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  • M Osborne

A Lot of Fiddles ~ David Mearman

David Mearman, one of our long serving violinists (who is also regularly seen playing the Viola), had mentioned to several us in passing that he has a collection of violins, but we never made the time in and around the breaks to discuss his passion in detail. With more time available during the COVID pandemic, we asked him a bit more about his collection and it seems that, in fact, he cares for a rather large number of violins. Here David explains how it came about and describes a few of the adventures they have had together.


And so in David’s own words…

Some like travelling, some like animals, others like cars and others, gardening. And so on.

Me, I like violins. It's been almost a lifelong passion. In fact, I've learnt about the historical origins, how they are made and repaired. The only thing I still aspire to do is make one.


During my 20s I was fortunate to know three violin makers, who sowed the seeds of fascination for the violin. From my late teens the Baroque period has always held some magical fascination for me, particularly in the Arts and music. I then started to collect violins to learn how different each one is from the other. By the late 1990s I had acquired two violins made around 1750-70, which were a joy to play, music just seemed to flow out of them, and so the collection grew.

In 2015 I was fortunate to go on a String Quartet Course held at St. Andrews University in Scotland, with the Fitzwilliam String Quartet as tutors, I went for several years running, but the loss of the car and Covid has prevented this in recent years.


It was on one visit that I had the violin collection with me, to be displayed and used later on the Isle of Lewis. I had made previous arrangements to see if it would be acceptable to put on a display in the Faculty of Music, as part of the course. This was agreed with the organisers and the University, and was enjoyed by students, members of the public, others on the course, as well as the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, who found the playing of a genuine baroque violin extremely educational.


To accompany the St Andrew's University display David created an illustrated note designed to explain the exhibition further.


Whilst on the Isle of Lewis, the string players were putting on a charity concert, at which the collection was to be displayed. Also as a concert feature the violins were used in the playing of Pachabel's Canon. It's nice to think that some of those violins might have been played in a premier of the work in some concert.


The instruments are kept in a display cabinet at home, and rotated to my usable violin case. I have no interest in the modern school concept of putting them in a bank vault. Violins are intended to be played! I did try to see if some of the advanced younger players would like to use them via a Dealer, for some peppercorn fee. If they really liked it, they could have the option to buy it. I'd then just replace it with another. However, there were no takers, they or the parents probably don't want the responsibility of the thing. After all, unlike say a 2010 Ford Fiesta, NONE of them can be replaced with another.


The instruments were transported to and from St. Andrews and Isle of Lewis using a method intended to send any serious violinist and dealers into immediate cardiac arrest, by taking them in my car, which I had back then. They were packed either individually in the few violin cases that I have, or by being wrapped in bath towels and placed on their sides in a large plastic container. They were then put on the back seat or on the floor behind the front seats and covered with plenty of coats. Since the journey requires overnight stops, I had the privilege of sleeping with them in the car. I then know they are feeling comfortable and not too cold!


The display stands all come apart, as they are just a modified clothing wardrobe/ hanger. I quite often think that in a former life I was this little Italian gypsy in the mid-1800s, by the name of Luigi Tarisio, who was the most perfectly skilled violin connoisseur and dealer the world has ever known. He was able to palm off the absolute rubbish of factory fiddles for quite a sum, by playing them in the street to an enchanted audience, and taking in part exchange their existing [played to be] ‘rubbish sounding’ Strad, Guanarious or Amatis etc. He lived in a rented attic room, always locked. When he eventually died, out of concern the Landlord had to break in with Officials, and found the poor chappy in his chair, hugging a Strad. Indeed, he had about a dozen of the things and a dozen or so of every other of the top 20 biggest Italian legends!


Look him up, a fascinating, but very sad story. More about Luigi Tarisio is available here


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