A Brief History of the Quartet of Amati Instruments owned by the University of Saskatchewan
A history spanning two hundred years and four generations, the famous Amati family of Cremona in Northern Italy crafted some of the most exquisite, sought-after string instruments of all time. Members of royalty and popes, among the select few, were able to acquire these treasured masterpieces. Today, Queen Elizabeth II has an Amati viola, with a painting on the back, in her possession.
The unique structure of these instruments contributed to their incomparable sweetness of tone fulfilling the requirements of chamber music in the Baroque era, but having less volume potential than today’s virtuoso violinists may desire.
The work of Andrea Amati (1500-1577), patriarch of this family, was continued by sons Antonio (ca.1535-1607) and Girolamo Heironymous (1561-1630). However, it was Nicolò Amati (1596-1684), son of Girolamo, who, after refining the family’s traditional design structure, crafted the most desired and valued instruments of the Amati family. The larger instruments had flatter bellies and backs, lower arches, less side-grooving and richly hued varnish which was more transparent than previous designs. The new design allowed greater volume potential.
It was in his workshop that Nicolò Amati trained apprentices Andrea Guarneri (c1626-1698) and Antonio Stradivarius (1644-1737). Nicolò’s son Girolamo (1649-1740), was the last contributor to the Amati era which left a profound vestige in the crafting of instruments of the violin family.
The first violin, to be acquired by Mr. Stephen Kolbinson, made by the Amati brothers in 1627, was purchased in 1955 from David McCallum, concertmaster of the London Philharmonic. Previously part of a private collection, this instrument had been smuggled out of France to safety in England during World War II.
The second violin to be acquired was built by Nicolò Amati in 1637. Mr. Kolbinson purchased the instrument from Daisy Kennedy. A world-famous concert violinist. This violin was given to her by the internationally renowned violin teacher, Ottokar Ševcik, when she made her debut in London. Before she retired, Mr. Kolbinson secured a promise from her that he would have first consideration as a buyer should she ever decide to sell the Amati violin. When she later announced her retirement there were at least three hundred people waiting to make an offer for the instrument, but she remembered her promise and happily offered her best wishes to Mr. Kolbinson on his quest
The Amati cello, made by Heironymous Amati, Nicolò’s son, in 1690, had been given the joint seal of the Plymouth and Clive families (Clive was a general in India). The violoncello had been left for decades, along with a Stradivarius violin and other instruments, in an attic of the Earl of Plymouth’s castle in England. Fritz Kreisler, noted violinist and composer, purchased the Stradivarius and Mr. Kolbinson bought the cello.
To complete the quartet, Mr. Kolbinson arranged to buy a viola, sight unseen, over the telephone when one became available after a quartet of instruments was broken up in France. Amati violas are extremely rare. Tragically, the first viola that Mr. Kolbinson had purchased for the quartet, from a noble Italian family living in the United States, had been stolen from his farm near Kindersley, Saskatchewan, has never been recovered. Upon hearing of its availability, Mr. Kolbinson flew to Paris at once and triumphantly returned to Saskatoon with his Amati quartet completed in 1958. The viola was built by the Amati brothers in 1607, commissioned by Pope Paul the Fifth, a member of the famous Italian Borghese family. This instrument bears the coat of arms of the Borghese family on the back.
By Lorraine Omness (Granddaughter of the late Stephen Kolbinson)
Amati Instruments and Family Tree
The Latin form of the first names are used here. (The Latin form of Amati is Amatus.)
Instruments owned by the University of Saskatchewan
Violin (1637) - Nicolo Amati III (1596-1684) (used as the first violin in the quartet)
Violin (1627) - Antonio Amati (1555-1640) & Hieronymus Amati (1556-1630) - “the Brothers Amati”
Viola (1607) - “the Brothers Amati”
Cello (1690) - Hieronymus Amati II (1649-1740)