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Reference Library Articles

Stefano Scarampella

Stefano Scarampella has a fine and enviable reputation for tone. As a craftsman, he was solid, even perhaps a little rustic, but there is no denying that the strength and resilience of his work has matured over time to produce a richness and power in tone quality that has pushed them high into the ranks of desirable and collectible makers. There are problems associated with all this- the style is a very easily identifiable one, and being not of the highest finish, is fairly easily imitated. Not all violins bearing the Scarampella label are the real thing.

Stefano came from a family of violin makers, but is considered the most significant of them; born in Brescia in 1843, he was actually the younger brother of Giuseppe, five years his senior. Giuseppe became a pupil of Nicolo Bianchi, the Genoese maker who worked in Paris, following associations with, it is said, Ceruti, Guadagnini and Pressenda. He then moved to Florence to work for Luigi Castellini, and died in Varese in 1902. Stefano acknowledged Giuseppe as his teacher on his labels, which read 'fratelli ed allievo di Giuseppe', and this provided him with a pedigree leading back to some of the finest makers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In 1886, Stefano moved to Mantua, where he remained until the end of his life in 1925. At the end of the nineteenth century in Mantua there was little activity in violin making. The last notable maker, Giuseppe Dall'Aglio died in 1840. Little evidence of the influence of earlier distinguished Mantuan makers such as Camilli or Balestrieri can be seen in Stefano Scarampella's technique and stylistically he followed a bold late Guarneri model, mostly referencing Paganini's 'Cannon' of 1743, although short on detail. Stefano worked prolifically; estimates of his output reach eight or nine hundred violins, violas and cellos. This is not contradicted by the style and workmanship of his instruments. They are not flashy by any means, but consistent, honest and distinctive. He generally used a full arch, not unlike the 'Cannon' Guarneri, and stout thicknesses. The wood is generally of modest quality, sometimes quite plain and sometimes obviously of local growth. The varnish too is modest in colour, but well applied and satisfyingly rich, with a rust red or brown tone and a slightly thin texture. One of the most distinctive aspects is the head, which is carved with great strength and good symmetry. It has a slightly truncated last turn, but is generally very round and concentric, with flat channelling and undercutting and a broad chamfer. The volutes often have a slightly conical shape from the front and back view, the chin is broad, and there is usually a strong central scribe line, and a deepening flute at front face toward the throat. This last aspect may be a reference to his Mantuan predecessor, Tomasso Balestrieri, whose scrolls have the same distinctive shaping of the front flute. In fact it is not unknown to find Scarampellas labelled as Balestrieri, and there is certainly some superficial commonality between the more muscular type of Balestrieri work and Scarampella's own.

The soundholes are most often of a Guarnerian form, slightly extended beyond the finial circles, and set widely apart. The corners are fairly short, but well-balanced with the full, rather rounded outline and small edge flute. The purfling is usually the common pearwood and poplar combination, although the pearwood blacks are quite thin.
Structurally, Scarampella did not use locating pins at the ends of the plates, and the spruce interior is neatly constructed, but the linings are not morticed to the blocks.

Stefano Scarampella had two pupils who continued working in Mantua after his death; Oreste Martini (b.1893) and the better-known Gaetano Gadda. Gadda, born in Sorga, near Verona in 1900, made such effective imitations of his teacher's work that the two makers are often confused. Although he sometimes used a 'G.G.' brand, distinguishing Gadda's work from the more prestigious, and valuable genuine productions of Stafano Scarampella is a common difficulty.