On Sunday 8 November 2015 the exciting young cellist Gemma Rosefield joins the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra in Brighton Dome Concert Hall to perform Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. Gemma plays on a cello made in Naples in 1704 by Alessandro Gagliano which was formerly owned and played by the Prince Regent, later King George IV, and housed in the Royal Pavilion. George was considered a “very superior” player of the cello, having studied with the leading cellist of the day, John Crosdill, and the instrument was allegedly given to him as a gift by the King of Spain.
The cello, one of the best examples of Gagliano’s work, was the subject of an article “Fit for a king” by John Dilworth in The Strad in 1997, who wrote that the instrument: “has a living quality which changes with the light, the season and the time of day.” He describes the wood, workmanship and tone as being of “the highest order, a level which Gagliano did not always maintain”!
Little is known about Gagliano although the article includes stories that claim he was the son of a marquis who, having killed a rival in a duel, fled into the forests where he whiled away the time tapping trees for their tone and idly carving instruments. These stories suggest he became apprenticed first to Nicolo Amati in Cremona, and subsequently to Stradivari, spending 30 years as an assistant to the great violin makers before returning to his native Naples to found the tradition of violin making there.
Gagliano (whose dates are variously given as 1635/40 to 1730/32) was a master luthier with a distinctive style and gorgeous varnish whose achievement rivals that of Stradivari, and Dilworth compares the 1704 cello favourably with Gagliano’s famous “Rotondo” violin of 1710, the finest known example of his work. His instruments exhibit a soft red varnish, strong flaming in the wood, short but elegant f-holes, and sometimes inaccurate purfling, giving them a unique and striking appearance. His cellos in particular are quite rare. Dilworth posits that the beautiful gold-leafed appliqué decoration applied to the delicate fern leaves in the corners, the edges, ribs and scroll of the instrument probably date from the period when the cello was in the personal possession of King George IV, as they are set on top of the varnish layer. The decoration was originally extensive and is described as having been “appropriately gaudy in the King’s own taste and in the style of the Pavilion itself when freshly applied” but the gold leaf has rubbed off over time, including the Royal Crest that once dominated the centre of the back which has largely flaked away, leaving only a ghost of its image behind.
The article suggests that the cello may have been one of the number of instruments in the possession of the Royal Family that were sold around 1913 as a contribution to the war effort. It came into the possession of Hills of London, who restored the instrument and retained it in their collection until it was bought in 1941 by Boris Rickelman, Principal Cellist with the London Philharmonic. Since then it has been in the hands of a number of players.
The concert on Sunday 8 November starts at 2.45pm, with a pre-concert interview with Gemma on stage taking place at 1.45pm. In addition to the Rococo Variations, the programme includes Elgar’s Sanguine Fan and Schubert’s Symphony No.9 – the Great.
Tickets for both concert and interview are available from Brighton Dome Ticket Office: www.brightondome.org
John Dilworth “Fit for a king”, The Strad, 1997, Volume 108, Issue 1289, p968.