His pieces, particularly his cellos, are extremely sought after by orchestras, notable musicians or collectors, and many form parts of collections in museums. Prices for authentic pieces can reach millions of US dollars at auction.
Montagnana was born in Lendinara, Italy in 1686. His father, Paolo, was a shoemaker. He made stringed musical instruments (violins, violas, cellos) and double basses in Venice. He was apprenticed in Matteo Sellas workshop (probably also associated with Matteo Goffriller) and after that he opened his own shop, active from 1712, located in Calle degli Stagneri,with insignia "Alla Cremona".
He is best known for his cellos, which are considered as excellent for concertos. Cello making also formed a major part of Montagnana's output, partly in response to the popularity of the cello in Venice at that time, and also the size and scale of the cello suited his style of workmanship. Unlike Stradivarius, Montagnana was in general not a fastidious worker with a refined and highly premeditated style, but was a vigorous and spontaneous craftsman, working his luxurious materials with a casual hand, with bold gestures and voluptuous carving around the edges of the cello - a style known as "Mighty Venetian". It is noted that the role of music was predominantly commercial in Venice, whose vibrant arts scene and annual carnival drew in wealthy pleasure-seeking visitors from afar. Wood and varnish of exceptional quality were readily available for the Venetian cello maker to turn into lush, extravagant instruments for an opulent and luxury-obsessed clientele.
Typically 1cm shorter than a "forma B" cello made by Stradivarius, and 2cm wider between the C bouts, the signature sound of a Montagnana cello is dark, complex and concentrated - "rugged beauty" so as to speak. It is "uncomplicated" to play (according to Jacqueline du Pré's description of the Montagnana cello played by Martin Lovett [ Amadeus Quartet ] ). One can hit the bow hard on a Montagnana cello while playing, and the sound will continue to come out and become more interesting. As a contrast, for a Stradivarius cello, in general, you have to coax it out (based on a famous description of Jacqueline du Pré's Davidov Stradivarius reputedly made by Yo-Yo Ma: "Jackie's unbridled dark qualities went against the Davydov. You have to coax the instrument. The more you attack it, the less it returns").
Montagnana met a Venetian woman living in the Calle degli Stagneri/Santo Bartolomeo district: Caterina Berti whom he married. The couple lived in Venice and had six daughters and no sons, something very unusual for the great instrument makers most of whom produced sons to pass their workshops on to.
Following the birth of their last child, Caterina began suffering from progressive paralysis, which eventually led to her death in 1748. It seems that this final blow was too much for Montagnana, who until then had been seeking refuge in his workshop and spending much longer time than usual on the meticulous details of his instruments. His health began to decline rapidly, of unspecified causes, and by February 1750 he was bedridden. His death certificate states that he died after being confined to his bed for one month with "hypochondriac".
He died in Venice, Italy in 1750. His workshop was then inherited by Giorgio Serafin, the nephew of Sanctus Seraphin.
Many of his pieces are still in circulation, used by famous musicians or are part of public or private collections. Artists who play or have played on Montagnanas include Stephen Kates, Lionel Tertis, Lynn Harrell, Mischa Maisky, Truls Mørk, Alfred Wallenstein, Josef Roismann, Steven Isserlis, Raphael Wallfisch, Yo-Yo Ma, Maurice Eisenberg, Emanuel Feuermann, Daniel Saidenberg, Orlando Cole, Sevak Avanesyan, Nathaniel Rosen, Boris Andrianov, Galen Kelch, Ralph Kirshbaum and István Várdai.
- Petunia (1733) - owned by Yo-Yo Ma
- Ex-Romberg (1733) - on loan to Raphael Wallfisch
- Esquire (1723) - on loan to Truls Mørk
- Feuermann (1735) - Swiss collector, previously owned by Emmanuel Feuermann
- Ex-Servais (1738) - owned by Nathaniel Rosen
- Mighty Venetian (1738) - owned by Nathaniel Rosen, previously owned by Adrien-Francois Servais (1807-1866)
- Kates-Hancock (1739) - owned by Stephen Kates until 2003
- Sleeping Beauty (1739) - owned by Heinrich Schiff
- Baron Steinheil (1740) (unknown)
- Duchess of Cleaveland (1740) (unknown)
- Montagnana (1710) - owned by Guilhermina Suggia
An international festival with concerts where some of Montagnana's instruments are used is held every year in his native town, Lendinara.
- Pio, Stefano (2004). Violin and Lute Makers of Venice 1640 - 1760. Venezia, Italy: Venice research. p. 383. ISBN 978-88-907252-2-7.
- Violin and Lute Makers of Venice 1640 - 1760 by Stefano Pio. Ed. Venice research, Venice, Italy, 2004 ISBN 978-88-907252-2-7
- Domenico Montagnana International Festival (Italian/English)
- Fox News archive story
- Venice Research
- Domenico Montagnana (Italian)
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