Francesco Rugeri

Cello made by Francesco Rugeri in Cremona in 1680. Øystein Birkeland plays on this instrument.

This fine cello is another example of Francesco’s prolific activity. He probably made more cellos than any other Cremonese maker, and pioneered the development of the instrument from the large form of the 17th century to the accepted modern proportions. He was certainly assisted in this by his four sons, of whom both Carlo and Giovanni Battista have left cellos bearing their own labels, built on the smaller format.

This instrument has had a chequered history however, and its original outline has been compromised in the way that so many great cellos of this period have been. Past restorers have attempted to remodel the instrument to conform to their current ideas, by removing the edges and cutting back the plates and reducing the ribs. Having been through this process sometime in the past, this cello was later rebuilt to a close approximation of its original condition by W.E. Hill & Sons. Hills replaced the lost areas around the edges, which can now be seen as a slight halo around the original material.

The back is again made of poplar wood, in this case of plain appearance and cut on the half-slab, with widely spaced grain. The peghole for a carrying strap, a common usage amongst players in the 17th century, can be clearly seen in the centre between the upper corners. The front is made from two matched pieces of magnificent straight-grained spruce, very finely spaced at the centre and becoming progressively broader towards the edge. The scroll has the characteristically lean appearance of Rugeri’s signature work, with very delicate chamfers and deeply worked undercutting, throwing the elegantly formed eye into high relief. The instrument still bears a good covering of rich original varnish, softly textured and tinted with warm orange tones.

The cello passed through the Hills’ shop in London early in the 20th century, when it is most likely that the resizing was carried out. It was purchased in 1988 by the Union Bank of Norway from a private owner in Nebraska, USA. The instrument has been played since that time by the Norwegian cellist Øystein Birkeland and it was acquired by Dextra Musica in 2009.

Øystein Birkeland

Øystein Birkeland is well established as one of Norway’s most prominent cellists. He has an interest in a broad range of musical genres. Throughout his career, he has performed with leading orchestras such as the Oslo Philharmonic, the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, The Moscow Soloists, and The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.