I have recently had the chance and the honour of interviewing the great Cremonese “maestro” Francesco Bissolotti. I decided to let the 83-year-old violinmaker talk freely about his activity, which he started in 1957 when he attended the violimaking school in Cremona. “Bisso”, as always, confirmed his willingness and passion; we spent two hours together and I managed to record most of our conversation. Subsequently, I transcribed his words, without any interpretation or modification, so as to keep his story unchanged. His language is informal, my only task was to insert punctuation in his pauses. Francesco Bissolotti is considered as one of the greatest violimakers of our age; throughout his brilliant career, started in 1961, he has made violins, violas and cellos for the best musicians in the world. In the 1960s, together with Gio Batta Morassi, he played a fundamental role in reviving the classical Cremonese violinmaking tradition and the international violinmaking school Antonio Stradivari. He has always been proud of and in love with his job; I like his enthusiasm, his plain speaking and his inborn irony. GENZINI: Tell me something about Cremona in the 50ies, your beginning and the initial difficulties. BISSOLOTTI: When I started the International Violinmaking School in 1957, I was already married with two children and my wife was pregnant again; I had to give up my job as a carver. Every day I was a train commuter from Soresina to Cremona and came back home in the evening. After dinner, I repaired some furniture until midnight, to make ends meet. When I was six, I used to go to my uncle's workshop; he was a cabinet-maker and there I started using the fretsaw; first of all, I fretted pictures on plywood using this tool and I became a real “master”. When I was in my teens, say from 14 to 18, I worked at a carpenter's workshop in Soresina. In this period, I had the opportunity of collaborating with an exceptional carver, who used to come to this workshop to carry out different types of carvings. I soon became very keen on this technique and attended a vocational carving school in Castelleone. On Sunday, I also went to a teacher in Crema, Mr Doti, to learn technical and ornamental design, in order to improve my “artistic” skills. So, before attending the violinmaking school, I already had some experience, also considering the fact that I had been working with wood for 18 years. Not surprisingly, I made my first violin just after two months at school. I only had to learn the technique connected with violinmaking. At the time there were just 6 students, divided into 4 classes; for example, my friend Emilio Bassi and me made up one class. My Acoustic Physics and History of Instrument teacher was Mrs. Anna Puccianti, daughter of Mr. Aldo Puccianti, who was Enrico Fermi's Physics teacher. She came from Pisa once a week; classes were grouped to enable her to have her lessons in one day only. There was just one foreign student, a 60-year-old man from ex- Jugoslavia called Slocovic. I left Soresina at 7:30 a.m. by diesel-rail car; classes were from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. every day but sometimes, when they were not essential, I stayed at home to work. Times were really hard, I had to pay the rent. School lasted 4 years and in order to be admitted, you needed the primary school-leaving certificate, plus 3 years' attendance of junior secondary school and 2 more years of further education. I only had the primary school-leaving certificate, so I had to pass an entrance examination which I prepared in 6 months. I was helped, of course, but despite my poor education, I read a lot, especially novels and the classics. My father was a head herdsman and my mother a primary school teacher, but she never taught as she gave birth to lots of children. My father had a good tenor voice and sang in opera choruses. I was the third of eight children, 6 sons and 2 daughters and now only 4 of us are still alive. I studied the violin privately; it was my violin teacher Valerio Boldi who recommended the violinmaking school to me. He said: “ You are very good at carving and inlay; moreover, you are also a cabinet-maker. You know “wood” very well and, on top of that, you can play the violin. So, why don't you attend the violinmaking school? There are a few students there and you can help the school outlive”. As a matter of fact, the school would have been closed down if there hadn't been enough students. I made a lot of sacrifices; I was granted a yearly 80,000 lira tuition, which obviously did not cover all expenses. I had a friend called Vairani, who owned a food shop; we were close friends and he soon realized that I was very fond of music and quite gifted, so he offered to maintain my family. I would pay him back and, little by little, I paid all my debts. I remember that once I went to Soresina Townhall to get a document I needed for my train card and a clerk asked me: “Where are you going, boor ? You start studying at your age, you have your own family and you have always lived among cows in countryside fields”. I answered: “ I beg your pardon, but why can't I do what I feel like doing? I'm sure that if I start something, I'll do my best to achieve it, and not just to get along. This memory is only meant to point out that, instead of finding people who spurred you to improve your position, most of them tried to frustrate you. I am Aries and when I get something into my head, I throw myself into it, heart and soul, even if I make mistakes. I had some excellent teachers at school; it was a serious school with about 40 hours per week and half of them were workshop practice. I got my school-leaving certificate with full marks.
                                                    Second part!
I got my school-leaving certificate in summer 1961 and the following autumn I was asked to be a teacher, while the first foreign students were arriving. I taught for 22 years and in that period I had the chance of meeting Simone Ferdinando Sacconi, who restored at least 400 Cremonese classical instruments. Thanks to his great experience he managed to revitalize the ancient Cremonese manufacturing method of stringed instruments. I remember he once told me: “ Come to the museum with me, I'll show you how violins were made at Stradivari's time and you have to start from there!”. Every year Sacconi came over Italy and, during the summer, the two of us used to reorganize the Stradivari museum and classifiy all its memorabilia. Therefore, I realized the importance of the so-called Cremonese classical violinmaking method. Throughout the years I continued the tradition of Cremonese violimaking masters with confidence and enthusiasm. I was one of the first ones to open a workshop; I moved from Soresina to Cremona, via Platina, but times were really hard and I had to move back to Soresina; then, I re-opened my workshop in Cremona, via Altobello Melone, to go back to Soresina once again after a while. Finally, I returned to Cremona, via Beltrami. Then, one day I talked to my wife and said to her: “ We possibly can't go to and fro, we must settle in Cremona for good. In fact, we lived in via Milano for 40 years and then moved to via Ala Ponzone, where I worked with Sacconi when he came to Cremona in summer. Later on, I went into partnership with Giorgio C'è. At the same time, I founded the association ACLAT, based in via Boccaccino 2, together with some of my students who used the inner mould as part of their violimaking method. In our association seat we exhibited our instruments and also toured throughout Europe with the exhibition “From a tree to the violin”. I was supported by the witty Cremonese journalist Santoro. There were a lot of difficulties and it was hard to find customers ; you nearly had to give money to them, otherwise we were simply offered a meal in return. Violimaking in Cremona was over those days and most of the inhabitants of our town did not know what it really consisted of. Then, at the end of the 60s, the situation started to improve. A lot of tourists and some American traders started to come over, though it was difficult to deal with such traders. For example, I sold my first 2 violins in the early 60s for 15,000 lira each, a trifle.... They used to tell me: “ I must introduce you on the US market. I can't pay you more, it's little money but you have to make up your mind, take it or leave it”. I always accepted as I had never wished to become a collector of my own instruments.
                                               Third part!                                                                                                                               GENZINI: Why have you used different types of essence of wood throughout your long activity as a violinmaker? BISSOLOTTI: Because I am fond of the different varieties of wood; I know at least 200 essences of wood ; for example the tamarisk poplar has beautiful veinings, while the local poplar is smooth without veinings but it is acoustically excellent, sometimes even better than a piece of maple wood with veinings. Both the sound and the aesthetic aspect are important. I tried using poplar, willow, plane-tree, mahogany and pear wood. (in the XVIII century the violinmaker Francesco Ruggeri was also called “the pear”). The violinmaker Carlo Alberto Testore from Milan even used beech wood which is not aesthetically nice, but it has a very good sound. The musician Salvatore Accardo has always been interested in this type of instruments. When I worked for Wurlitzer company in New York (Sacconi was the managing director), I made about 40 violas after Gasparo da Salò and Testore (they were 42 cm long). The Americans, in fact, did not want the Stradivari viola, as the “medicea” model is only 41.3 cm long, that is to say short and narrow and so not so powerful from the acoustic point of view, though it looks much more elegant than the violas by Gasparo da Salò and Testore. In the early 70s I took part in an international meeting of about 200 viola players in Salt Lake City, organized by William Primrose. During my stay in Utah I had the posisbility of seeing about 15 violas by Gasparo da Salò; the smallest was 42.5 cm long, while the biggest was over 43 cm long. As regards shape and wood quality, they were rather coarse instruments but their acoustic power was unrivalled. I made about 40 very big violas of this kind for Wurlitzer company and I made Testore models even in beech wood. I worked a lot for the U.S. until about 20 years ago. Now I'm 83, I feel as if I were a volcano, I'd like to do plenty of things, I have a teenager's fancy and enthusiasm. I have fun not only with violinmaking, but also with carving and inlay of small and big objects, so that my sons say to me: “Goodness dad, you manage to put something in the holes you find”. I'd like to try making other instruments too.