In Focus: A 1756 baroque cello by Robert Duncan

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David Rattray on the Scottish maker’s mid-18th-century baroque cello

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Robert Duncan was a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, and was active as an instrument maker in the city from around 1740 until his death after 1781. He was an excellent craftsman as well as the earliest and most influential violin maker of the ‘Aberdeen school’.

Pupils and followers of Duncan include George Mollison, Joseph Ruddiman and Charles Cramond, all of whom later ran their own successful businesses. Indeed, the ‘Aberdeen Stainer’ model is quite unlike the slightly later Cremonese-influenced Edinburgh style. However, the Aberdeen model compares favourably with London work of the day. John Johnson, Henry Jaye and Richard Duke come to mind while the cello featured here particularly recalls the full-arched, dark-varnished and painted-purfled work of Peter Wamsley, active in Piccadilly during the second quarter of the 18th century. If Duncan was self-educated in lutherie, he certainly must have had the opportunity to study classical English, and possibly also Italian, work.

Duncan was employed as a porter at Aberdeen’s Marischal College from 1753 until 1781, a role that probably entailed the maintenance of in-house instruments…

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