Over the years I came to know him as a wise friend whom one could always trust to tell the truth about any string instrument whether part of the House of Wurlitzer or an instrument brought in from somewhere else. He was, in fact, the caretaker of my violins from the time I first knew him until the day he died.
Not only was he a wise counselor about bows and violins, but as to what instrument suited the artistic temperament of the performer. He understood, as do so very few, the special empathy that grows between a performer and the instrument that he uses. And he understood that what the performer is searching for in the way of sound and response have to be matched in a psychological way by the instruments that would be shown him.
He took care of the first fine instrument that I was ever given, a Giovanni Battista Guadagnini made in Parma and given to me when I was twelve years old in San Francisco. Later, he took care of the first Stradivarius that I used (that did not belong to me) and helped me to make a choice when I bought my first great Guarneri del Gesù, the «Vicomte de Pannete», in 1943. More important, he was directly responsible for the second Guarneri which I now own and play most of the time, the famous Ysaÿe of 1740 (sometimes incorrectly dated as 1744). That violin belonged to Charles Munch, who was an old friend. Maestro Munch, before becoming a world-famous conductor, was a violinist in Strasbourg, and his family bought it from the estate of Eugene Ysaÿe. The violin was bought by Emil Herrmann and sold the next day to a very well-known collector of instruments in the United States named Mr. Hottinger. Before delivering it to Mr. Hottinger, the violin was given to Fernando Sacconi to restore to its original brilliance and beauty. He had such personal affection and high regard for this violin that he took it home and worked on it personally for more than six months, carefully restoring it to its full glory.
I still remember well the day that Rembert Wurlitzer called and said, “Before I deliver this violin to Mr. Hottinger, I would like you to see it because it is an instrument I know you will deeply appreciate.” On his way to Connecticut, he stopped at my apartment and I saw the Ysaÿe for the first time in its fully restored beauty. I was absolutely struck with awe at the sight of the violin and the golden, honey quality of its sound. Many years later, when Mr. Hottinger decided to sell his entire collection to Mrs. Wurlitzer, I reminded her of the time that I had seen the instrument and asked that I have a chance to look at it and acquire it.
I was on tour in Europe when I received a cable from Lee Wurlitzer saying «Collection has now been bought. Am reserving the Ysaÿe for your return.» I cabled back immediately saying that I would be back on a certain date and would come immediately to see the violin. It was with some trembling anticipation that I came to New York, went immediately to the shop, took the violin out, tried it and asked to be allowed to take it home to try it out further. From that moment on, it never left my hands. I became its owner a few weeks later.
This is a rather long way of saying thank you to Fernando Sacconi for his special devotion and extraordinary talent in bringing back to life a very special instrument which has become as much a part of my life as my fingers and my heart. It was this extraordinary affection for instruments, this compassion for the performers whom he befriended, that made Fernando Sacconi a unique individual and regarded by every professional the world over as the number one man to whom one could go for final judgment. He created the standard by which all others were judged, and there are great numbers of luthiers and violinists who owe their careers and their understanding to his generosity. And thus his memory continues within all of us.
New York, February 19, 1984