Fuller harmony

Made in 1716 by Carlo Antonio Testore, this stylish double bass was once the companion of Giovanni Bottesini

Born into a family of rich landowners, Antonio Pedrinelli was brought up with music. The version of history that portrays him as a carpenter, or even as a coffin maker, is not to be trusted – he did not need to work, and in any case, his social position would not have allowed such humble employment. He married a rich, noble Venetian woman and made instruments as an amateur from the age of about 50.

Pedrinelli's instruments are quite rare, but he made a number of copies of famous violinmakers' instruments, always managing to add his own individual touches. He was probably inspired in this by the large collection of instruments at Camploy in Venice, which he most likely visited. Pedrinelli also made some basses, mainly with ordinary, local grown wood, which was easy to get in the area. The larger instrument was very much in demand at that time, as it was the only stringed instrument played by local musical bands.

A few months before his death, one of Pedrinelli's violins won a silver medal at the Venice exhibition of 1854. The jurors wrote: 'His violins have always been praised, but he wanted to imitate the old masters in order to show that their beauty was not in their age, but in the ability of those who created them ... He went beyond imitation and ultimately surpassed his masters.'
Some of Pedrinelli's instruments were sold after his death by De Lorenzi in Vincenza, as well as by the maker and dealer Marcolongo in Padova. As the latter often relabelled them, it is quite easy to confuse the work of Pedrinelli with that of Marcolongo. This bass dates from around 1850 and bears a label by Marcolongo, but it is clearly the work of Pedrinelli. The design of the outline alone is typical of his work – Pedrinelli seems to have built most of his basses with the same mould, which is understandable given that this model shows a well-balanced design and harmony all over.

The upper and lower bouts have a strong relationship to each other. Their round curves flow easily towards the corners. Although Pedrinelli often liked to incorporate lengthy corners, on this instrument he kept them short. The middle bout is long and open, creating an open curve to meet the upper and lower rib at the corners. A single piece of slab-cut spruce was used for the table, and it looks truly amazing. Although small wings are added where the piece of wood wasn't large enough.Pedrinelli added small wings where the spruce wasn't large enough to complete the shape of the bass. A slab-cut spruce has very different qualities from quarter-sawn pieces, but because of its cut it also has less strength. To compensate for this, Pedrinelli left the table thicker than on a normal quarter sawn piece., and built strong arching. He left a flat platform for the bridge in the middle of the plate, running down quickly where the f-holes sit. There is hardly any fluting from the edge of the table and the arching can therefore rise straight away and create this full-bodied curve which gives the bass a unique and beautiful character. The maker did not use any purfling for the back nor for the front– he might have considered it too much work for such a large instrument. Instead, he took his double knife to cut the canal, scratching the surface deep enough to be able to fill it with black ink.

The well-sized f-holes sit straight along the grain, with broad wings. The very narrow distance at the upper and lower wings connecting the shafts of the f-holes with the terminal circles enhances this appearance. The lower circles are fairly round, but the upper ones are not. The knicks are an interesting detail of the holes, since they are not cut through the table thickness, but rather as a triangle on the surface. The two f-holes differ quite a lot from each other. They look altogether very hurried and, considering the beautiful outline and the great craft Pedrinelli displayed with the arching, it is disappointing that he didn't take more time with the f-holes as well.

The bass's back and ribs are made from maple. The wood is hardly figured, but has got some knots, which make it interesting to look at. There are clearly visible toothplane marks left on the back piece as well as on the ribs.

In carving the scroll, the maker showed once again that he was a fast worker with a clear vision for balance and harmony as well as his own character. Its front view is quite extraordinary, with wide ears and thick pegbox walls. The pegbox is long and elegant, getting gradually narrower towards the scroll, which appears very large in proportion to the rest of the instrument. The broad channel of the scroll's second turn enhances this effect, resolving soon after into the middle pin. The volute is semi-deep cut all over the scroll, the chamfers are kept small. The back of the pegbox is also cut with a medium-deep volute, and the button is large with a wide chamfer, typical of Pedrinelli's work.

Although the varnish on the table is of a dark red colour, on the ribs and across the back there is a thin, coloured coat on a yellow green ground, which is very attractive. All those characteristics give a beautiful, full and dark sound to this bass.

Upper bout 50.5cm
Middle bout 36.8cm
Lower bout 67.5cm
Table length 111.5cm
String length 107.5cm
Rib height 22cm

Thanks to Stefano Pio, who let us use information from his book Liuteri & Sonadori, Venezia 1750-1870 (Venice Research Publisher, 2002).

Originally published in Double Bassist 31, Winter 2004
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