By Alessandro Bianchi
Although I have often relished the tender melody of the violin, it wasn’t until I met Mathias Menanteau that I realized the endless passion and mastery necessary for its creation.
French luthier Menanteau was born on July 29, 1977 in Vendée, France. He moved to Newark, England and attended the international Newark Violin Making School to garner the skill of making and restoring musical instruments. After being awarded a certificate, Mathias set out for Berlin, where he began working in the Anton Pilar violin workshop. It was in this musically rich city that Mathias deepened and acquired new knowledge on restoration, serving him well for various apprenticeships in Paris and New York.
He left Germany after five years and moved to the cradle of violin making, a city in Lombardy, Italy called Cremona. Menanteau’s expertise in musical instruments was magnified while working in Eric Blot’s workshop, where Mathias not only began restoring instruments, but also acquired knowledge of the dynasties of great Italian masters of music, such as Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri. In February of 2010, Menanteau finally opened his own violin shop in Monti, a neighborhood in the historic center of Rome.
Here, in addition to restoring instruments, he follows the traditional techniques and methods used by eighteenth-century Italian violin-makers to create his own bow instruments, mostly inspired by those of Cremona and Venice. Unlike the strict rules in the making of musical instruments, the restoration process allows room for leeway. Scientific discoveries including the use of x-rays to detect tunnels dug out by termites, or even dendrochronology, the science of dating events and changes by observing annual growth rings in timber, are new methods that help wood experts as well as restorers.
The making of an instrument always begins with choosing its wood, the cutting of which must be followed to perfection. String instruments are generally comprised of a fingerboard, the part that vibrates the most that is fixed onto a soundboard, allowing the sound to be amplified.