Albani Family Double Bass, Bolzano circa 1750 – Review

Having been safely housed in a South West of England Grammar school for innumerable years the overall fabulous condition of this most intriguing of instruments initially suggested to us that it was only about 70-80 years old. Our second estimate was to be in total contradiction. The lack of purfilling, the thin one-piece semi-swell back, the cello like shoulders and unusual crescent shaped centre bouts strongly suggested that this was some kind of transitional instrument that dated right back to the second half of the 16th century. We were confused to say the least. After considerable discussion our second estimate seemed the more likely. In terms of violin history this was a very exciting period, for there was considerable experimentation taking place in an endeavour to create instruments that produced much stronger sounds than the viols that were in current use. One only has to view paintings and sketches of the period to learn that there were gamba type instruments of all sizes and forms being used. Even though the dimensions of this double bass were larger than average for the period, there was the very real prospect that this instrument was going to offer us a rare insight into the earliest history of the double bass. The awe-inspiring form appeared to be a precursor to the instruments of both Gasparo da Salò [1540-1609] and his apprentice Giovanni Paolo Maggini [1580-1630] - both recognised because of their experimental work as highly important contributors to the form of the violin and the double bass as perceived today.

Following the removal of the table, the workmanship and materials used suggested that this instrument was most likely to date from the late 18th century. Can you believe it - right in the middle of our two estimates. Emanating from Brescia (Northern Italy - to the East of Milan) or possibly slightly further North in Bolzano it was here that several generations of the Albani family were born and worked.

Characteristic of this family of makers is the deep-dark-red varnish that has oxidised and turned virtually black giving an appearance of much greater years. We can clearly see by the "tubby" contours of the table arch that Stainer has had a strong influence on its maker. The Brescian school too has embraced the form of this instrument. The timber used is plain and worked as though done quickly. The curves of the outline are gentle, especially those of the corners. The volutes of the scroll flare outwards. The f hole's slope very much in the manner of da Salò and the nicks are of the "slashy" Milanese type.

With very little damage apart from a skilfully patched post crack to the back and a few minor cracks to the ribs and front the condition of this instrument can be described as absolutely amazing. When the condition is further considered in relationship to the instruments age then amazing becomes too insufficient an adjective. To complement this fine instrument the peg box has been re-cheeked, new machine heads have been adapted and fitted and a new neck and fingerboard fitted. Slight re-thicknessing to the inside table has been necessary and there is also a new bass bar and new linings.

An instrument of the Italian school that is as intriguing to look at, as it is inspirational to play.

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