by Barbara Manzini / Maggie Kerr
«Il Globo», Quotidiano Nazionale
Sydney / Melbourne (Australia)
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
At the time, the institution operated as the
International School of Violin-Making in Cremona. The school was established by royal decree on
September 21, in 1938, after celebrations were held for the 200th anniversary
of Stradivari’s death. The aim was to create a highly regarded
professional education centre for students wishing to learn how to create
quality stringed instruments, in the traditional cremonese style.
At 14 years old, Zambelli finished middle
school in Volongo, a village near Cremona, and began to think about which
technical or professional institute she should enrol in.
A teacher suggested the school of violin-making
and, after visiting the institute with her mother, Zambelli enrolled.
The school welcomed students from all over the
world, though enrolments were low when Zambelli commenced, as not many people
were interested in the construction of violins, violas, cellos and double
“As soon as I started, I knew that this career
was for me,” Zambelli says. “I’ve always loved using my hands; being
creative and building things gives me great joy. “I was taught by incredible luthiers, including
Maestro Bissolotti, who was such a supportive mentor.
“When I arrived, there were only 10 other
students: six other first years in my classes and one student each in second,
third and fourth year. “There were only three Italians in my class,
one Israeli, one Swiss and an American.”
Students were not required to have any musical
knowledge prior to enrolment – Zambelli picked up a violin for the first time
once she began her lessons. “During the first two years of classes, I became
familiar with the tools of the trade and learned how to carve wood,” she
“In our third year, we started to build
instruments.” Zambelli was only 16 years old when she
finished crafted her first violin.
The techniques involved in constructing a
violin have not changed for several hundred years; in fact, Stradivari himself
would have used similar processes to create his famed instruments. A few weeks ago, one of Stradivari’s violins,
the ‘Stradivari Da Vinci, ex-Seidel’, was put up for auction at 20 million US
The renowned luthier constructed his coveted
instruments during the late 1600s and early 1700s – instruments which are
sought after by the most successful international musicians and prominently
displayed in museums all over the world.
These stringed instruments are still built
entirely by hand. Luthiers begin with a single piece of wood and
spend around 200 hours constructing each violin, which requires a total of 72
parts that must be glued together.
“I think patience is one of the most important
characteristics for a luthier to have,” Zambelli says.
Once she obtained her diploma, Zambelli was
invited by Maestro Bissolotti to join him in his workshop, and a year later, in
1973, she was named ‘best luthier under 30’ by Maestro Sacconi, an
internationally renowned luthier from Cremona who moved to the United States.
During the 1970s, interest in instrument-making
grew and Cremona began to welcome more and more students, luthiers, musicians
Zambelli was invited to teach at her alma
mater, becoming the institute’s first female teacher. She remained at the Antonio Stradivari
Institute of Higher Education for 44 years, sharing her knowledge and passion
with hundreds of students. “I really love making instruments, but I got so
much satisfaction from teaching students,” Zambelli says . “It was so nice to interact with students from
all over the world – I even had an Australian student! “The classes were small and there was a huge
variety in ages.
“Some students enrolled after attending high
school or university, and others later in life, even after they had retired.”
As the instruments are still handmade, there is
a unique quality to each one, which is reflected in their sounds. Two different woods are used in the
construction of violins: Balkan maple for the back, sides and neck, and spruce
from the Dolomites for the front plate.
One of the most important moments in Zambelli’s
career was when famous cellist Rocco Filippini asked her to make an instrument
for him. Though it would not have been easy to satisfy a
musician who had played a 1710 Stradivarius, Zambelli recalls that Filippini
had no complaints. “I told him I would not try to make a copy of
his Stradivarius,” she says. “I wanted to make an
instrument in my own style, and in the end he was very happy.”