Gennaro Gagliano

Cello made by Gennaro Gagliano in 1748 in Napoli. Bjørg Lewis plays this instrument. The previous owner of the cello was Martin Lovett from the Amadeus Quartet.

Gennaro Gagliano was the son of Alessandro, and a very fine maker in his own right. Like his brother Nicolo, he was more orthodox and classical in his style than his father, and indeed very versatile in imitating Cremonese makers. 

By the time Gennaro and Nicolo were working, in the middle and second half of the 18th century, it had been almost universally acknowledged that the Cremonese standard was the one to follow, and Gennaro eliminated many of the quirks of his father’s style in his own work. Perhaps the most gifted craftsman of his family, he was much more precise in the cutting of the scroll and generally more attentive to detail than other Neapolitan makers. He used a fine oil varnish, sometimes comparable with that of Alessandro, but also made increasing use of the tougher spirit-based varnishes with less vigorous colouring that became the norm by the end of the 18th century.

This cello is a magnificent instrument, from relatively early in Gennaro’s career and bearing his original label of 1748. Although the head is not original, it is appropriate in period and manner and appears to be from a later member of the family. The rest of the instrument makes an arresting impression with its bold outline and rich varnish. The outline is beautifully drawn and heavily influenced by Stradivari. Although slightly smaller in all dimensions than a mid-period Stradivari cello, the proportions are very similar, with strong, slightly straight centre bouts and delicate corners. The soundholes are from the same origin and placed accurately and in perfect balance. The arching is characteristic of the maker: not highly vaulted, but full and perhaps a little more rounded than a Stradivari, yet equally well finished. The wood is flawless; the back is made from two matched pieces of maple with a light horizontal figure, whilst the front is also of two matched halves of very fine, straight-grained spruce. The varnish is in excellent condition, strikingly pure and vivid. The orange tinted top coat is laid over a particularly reflective gold-toned ground layer.

Gennaro Gagliano had the advantage of working at a time when the cello had just reached its ideal development in length and proportion. Only a generation earlier, they had been built in a variety of sizes, most of which were too large and unwieldy for virtuoso playing. Consequently many have been altered, with inevitable compromises made in form and proportion. From all aspects of design, function and execution, this cello must be counted amongst the very best made at this time, and remains a superb instrument perfectly adapted to modern performance.

From 1976 the instrument was used by Martin Lovett of the Amadeus Quartet in recordings and concert performance, but was sold in 2007 to Dextra Musica. It was previously owned by Sir Robert Waley-Cohen, the first managing director of the Shell Oil Company, who died in 1952. His son, Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen, arranged for it to be loaned to William Pleeth, the distinguished principal professor of the cello at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and it was played by both him and his son Anthony, also a celebrated soloist.

Bjørg Lewis

Bjørg Lewis is one of Norway’s most sought after and admired cellists. She is a founder member of the Vertavo String Quartet, which has received numerous awards, including Norway’s prestigious Grieg Prize in 2005.