Stradivari and Music in Cremona, Italy

by Maritravel

Italy’s Musical capital is not only a handsome city located in the middle of the Po Valley but it has a world class collection of violins made by the masters, Amati and Stradivari

I couldn’t rid my head of the song from "Kiss Me Kate" by Cole Porter (musical version of Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew") …"We open in Venice, the next stop Verona, Then on to Cremona, lots of bars in Cremona, We next play in Parma, that tearless, fearless menace, And Mantua and Padua, then we open again…. Where? In Venice".

Probably it stuck because my next stops were Mantua and then Padua.

But for the moment I was in Cremona gazing into the window of a patisserie where violins of all sizes made from chocolate, from nougat and from nut brittle were a temptation to this sweet-toothed visitor. But time was of the essence and I wanted to get to the Violin Museum to see the real thing ….

Cremona, Italy - The City

Cremona has been important in Italy’s cultural life since Roman times as it was a major junction for trade and commerce, located as it is on the banks of the Po River (now a major source of summer water activities).  The narrow streets of the city are rich in history, the red brick medieval towers and the Renaissance buildings offering shade to the grateful Cremonese during the heat of summer and glowing red in the sunset of an autumn evening. 

Stradivari Statue in Piazza


In the streets and piazzas you will find links to both its commercial and its cultural past, whether it’s the statues of the great Antonio Stradivari  in the Piazza of the same name, the house in Corso Garibaldi where he lived and worked from 1667 to 1680, the replica of his tombstone in the Piazza Roma, or the statue to the equally famous Claudio Monteverdi in Piazza Lodi.  Monteverdi Statue  Moneverdi who was born in Cremona in 1576, wrote one of the world’s first full-scale operas, L’Orfeo, in 1607 and it is generally accepted that he received his first musical training at the Cremona Cathedral. 

Town Square, Cremona
Town Square, Cremona
Mari Nicholson

The Museu del Violin

Stradivari and Amati


Violin by Museum of the ViolinOpened in 2013 this wonderful exhibition venue and concert hall offers the international community a world of riches.   For those who know little of the making of the instrument the magic and mystique is revealed in a walk through the display sections of the museum, from the history through to the manufacturing process.   And in the Museo Civico is a world-renowned collection of more than 60 stringed instruments, early guitars, mandolins and lutes.  Being able to gaze on such a rich collection of stringed instruments, the beautifully decorated violins of Andrea Amati and the inlaid masterpieces of Antonio Stradivari, some on loan from private owners, is an experience that can only be had in Cremona.

Collection of stringed instruments in the Museum

Visitors are led through ten rooms, each one dedicated to a specific period, and in this way the origins of violin making becomes clear through the instruments, historic documents, materials and woods that are displayed.  

Listen to a Stradivarius Being Played

Most days it is possible to hear, for a small fee, a short performance on one of the collection’s violins played by one of the young musicians from the Foundation.  In my case I was overwhelmed by the playing of the very talented young musician, Lena Yokuyama, who played Meditation from Thais by Massinet and Paganini’s 24th caprice on a 1727 Vesuvius Stradivarius.   I do not exaggerate when I say that the playing brought tears to my eyes and I know, beyond doubt, that my emotion stemmed from the lush, rich sounds that came from the Stradivarius, a sound that violinists today call The Baroque Sound, and one that only comes from an old violin.  

Lena Yokuyama Plays Massinet's Meditation
Lena Yokuyama Plays Massinet's Medita...
Copyriht - Solange Hando
Stefano Conia Demonstrates his Workmanship
Stefano Conia Demonstrates his Workma...
Mari Nicholson

History of Violin Making

Cremonese violin making has a history ranging over five centuries and it has no equal.  The heirs to the great masters are today alive and well and working in Cremona in any one of nearly 200 Luthier workshops/studios in the city.   I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the studio of one, Stefano Conia, a 42 year old master violin maker as was his father and grandfather before him, and I watched as he shaved the wood, varnished the violins and mixed the glues for ongoing pieces he was working on. 

Stefano's StudioHis studio, evocative with smells from the pots of glue, wax and resin, is hung with violin parts awaiting varnishing or waxing, and the workbench is littered with tools of every description. 

Stefano's Studio

Over the course of our conversation I learned that the wood for the front of the violin comes from the spruce trees found in the Dolomites (Stefano often goes himself to choose the tree to be cut but more often he leaves it to the experts who know exactly what he is looking for), and the wood for the back is Maple and has to be imported from the Balkans.

Teatro Ponchielli
Teatro Ponchielli
Mari Nicholson

What to See and Do Beyond the Museums

Away from the violin museum, the luthiers’ studios and the concert hall, Cremona has a lot more to offer, from the lovely Cathedral in the Duomo Piazza to the beautiful frescoed rooms of the Town Hall.  There is also the theatre dedicated to Amilcare Ponchielli and built in the XVlll century, the third opera house to be built in Italy which, after it’s rebuild in the 19th century, was named the Ponchielli Theare in honour of the Cremonese operatic composer who wrote his first symphony at the age of ten before moving on to opera.  Ponchielli is best known today as the composer of La Giaconda (Dance of the Hours). The lush interior is a scaled down version of Milan's La Scala, its interior in the traditional Italian horseshoe-shape with a large area for stalls, three rows of boxes, circle and gods and traditionally, elegantly decorated with gold and ivory stucco work with the boxes and stage draped with lush red velvet curtains.Night time in Cremona

If it’s summer there is lots to do on the river, boating, excursions, canoeing etc., and if you have a few days to spare you can rent a floating houseboat and visit nearby towns like Padua or even go right down to Venice.

Recommended Restaurant

For an exceptional meal, drive just 5 Km. out of town to one of the Agriturismo establishments where chef Lucca, his brother, their wives and parents run the Lago IW_CascinaLagoScuro_30Scuro.   All the food is sourced from their farm, the dairy products, eggs, cheese, milk, yoghurt, meats. sausages, salamis, all vegetables and all saladings,.  The quality, the combinations, and the prices are exceptional.

More Information on Cremona from

Updated: 10/09/2015, Maritravel
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Maritravel on 02/11/2015

I guided tour is an excellent idea, especially if you are only there for one day. You can miss a lot if you try to do it all by yourself. But make sure you find time to buy some chocolate!

Elena on 02/11/2015

For a guided walking tour contact : Elena Piccioni will guide you to discover the charm of Cremona's unmissable sights

janisleofwight on 02/10/2015

This is an example of how to write an exemplary article - full of facts, excellent photos and an engaging writing style. I wish I had written this.

Maritravel on 02/10/2015

Yes, it is. I had my best meal there in the entire week!

ologsinquito on 02/09/2015

I bet this restaurant is amazing. What a beautiful place this must be.

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