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Blog: Cutting Through the Noise

Blog of Cellist Joshua Roman

Midge

I am often asked about my cello, Midge, and I'm very happy to play the beautiful instrument I have been loaned. She's a late 19th century Venetian cello by Giulio di Eugenio Degani (translate: Giulio Degani, son of Eugenio Degani). He started at a young age and made my cello when he was only 24! We fit very comfortably, Midge is tall and rather skinny, and has a very powerful and sweet sound. If you check out my blog post from Chicago you can follow the video links to see us playing Bach and more on Chicago tv stations.

Midge and I backstage, happy to be together

So you're probably wondering how she got the name Midge. Well, it wasn't easy to find out, and it took a lot of prodding. Her inside label actually says:

"Degani Giulio Di Eugenio

premiato con gran diploma d'onore in Milano e medeglia d'oro in Torino

Anno 1899 Fece in Venezia"

But I figured it would take too long to say all of that every time. So I made a list of all the possible names for a cello, and narrowed it down to five. Bella, Brunhilde and others were among the final possibilities. To finish the process I wrote the five on a piece of paper and kept it on the music stand for several weeks. It became increasingly obvious that the cello was responding better when I looked at "Midge". So there was no fighting it! Ironically, it turns out that the extremely generous purchasers of this fine instrument felt that her full name was "Dame Margaret", and "Midge" is a great nickname for said monicker. Fancy that.

The following is some historical background on Midge's maker and his father. I would like to thank Darnton and Hersh for providing the information and photos below.

Eugenio Degani

The central figure of the modern Venetian school of violin making, Eugenio Degani, was born in Montagnana (located in the province of Padua) in 1842. Eugenio Degani moved to Venice in 1888 after the death of his father, Domenico Degani, a documented violin maker whose works are apparently scarce. Eugenio's initial training was most likely with his father and his work would appear to have been influenced by another maker in Padua, Gaetano Chiocchi.

Eugenio Degani participated in a number of exhibitions receiving awards in Naples, Milan, Paris and a Diploma of Honor in London. He also trained many of the better known makers who worked in Venice in the first quarter of the 20th Century including Giovanni Schwarz, Ettore Siega and his son GiulioDegani.

Eugenio Degani's personal style is exemplified by cord-like edgework that is accentuated by purfling laid close to the edge, deeply carved scrolls with a thin volute and a beaded edge, a distinctive outline with a strong and consistent f-hole design, and varnish that ranges in color from brown to amber with hints of red, orange, or yellow in color. The purfling in many examples is fashioned in a "five-ply" manner with two white and three narrow black strips layered in alternation. This technical detail is also found in some instruments by Eugenio's son Giulio, and can be traced back to Gaetano Chiocchi. Eugenio Degani 's arching tends to be fairly low: flat enough for ample power with just enough arch overall to add color and flexibility to the tone. On the whole Eugenio's work is neat and consistent, and displays both a classic conception of instrument making and a freedom of individual spirit. EugenioDegani 's influence on his pupils in terms of style, form, and technical discipline is clearly manifest and it is easy to mistake a very fine example of an instrument by Schwartz or Siega, or particularly Giulio Degani for the work of Eugenio Degani.

Giulio Degani

Son and student of Eugenio Degani, Giulio was born in Montagnana 1875, worked in Venice until 1922 when he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. During his life he was awarded medals in various competitions including Turin in 1898 and 1911, and Milan in 1906. GiulioDegani died in Cincinnati in 1955

Both in terms of stylistic and technical features Giulio's work shows a definitive connection to his father's work and to the modern Venetian school over which his father had such a profound influence. In addition to the characteristic outline, and the design of the f-holes and scrolls, many of Giulio's earlier instruments display the cord-like edge work and  "five-ply" purfling that is commonly associated with the work of his father and at his best, Giulio Degani produced instruments the equal of those of Eugenio. Giulio Degani probably began his career by assisting his father in his workshop, gradually assuming critical roles in more important aspects of the work. In some Eugenio Degani instruments one can detect the work of Giulio in one aspect or another and in some periods the work of father and son is all but impossible to separate. Later instruments from Giulio Degani memorialize his evolution away from some of the more distinctive features of the work of his father: the cord-like edge is less pronounced, and the varnish while still retaining shades of brown is harder and thinner however these instruments still display the unmistakable Degani imprint. Late in his career, Giulio Degani became somewhat less consistent in his attention to technical details but from a tonal point of view his instruments are nearly always highly functional.

Between them, Eugenio and Giulio Degani were responsible for a considerable output of high quality violins, violas, and 'cellos. The successful combination of power and color make them desirable for concert use and the physical attractiveness of the work only adds to that desirability. Not surprisingly, the instruments of Eugenio and Giulio Degani are among the most sought after of the 20th century.

Midge!

Oh yeah, before I forget, in case any of you are looking for a cello I came across this ad ;)

For sale: Cello, German, 19th century. Excellent condition. Recently tuned.

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