The city of violin-makers recently opened the Museo del Violino, offering an insight into five centuries of violin-making, including the method of construction, acoustic characteristics, and the story of the city’s most important violin-making families: Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati. A recent article in The Telegraph revealed that studies carried out by MIT researchers led them to believe that the evolution of the instrument may have been a magical accident, rather than design… the inability to accurately recreate the same sized ‘f’-shaped hole, where the air that makes the sound escapes from, may have led to the discovery that the more elongated the ‘f’-shaped hole, the better the sound. As well as beautiful examples of their instruments, the museum has a concert hall where we were lucky enough to hear the virtuoso violinist, Lena Yokoyama, play a Stradivarius (sounded like one of the later ones to me).
Another important son of Cremona was revolutionary composer, singer and gambist, Claudio Monteverdi, who is considered to have marked the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music. Between May and June 2015, and in association with the Monteverdi Festival, a series of musical cruises will make literal and imaginary journeys to Monteverdi’s cities of Cremona, Mantua and Venice.
Cremona is still a city of violin-makers and Stefano Conia ‘il giovane’ continues the tradition of his grandfather in his contemporary violinmaker’s workshop on Corso Garibaldi 85 (Stradivari lived at no.57). His skills with the traditional woods of maple, ebony and spruce, don’t come cheap, with each violin costing around €10,000.
As well as master violinists, Cremona’s other claim to fame is the Torrazzo, the highest masonry bell-tower in Europe. It stands beside the Cathedral of Cremona of Lombard Gothic architecture and close to an octagonal Romanesque Baptistry dating back to the 12th century. Both front a beautiful square that dates back to the Middle Ages where, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a well-stocked open market, dating back to the 14th century, is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and cheeses and plenty of interesting local artisanal products.
The Museo Civico ‘Ala Ponzone’ di Cremona contains Carlo Alberto Carutti’s historic collection of antique stringed instruments, as well as Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s L’Ortolano – a still-life of fruits and vegetables that, when reflected in a mirror, reveals the face of a full-faced countryman.
The 18th-century Teatro Ponchielli is dedicated to Italian composer, Amilcare Ponchielli, and visitors to Milan’s La Scala will recognise the style, copied here by Luigi Canonica.
As with every area of Italy, Cremona has its own gastronomic delights, including Mostarda (whole fruits in sweet mustard-flavoured syrup) which is a perfect accompaniment to the delicious local meats – sausages and salamis that use age-old preservation techniques. Of Cremona’s cheeses – Grana Padano, Provolone Valpadana, Salva Cremasco, Taleggio, Quartirolo Lombardo and Gorgonzola – five have PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), and Torrone (nougat) is its most famous sweet. For a taste of some especially wonderful home-cooking, head out to Agriturismo Lago Oscuro (five miles from Cremona) where an extended family team serve up excellent hand-cured meats, own-made cheeses (five of them) and prepared fruits, vegetables, pickles and oils from the on-site farm.