The phone on my desk at work rang around noon Monday. I sort of figured it was the wife on the line and it turned out I was right. I didn’t know that she would be so excited, though. Wife, son and violin teacher had made a visit to Stephen Davy’s violin shop in Laguna Niguel, which doubles as his house, in the morning. Their mission: To try out more violins. My son is in the market for his first full-size violin and his teacher, Alexander Shipitsyn, is determined that he get a good one; his grandparents think it’s a grand idea as well and are chipping in.
I had expected this to happen, me being a know-it-all and such, though I didn’t know it would happen so soon. They had found “The One” — the violin that stood apart above all others, the clear winner, the end of our quest. My wife said that there was no question. This one was the best. The boy got on the phone and you should have heard how excited he was. He knew it too.
It turns out that the violin was one of Mr. Davy’s favorites and he had owned it for 30 years. He handed it to my son as the first of several instruments to try out. My wife said it got very quiet in the room when the boy did so. I don’t know if a choir of angels hymned along and the skies parted because I wasn’t there.
The violin’s provenance is not quite in order, which hurts its sale value but not its sound. The following is what we think it is, but I don’t believe we can prove it. It’s an 18th century Italian violin, made in Rome by one Giovanni Giorgio Taningard. The date on the label inside says “Fecit Romae Anno 1748.” (Labels can’t always be trusted, though.) There’s not a whole lot of information online about Taningard; even his dates are uncertain. One source says that he might have worked with or for David Tecchler (1666- died after 1743), described in Bachmann’s “An Encyclopedia of the Violin” as “the most important violin maker of Rome.”
Tecchler was an Austrian. Taningard was a German. Taningard, if the sources are correct, came to Rome in the early 18th century and, like Tecchler, opened a shop on the Via dei Leutari, which means “street of lutists.” Apparently there were many instrument workshops on this street. Rossini wrote “The Barber of Seville” at No. 35 Via dei Leutari. If you Google Taningard you will see that Southeby’s has sold one of his cellos.
My son played some Vitali over the phone, but of course I couldn’t tell anything. When I got home in the evening, he put the instrument through its paces for me — Bach, Mozart, Kreutzer, Massenet, de Beriot, Vitali. It’s the real thing, I had to agree. We popped open a bottle of champagne and the boy had some cherry-flavored 7-up.
Davy says that the instrument’s “molecules” are all lined up. The sound, nicely described by my wife as “buttery,” just rolls out of the instrument. It is both powerful and mellow. It rings, without harshness. Because of its age, the same kind and quality of wood used in a Guarnieri is also used here. It is certainly beautiful to look at, a little thinner around that middle than some, a noticeably arched back and a very simple grain pattern.
Davy thinks that, were its papers right, it would probably be worth a significant magnitude more than what we’re paying, or will be. We’re not worried about that; we’re buying it with our ears. Alex says it will be my son’s violin for life — he’ll never need to buy another.
Many years from now, it may be known as the “Taningard ex-Mangan,” but I think it needs a good name for now. My son suggested “Pudge,” after a wasp in Robert Benchley. I, however, think we should call it “Neo,” after the Keanu Reeves character in “The Matrix.” It can do anything. Our work is done.
related post: Choosing a violin