The luthier Francesco Piasentini spent his time between the School of Engineering and the workbench. A combination of two different worlds that helps him understand the greatness of ancient luthiers and to produce great string instruments himself. Looking forward to meeting him at Cremona Musica 2020, we interviewed him.
How did you start your activity?
One day, in the workshop of a luthier, I saw some pictures showing the making of a violin. I thought it was really beautiful, and I wanted to try. Since then, the violin has always had a growing importance in my life. My path was not orthodox, but many colleagues became luthiers starting from different experiences. While I was graduating in Materials Engineering (with a thesis about the red spruce for soundboards) I obtained the diploma as a lutherie operator from the IPIALL of Cremona. During the first years, I combined my apprenticeship as a luthier and my researches for the University. At a certain point (while my first son was being born) I decided to dedicate my full time to lutherie. I spent many years as an employee, then I opened my own workshop.
How does your degree in Engineering affect your work, and how different are these skills from the ones that are taught at the school of lutherie?
I am combining these two worlds that might seem very different. I am understanding that those that came before us were great engineers, who were able to design and create wonderful instruments. Little was casual, most of the work was based on a combination of experience and intuition. Since 2014 I am into the applications of industrial tomography on string instruments, with a service of diagnostics for museums, private collectors, luthiers, and musicians. I like spending my time at the workbench, to create, repair, build. I find it very therapeutic. In the same way the relationship with musicians and colleagues gives the opportunity to improve from both a professional and human point of view. We are in a golden age for lutherie. Musicians have never had instruments conceived to play well and based on the researches on the ancient building methods, like today.
I use a lot of technology, from the selection of wood to the acoustic setup of each of my instruments. Musicians have the final word, and their feedbacks encourage me to discover more and more the secrets of violins, violas, and cellos. You can “hear” this difference, and this is why people choose a certain instrument over another one.
You take your inspiration from the Venetian tradition, which elements from that tradition can we find in your instruments?
Venice used to be the “center of the world” in the golden age of lutherie. The hub of cultural and trading movements. Its lutherie (unlike that of Cremona) has no well-defined history and was inspired by many artistic influences. Its instruments are the outcome of constant evolution, based on both studies by XVIII century masters and the exchanges with colleagues from all across Europe. I like to consider my workshop as a “seaport”, where everyone can find an idea or leave there something of his experience.
What is your advice for a young person that wants to be a luthier?
Just to start: from a school, alone, or with an expert luthier… working with humility and enthusiasm. Step by step, you will find your path.
What is the importance of Cremona Musica in your business?
It is an important meeting point to cultivate relationships. A place where much has been collected and sown through the years. Cremona Musica is an important opportunity thanks to those that live it. And I hope to meet you there very soon.