless condition. It may be the work of a great maker, or an outstanding work by a not so great maker. Above all, we hope it will give us some insight into the musical and creative life of the past, the complexities and unexpected events that shape the familiar. By any criteria, the ‘Saveuse’ is a great instrument.

It is the work of the greatest luthier who ever lived. That alone fulfils one of our requirements. It is a cello: more unusual and more interesting. It is a late work too, which we might expect to reveal either physical weaknesses or subtle maturity. But in Stradivari’s case, ‘a late work’ means very late. His mature period lasts from about 1720, when he was 76, to 1737, when he died aged 93, apparently still at the bench. In those years, extraordinarily, he produced two wholly new designs for the cello, and this example is of the rarer model of the two. It is so rare, in fact, that it is not acknowledged in the Hills’ book on Stradivari and is only described at any length in the revised edition of Doring’s How Many Strads?, edited and published by Bein and Fushi in 1999…

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