Paul Alday’s reputation as one of the most influential violinists of the late Eighteenth-century is all but forgotten, as is the Stradivari violin that he played. An important rediscovery of a violin by Matthew Hardie ‘the Scottish Stradivari’ sheds new light on the identity of the missing Alday Strad.
Matthew Hardie’s reputation as the ‘Scottish Stradivari’ is often difficult to reconcile with his output. It is true that he is about the earliest Scottish maker for whom a consistent body of instruments survive, and that his career influenced numerous followers in the generation after, more or less dominating the fine craft of violin making in Scotland, and it is true that few other Scottish violins of the period are quite as fine as those made by Hardie. Calling him the ‘father’ of the Edinburgh tradition of violin making would be a fairly accurate way to describe him, and it is without argument that the many of the best violins made in Scotland were made by him, but overall the reputation as the ‘Scottish Stradivari’ seems generous. That is, until you see his very best work.
Hardie’s masterpieces are copies of an early-1690s ‘Long Pattern’ Stradivari violin – a highly unusual choice for violin for British violin making, going against the general trends of violin making across Europe. The same model would continue to figure prominently in Edinburgh violin making of Thomas Hardie and David Stirrat into the 1840s whilst elongated forms observed from the ‘Long Pattern’ appeared in hand of William Ferguson and other contemporaneous makers suggesting a much looser, but nevertheless significant influence on Scottish making. The ‘Long Pattern’ it should be noted, was hardly used as a pattern in Britain. Apart from Daniel Parker’s invariably original interpretations in the early 1700s, William Prior in Newcastle in the 1720s and Richard Duke’s copies of the ‘Falmouth’ Stradivari around the 1770s were really the only precedents excepting Stradivari himself. Outside of Scotland during Hardie’s lifetime, Charles Harris in Oxfordshire appears to have been the only other violin maker to regularly use this form.
Edin 9 Feb. 1803 Received by Gilbert Innes Esq. – Six Guineas being in full for a violin now sold him & all demands prior to this date.
Later – it is not certain how much later – Gilbert Innes, to whom the receipt was written added the following annotation to the receipt:
This violin was made by Hardie after the exact pattern and shape of Alday’s Stradivarius – the wood of this violin was imported from Hamburg & is prepared in a Particular way. Thos Trotter Esq. assures me it is superior in tone to any of his violins & to any that ever Hardie made and, he alleges, far superior to Alday’s violin – it is a brownish-yellow colour & has a small bit of wood three quarters of an inch long indented on the belly near the fingerboard. Thomas Trotter tells me that he knows a man who saw the wood of which the fiddle is made, lying cut in the Black Forest in Germany & the the wood has been prepared by a late invention of Mat Hardies as to give the effect of age to new wood.
Alday gave his last performance at the Concert Spirituel in April 1792 before fleeing the French Revolution. By March 1793 he gave three performances of his own concerto at the ‘Oratorios’ at the Haymarket Theatre, the most prestigious music venue in London. It was here that he is said to have insulted the audiences with his variations on God Save the King which went on forever owing to a misunderstanding about how the English appreciated their national anthem, whereupon he took to travelling around the United Kingdom. At Oxford he found a career as leader of the Oxford Music Room, publishing a rather more successful version of his variations for two violins and it was likely that even this led him to travel from one city to another. By 1803 and perhaps as early as 1799 he moved to Edinburgh, but seems to have had trouble settling. In 1804 he performed in Dublin and Cork, and again came to Dublin in 1805 to give a series of twelve concerts. He was a director and teacher in Edinburgh again in 1806, and in 1809 he moved to Dublin permanently.
Gilbert Innes’ claims about Alday’s Stradivari infer that the violin, and not just it’s player held a certain celebrity status within Scottish musical society since it was important to him that Hardie had copied it so well – just as Viotti had centred his own reputation around championing the Stradivari violin that he performed upon, leading directly in France to the careful Stradivarian copies of Nicolas Lupot and the eventual rise of the 19th-century Paris school of Aldric, Chanot and Pique. Whatever Stradivari belonged to Paul Alday, it was presumably one that had met the approval of Viotti, and was – following in Viotti’s legend – a violin of almost equal importance to Viotti’s own in influencing the French public of the 1780s. Nonetheless, beyond the observation that Hardie copied a Long Pattern Stradivari of the early 1690s, and the deduction that this must have been Alday’s any knowledge of which particular instrument it was has been lost.
Understanding Hardie’s violin.
The small handful of Hardie’s Long Pattern Stradivari copies that have been known until now were made as new, and the methodology for antiquing is generally not considered to have evolved in Britain until sometime close to 1820 around the time that Viotti notoriously instructed John Betts to make a perfect reproduction of a pupil’s Stradivari, reproducing every crack and blemish (click here for the 1839 account of Viotti, Old Betts, and the Stradivarius). Likewise it was after 1820 that Vuillaume famously fooled Paganini with an exact copy of his Guarneri violin, indicating how uninitiated violin makers and violinists alike were to the idea of the exact replica or forgery. Nevertheless the ‘exact shape and pattern’ described by Gilbert Innes and the preparation ‘by a late invention of Mat Hardies as to give the effect of age to new wood’ in 1803 both suggest a consciously antiqued and aged violin.
For some years we have been conscious of Hardie’s ability to antique instruments thanks to an unusual viola that he fashioned from a seventeenth-century bass viol. This is one of two such examples that have survived, one of which was commissioned by Innes as the gift of the Edinburgh Music Society to King George IV on the occasion of his State Visit to Scotland. The final shape of this particular viola is an enlarged 15 1/2 inch interpretation of the Alday long pattern. Despite being a mindbogglingly complex recycling of an earlier instrument, it retains Hardie’s original neck from around 1820, and the finished product as Hardie knew it remains remarkably pure. As a result, when a Hardie violin turned up with the same techniques of antiquing, the two instruments clearly corroborated each other as being in a very pure condition close to how they left the maker’s hands, the violin seemingly both ‘the exact shape and pattern‘ as Alday’s Stradivarius.
The violin was of further interest because of the unusual ‘brownish-yellow’ colour which is typical of nitric acid being used to ‘give the effect of age to new wood’, a characteristic that appears to be particular to this instrument alone. As with many other of Hardie’s instruments, he doesn’t seem to have let a blemish in the wood prevent it’s use if it was good enough for him. Remarkably, Innes noted that the exact copy ‘superior in tone’ to ‘any that Hardie ever made’ had ‘a small bit of wood three quarters of an inch long indented on the belly near the fingerboard’. Given the whimsical nature of old Scot’s dialect there is a level of interpretation needed to understand what the sentence meant, but the operative word seems to be ‘indented’ suggesting that there was a part of the wood with an indentation in it, rather than a piece of wood fitted into the belly. Such an indentation, (albeit only half an inch long) is clearly visible near the bass side of the fingerboard. It seemed inconceivable to think of such an accomplished antiqued copy of a Stradivari to come from so early a period, yet the documentation and evidence from the violin itself proved clear enough to revisit our preconceptions of British, and in particular Scottish making around 1803. Whether it proved to be a ‘bench copy’ or just an antiqued copy, the nature of this violin demanded significant revisions to our perception of the history of violin making.
The Alday Stradivari, a rediscovery.
The final triumph of Hardie’s instrument would come from marrying it up with the original from which it was copied if the violin survived and was in good enough condition for a comparison to be made. Potentially this could run to nothing at all if the original was lost or transformed beyond recognition, or if Hardie had simply produced an antique look to his instrument with no particular care for precise detail. This was not what the Innes letter suggested, but at a time when the concept of precise copying was embryonic, there was no guarantee of Hardie’s work being to the same exacting standards of the modern-day copyist. Nevertheless, the possibility remained to examine how precisely Hardie took the copying and antiquing process, and potentially to assess how much the original had changed in the years after 1803. Most importantly, if the violin could possibly be identified, it would provide the opportunity to readdress it’s provenance, as now one of the key Stradivari violins of the Viotti period. Luckily, as a long pattern, there were relatively few surviving instruments that could be contenders, and as fortune would have it, the violin turned out to be relatively unchanged since 1803. Fatefully for a Stradivari with iconic importance for France, it had been sitting quietly in the national collections since it had been gifted to the Paris Conservatoire by Auguste-Henry-Edouard, marquis de Queux de St Hilare in 1890.
The 1692 ‘Longuet’ as it is generally known is now in the Musee de la Musique where it is on display, and it is featured in Brigitte Brandmair and Stefan Peter Greiner’s book on Stradivari Varnish. The Marquis de Queue de St Hilare was an antiquarian musical amateur who corresponded with Delphin Alard, and amongst whose other musical possessions that he left to the conservatoire was a viola by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume made in 1826. It is not known when the marquis acquired the violin, nor from where, but the thick sooty accretions around the bridge area of the belly are artificial of the sort that Vuillaume and his Parisian contemporaries applied to new and old instruments alike from about the 1840s, indicating that it had spent most of the nineteenth-century back in France after Alday’s death in Dublin in 1835.
Alday’s travels from Edinburgh to Dublin may account for some of the discrepancies in the instruments. It is unlikely that the market in fakes was developed enough in 1803 for some of the differences to mean much. Hardie used a slab-cut one piece back to differentiate his instrument from the original, there are no Cremonese pins in the back as he may not have thought these particularly relevant to the process of making a violin, and the greatest difference between the two violins is in the varnish on the back. The sharp and chippy edges of the varnish on Stradivari’s 1692 original are typical of varnish that fell away from the violin early in it’s life, and despite a 90% varnish loss to the instrument, the evidence is that this happened in it’s first few years, without a great deal of playing wear. It’s unlikely that Hardie’s dignity could accept the level of varnish loss necessary to make an absolute copy of Stradivari’s original, and if the two violins were compared to one and other whilst resting on their backs, they would appear as identical in the parts that were visible. Hence he has moderated the wear patterns, although even in this element of artistic license, he has followed the general pattern of wear with strong observation. The ribs seem a little raw in their antiquing, with a sharp contrast between browns and reddish colouring, but comparison under good light conditions shows that these are also cleverly observed from the original.
The most complex area of the copy is the scroll, which seems at first glance to be very typically Hardie’s work, as if he was disinterested in copying Stradivari’s work beyond getting the body right. Other ‘Alday’ copies have far more accomplished Stradivarian scrolls, so perhaps this is an indication of his caution, leaving deliberate signatures within the work so he couldn’t be accused of deception. Whilst at first the scroll has little to do with Stradivari, I was surprised on seeing the ‘Longuet’ to discover that it too has an anomalous head, dating from Stradivari’s first period around 1665-70, although the red varnish matched the body indicating that it originally belonged to this violin. Reappraising Hardie’s scroll with this in mind did not excuse the broad chamfers and depth of undercutting that all seemed removed from any Stradivarian intention. When Anne Houssay of the Musee de la Musique put a fresh pair of eyes on the problem, she discovered from calliper measurements that the two scrolls had near identical dimensions despite their differences, and however clumsy Hardie’s work looked against the original, overwhelming evidence showed that it had been derived from measuring that Stradivari’s particular original scroll.
I am indebted to Jean-Philippe Echard and Anne Houssay at the Musée de la Music in Paris for their assistance and enthusiasm in allowing Hardie’s violin to be compared to the ‘Longuet’. Their collaboration in a shared project certainly enriched the learning experience from seeing the instruments together for two days in Paris. I am particularly grateful to Jean-Phillippe for his assistance with photography of the two violins, and especially for enabling the two instruments to be shot in the same frame as part of a detailed forensic comparative investigation. Jonathan Frohnen has sent me facsimiles of Alday’s delightful variations on God Save the King for two violins published which are included above. David Rattray’s excellent book on Violin Making in Scotland 1750-1950 (BVMA Publications, 2006) has shone enormous light on the traditions of Scottish making, and it is certain that this article would not have been able to take shape without the guidance that his book gives or the various long discussions that we have enjoyed over the years. A version of this article appears in the June 2016 edition of the British Violin Maker’s Association Newsletter.
The photographs below of the ‘Longuet’ and Hardie’s 1803 violin shot in the same frame at the laboratory of the Musée de la Musique.