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Reference Library Articles

Spiritus Sorsana

Spirito (or Spiritus in the latin form found on his labels) Sorsana was one of surprisingly large number of luthiers that made up the first Piedmontese school in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Turin and its environs achieved its greatest fame as far as violin making goes in the nineteenth century thanks to the efforts of Pressenda and Rocca, but the earlier period is just as interesting historically.

The earliest significant makers in the region were Henricus Catenar and Andrea Gatto. Catenar was a maker of Tyrolean origin, whose work although rare, seems to show a combination of Italian finesse with the bizarre construction methods associated with Saxony and other regions of northern Europe. Several of the subsequent Turin makers used the technique of setting the rib structure into a slot cut around the interior edge of the back plate, making the use of any kind of mould quite redundant. Following Catenar in the late seventeenth century, Giofreddo Cappa used this method in early instruments, but this prolific maker developed his ideas quickly. Spiritus Sorsana lived and worked in Cuneo, which is about thirty kilometres south of Saluzzo, Cappa's home, and some eighty kilometres from Turin itself. He is generally assumed to have been a pupil of Cappa, and worked in a fairly distinctive style through much of the first half of the eighteenth century, but as late as 1726 we find a cello with his label made in this same way, with the ribs set into the back.

His violins were more conventional however, and show a stocky sort of Amati form, very regular and well regulated, but with fairly short corners and a full, boxy arching arriving at a flat, broad edge. The soundholes are open and Amati-like, but lightly fluted and commonly set low on the front. The scroll is strongly related to Cappa's designs, but highly idiosyncratic. The eye is very large, and reached by a regular deeply cut volute with a narrow chamfer. The fluting around the head is very shallow and marked with a strongly scribed centre line. Within the instrument are very small, unmorticed pine linings and blocks, but no evidence of any constructional pegs or locating pins. The maple used for backs and ribs is generally of modest quality with meagre flame, but the fronts are of good straight spruce. Conventional poplar is used for the usually broad purfling, but it generally reveals large splits along its length caused by the preparation of the veneers using a deep-set plane iron. The varnish is usually fairly thin, but of good orange-brown colour, laid over a deep grey-gold ground.

All in all, Sorsana's instruments are modest expressions of the art of the luthier, but robust and quite distinctive, and age has treated them with the same respect as all good violins, giving them a voice with a depth of character that is hard to replicate.