The "Brodsky" Guadagnini
Adolf Brodsky (1851-1929) was a noted Russian virtuoso who debuted Piotr Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in 1881. Tchaikovsky originally dedicated the concerto to Leopold Auer, who deemed it unplayable and actually campaigned against its performance. Brodsky rose to the challenge and mastered this difficult work, premiering it in Vienna on December 4, 1881. Throughout his career he championed the concerto, which was rededicated to him. Surprisingly, what today is considered one of the greatest and most frequently performed Romantic works, was viciously panned by prominent nineteenth-century critics such as Eduard Hanslick, who literally thought it “stunk.”
Brodsky owned numerous violins during his career, among them a 1702 Strad, today known as the “Brodsky,” the 1736 “Lafont” Guarneri del Gesu (acquired in 1897, well after the premiere of the Tchaikovsky concerto), and two J. B. Guadagninis, one dated 1751, and another 1757 (the latter was recently auctioned at Brompton’s). The 1751 violin, called the “Brodsky,” is perhaps the better known of his two Guads because it is catalogued in Ernest N. Doring’s The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers (1949 (Dover reprint with a new introduction by Stewart Pollens, 2012). Doring notes:
"This violin is owned by Anton Maaskoff of Los Angeles. He is also the owner of the Guarneri del Gesu violin of 1735 [sic], which was once owned by the French virtuoso Lafont, who played in public contest with Paganini in 1816. Both the Guarneri and the Guadagnini violins were acquired by Mr. Maaskoff from his professor, Adolf Brodsky."
Maaskoff [1893-1943] went on to have a prominent career of his own. The present owner of the 1751 Guadagnini purchased the violin through Luthier Rosenthal of New York in 1979. Accompanying the violin was an undated attestation by Mrs. Anton Maaskoff typed on Luthier Rosenthal’s letterhead that reads:
"The history of the Brodsky Guadagnini, dated 1751, is briefly described on page 119 in the book called “The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers” by Ernest Doring, published by William Lewis and Son. Anton Maaskoff, my late husband, in his youth had studied for many years with Brodsky in England and was known as a favorite pupil. It is our understanding that the Guadagnini was Brodsky’s most cherished violin and that he performed the Tchaikovsky violin concerto which was dedicated to him on this Guadagnini. My late husband purchased this Guadagnini from his late teacher Adolf Brodsky and was in Anton Maaskoff’s possession until his decease."
In 1908, Brodsky performed in London, and The Strad reviewer (under the pen name “Lancastrian”) remarked that the Guadagnini he used “has not quite the sweetness of [his] Guarnerius, but double the power, and is a much more effective instrument.” In 1909, Brodsky lent this violin to his protégé, the 16 year-old Maaskoff, for a London performance of the Saint-Saëns’ Concerto in B minor. The “Lancastrian” reviewed that concert as well and made use of the occasion to take some measurements of the violin, which he published in his review and perfectly match those of the 1751 Guadagnini illustrated here.
In 1897 (the same year he purchased the “Lafont” Guarneri), Brodsky sold the 1757 Guadagnini to a Mr. Claxton, who bought it for his daughter. Brodsky’s handwritten receipt merely indicates that he had “played and approved” the violin—faint praise indeed—and makes no mention of having used it as a concert instrument or in the premiere of the Tchaikovsky concerto.
In terms of its proportions and moderate arching the 1751 Guadagnini is fairly typical of the violins made during his Milanese period, though dimensionally it is a bit on the small side. The top is of book-matched spruce having fine grain widening at the flanks; the back is of two pieces of maple having moderate flame, joined so that the flame descends continuously from left to right, providing the illusion of a one-piece back—a feature shared by several other Guadagnini violins. Positioning pins in the back plate are located on either side of the center line, which is again typical of his violins; the upper pin in this instrument is located to the left and is uncharacteristically bisected by the purfling, while the lower pin lies to the right and well inside of the purfling, as is often the case with Guadagnini. When viewed from the side, the edging of the top plate appears slightly thicker than the back, which again one often sees in Guadagnini’s violins. This might suggest that he made the backs on the thin side, though measurements of this instrument indicate that it is a robust 5+ mm centrally. The fluting around the perimeter of the top and back is shallow, and the corners do not rise up, but are thinner than the edgework—another hallmark of Guadagnini’s work. The eyes of the f-holes are slightly ovoid, though the wings do not exhibit the marked taper that one associates with his instruments. The purfling is of acacia, a wood rarely used by other makers. The scroll retains vestiges of the punch marks that Guadagnini typically used in laying out the volute. In general, the violin’s condition is excellent, and the tone is especially rich and powerful.
The original label reads:
Joannes Baptista Guadagnini Pla/centinus fecit Mediolani 1751 [last two figures handwritten; at the right a round maker’s mark bearing a Patriarchal cross and the initials GBG/P].
Measurements made with calipers, in millimeters
L 351.5 350
Upper bout 165 166
Center bout 110 111 [115 made with a tape]
Lower bout 203 202
F-hole length: left, 75; right, 76
Distance between upper eyes 44
Distance between lower eyes 131