Carlo Bergonzi

Violin made by Carlo Bergonzi in 1735 in Cremona, also known as “the Kreisler Bergonzi”, after the great violinist Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler. Guro Kleven Hagen plays on this instrument.


Carlo Bergonzi was the last of the great Cremonese violinmakers, and this instrument is a particularly famous example of his work. It is first recorded in the collection of Count Cozio di Salabue (1755-1824), who seems to have inserted the misleading imitation Stradivari label that it currently bears. (Text continues below the photos)

In 1875, it was acquired by W.E. Hill & Sons in London, who passed it to the famous collection of Baron Knoop. The Bergonzi then came into the hands of the players it deserved. Fritz Kreisler, after whom it is now named, adopted it as his concert violin after parting with his Guarneri del Gesù, and it was subsequently taken up by Itzhak Perlman.

Other distinguished players have made use of the ‘Kreisler’ Bergonzi. The Cuban violinist Angel Reyes purchased it after Kreisler, and from Perlman it went to Ruben Gonzalez, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. After this intensive concert career, the violin re-entered a private collection in 1995 when the Chicago dealers Bein & Fushi placed it with David Fulton of Seattle, Washington. The most recent transaction has brought it to Dextra Musica.

The violin is distinguished not only by its wonderful sound, but its stunning condition. It is perhaps the only Bergonzi which still retains its original neck. The red varnish is magnificent, and well illustrates all the qualities for which Cremonese varnish has become famous.

Carlo Bergonzi’s pedigree as a violinmaker remains unclear. The Hills have suggested both Stradivari and Guarneri as his teacher; in their book on the Guarneri family, they wrote that he may have been a pupil of Giuseppe Guarneri ‘filius Andreæ’, and his instruments do show a superficial similarity of style. However, important details of construction show that Bergonzi’s technique was significantly different to that of Guarneri, and owes more to Stradivari. The association with Stradivari is well documented, in that after Antonio Stradivari’s death in 1737 he was invited by the family to occupy the workshop and finish up many instruments left by the master and his sons, Francesco and Omobono.

Bergonzi was born in 1683, and seems to have worked for some time before producing an instrument with his own label in the early 1720s. Even in his earliest instruments, Bergonzi’s style is distinctive. Always of extremely careful craftsmanship in the Stradivari manner, his outline form is generally slender in the central area, with the boldly cut soundholes placed close to the edges. Early instruments have a quite pinched, Rugeri-like arch but the ‘Kreisler’ and others of his mature period have a flat, Stradivarian modelling to the plates. The materials are of first quality, with the front constructed from two matched pieces of fine mountain-grown spruce. The back is made of a single flawless piece of quarter-sawn maple with a deep, rippling figure, although the ribs and scroll are made of slightly plainer wood. The original neck of the violin has been extended at the root to meet modern playing requirements. The scroll is a distinctive piece of carving, wholly characteristic of Bergonzi; the volutes are cut close in, leaving the eye projecting widely, with the appearance of a single rod passing through the centre of the volute – a consistent and recognisable feature of Bergonzi’s heads.

Guro Kleven Hagen

Guro Kleven Hagen (b. 1994) won second prize in Eurovision’s Young Musicians competition in Vienna in 2010. In 2011 she made her debut with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and since than she has held concerts with several of Scandinavia’s leading orchestras. (Photo by: Balazs Borocz)