Eng. Joaquim Domingos Capela

the luthier of my violin

Eng. Domingos Capela
Eng. Domingos Capela
Table of Contents

On one day I asked Eng. Joaquim Domingos Capela to write a short text about my violin, and to my astonishment this is the result…
Thank you Eng. Joaquim Domingos Capela

Brief History of the Guarnerius

The city of Cremona, Italy, was in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century birthplace of notable families of luthiers, among others Amati, Guarnerius, Stradivarius and Ruggeris, who designed this city throughout Europe as the first and largest center of violin construction.

For the circumstance and space available, a brief history of the Guarnerius family and some surrounding facts will be narrated here. :smiley:

Andrea (1626-1698), the first luthier of the family, makes his apprenticeship in the workshop of Nicolau Amati, as confirmed by the description of one of his labels: “Andrea Guarnerius alumnus Nicolau Amati fecit Cremonae sub title Sanctae Terefiae 16..”.

They’re two of his sons continuing the art of luthier.

Pedro (1655-1720) besides being a disciple of his father, made musical training in the area of violin and viola. In the eighties it leaves Cremona to come to settle in the city of Mantua. In addition to collaborating as an instrumentalist in the city’s orchestra, violins continue to be made, recognized as the most exquisite in the family. It’s going to be in the history of luthier like Pietro de Mantua.

The other son, Joseph (1666-1739), did his training at Casa Guarnerius, which he came to lead after his father’s death.

Two of his six children continue the tradition.

The second Peter (1695-1761) around 1724 left Cremona on his way to Venice, where the musical environment was of great prestige, rivaling other centers such as Rome and Florence. His work has some distinct originalities from its predecessors and the influence of the Venetian school. It is curious that this luthier came to be connected to the city with the name of “Pietro de Veneza” as happened to his uncle.

Joseph (1698-1744) remained in the Guarnerius house where he is his father’s apprentice and assistant until about 1722, when he created his own workshop in the city of Cremona, thus starting a work marked by creativity and change, in relation to the family school. The contour, toarching and thickness of the tops, the shape and dimensions of the eupheas and the very variable sculpture of the heads are unique characteristics of their violins, in addition to the acoustic qualities. The refinement of the work did not reach the levels of other family members.

It is no accident that a French amateur violinist, and banker, offered Nicolau Paganini (1782-1840) a violin built by Joseph Guarnerius(II) in 1743, which was during his lifetime the preferred instrument and who came to baptize him “Cannon” for possessing a great sound power.

Paganini donates this violin to his native Genoa, now preserved and exhibited in a beautiful closet of the Town Hall at the Town Hall, Tursi Palace, as I had the opportunity to visualize in 1999.

Although the labels do not confirm any qualities to the instruments, it is interesting to note here some curiosities.

As mentioned above, Andrea printed on her label: “sub title Sanctae Terefie”, everything leads to believe that this reference to Saint Teresa the luthier wanted to externalize a certain religious devotion.

Also the children print on their own labels the name if Santa Teresa, in addition to adding the family connection: “philius Andrea”.

The grandson Joseph leaves aside these references and prints a cross and the monogram JHS –Jesus Hominum Salvator – religious symbol consecrated in the Christian Empire.

It is believable that Joseph printed this monogram by imagining Jesus being by his side when building his violins. However, another hypothesis was put, that of Joseph having received education in a school of the Society of Jesus, jesuit order that used jhs as a symbol. Regardless of the certainties or doubts about these references, the fact is that this talented luthier came to be consecrated in history as “Guarnerius del Gesu” or simply “del Gesu”.

In 1994 twenty-five violins of “del Gesu” are exhibited at the Metropolitane Museum in New York, among which was the famous “Cannon”.

As part of this exhibition, which takes place 250 years after his death, two rich books were published under the title “Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu”. The first volume contains several wonderful photographs of these life-size violins, in addition to the brief history of each of them. In the second volume is narrated the life of this luthier. It also has very interesting contents such as measurements and thicknesses of the tops, details of the ephemes and heads, contour designs and arching of the tops. The annex also contains a “List of Subscribers” from several countries. From Portugal only my name is mentioned, Joaquim Capela, but joaquim Domingos Capela should be in order to avoid any confusion.

With these violins were recorded works of famous composers by the great violinist Elmar Oliveira, the first American to win the gold medal (1st Prize) at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1978 in Moscow. He was born on June 28, 1950 in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of a couple of Portuguese emigrants from Murtosa, Aveiro.

The Construction of the Violin

In 2000 I built my violin no. 9 which seeks to be a copy of “Cannon”. Photographic and geometric elements contained in the two volumes mentioned above were used for this purpose.

The harmonic top, in pine of the Alps and formed of two parts, has narrow growth rings (shaft or fiber) in the center, extending to the outside. The ephes, longilíneos and pointed, cut with great rigor, portray one of the most emblematic characteristics of the violins of “del Gesu”. The harmonic bar, positioned according to the rule of one seventh, has a height of 12.5mm and the thickness of 5mm.

The background is acer with the wavy arranged symmetrically close to the original, but in the downward direction. The top and bottom have contours and arching of the original, but the thicknesses are partially diverted because an tuning was sought with the halftone interval between them, reaching respectively d# and e. The weights were 70 and 102 grams.

The stols, shaped in outer mold, are corrugated acer arranged symmetrically. These are connected by blocks and sanefas in pine of the Alps and on the whole the weight is 54 grams.

The heads of the violins of “del Gesu” are of a very variable geometry and have a poorly careful finish. The Cannon’s looks densely massive and contrasts with other frontally thin ones. It will not be exaggerated to remember here an old saying: “every head, every sentence”. By analogy one could say: “every violin, every head”.

The varnish, applied to the brush, was formulated on the basis of alcohol and resins, such as sandaraca, mastic in tears, lacquer gum without wax, elemi gum, terbentin essence, lavender essence, beaver oil, etc.. The color, slightly brown, was obtained by adding dyes such as rataextract, gutta gum, santal and aloe.

The assembly of the easel, soul, studs, strings and banner was based on the standardized rules for the modern violin, but there are corrections to the taste of the luthier himself.

The acoustic parameters violin, namely power, projection, equality between strings, tymeric characteristics and “playability” dominate the sound sought by the instrumentalists. And this actor is the real judge. In the present case the judge of my violin will be the violinist Gaspar Fonseca dos Santos , for whom it was built.

Joaquim Domingos Capela
December 2007
São Fêlix da Marinha
V. N. de Gaia
Portugal