The Fulton collection: Magnificent obsession

Dave & Lord Wilton

For decades, top soloists would visit the home of David Fulton to sample the treasures of his legendary collection. Now dispersed, the instruments have been brought together again in book form. The collector shares some of the highlights with Christian Lloyd

Over a period of 40 years, American software engineer David Fulton built up one of the finest collections of old Italian instruments ever seen. At one point numbering 18 violins, 6 violas and 4 cellos, it included works by Stradivari, Guarneri ‘del Gesù’, Carlo Bergonzi, Guadagnini, Montagnana and others. Although some of the instruments arrived in less than perfect working order, Fulton – a passionate amateur player himself – had each of them restored to ideal playing condition. Artists from Nathan Milstein and Ruggiero Ricci to James Ehnes and Augustin Hadelich came to his home near Seattle to perform on the instruments and experiment with different bows, resulting in Ehnes’s 2008 album Homage  and a 2014 film of the Miró Quartet performing Schubert among other projects. Then, over a period of twelve years, Fulton sold all but four of the instruments, leaving him with the ‘Baron Knoop’ Stradivari, a Guadagnini viola, a copy of the ‘D’Egville’ Guarneri, and his very first rare instrument, a 1698 Pietro Guarneri of Mantua. Now, having published a book about the collection, Fulton looks back at some of his favourite instruments and tells their stories.

1733 ‘Sassoon’ Stradivari violin

Stradivari was 89 years old when he made the ‘Sassoon’ and there are elements that show the hand of an old man. For instance, the purfling is not as perfect as in earlier instruments: it’s a bit wobbly and lacks the machine-like precision of Stradivari’s earlier work. But it’s very moving to see that old Antonio was proud of himself when he finished it. The ‘Sassoon’ is one of the instruments to which he added a small auxiliary label, this one declaring d’anni  89, eighty-nine years old. Clearly he was proud he could still make great instruments even at his advanced age.

sass

 

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