Stradivari Marquis de Corberon model 1726
This famous cello was given to the Royal Academy of Music in 1960, initially for the lifetime use of the cellist Zara Nelsova who played it for 42 years. Nelsova is recognised as one of the great cellists of the 20th Century, particularly famed amongst aficionados for her extraordinary tone production and the legacy of her recordings, to the extent that she and the ‘Marquis’ have entered cello folklore. Keith Harvey memorably described her as a ‘very gutsy player who always sounded like about six men’. Her physical power combined with the rich tonal qualities of the cello produced an unforgettable ‘warm, blooming tone’ (Strad Magazine Feb 2003) which can be heard in her many recordings made after 1960. The cello is currently in the distinguished hands of Steven Isserlis who also plays a 1740 Montagnana cello.
The ‘Marquis de Corberon’ is one of the last cellos to have been made on Stradivari’s Forma B mould. It was this mould that defined the outline shape of many of Stradivari’s most famous cellos from 1709 onwards. The creation of the Forma B mould is seen as one of Stradivari’s great achievements and its use coincided with the ‘golden’ period of Stradivari workshop production. Many of these cellos are works of extraordinary grandeur with a quality of wood, craftsmanship and varnish never before lavished on a cello. In contrast, the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ cello of 1726 is from the later period of Stradivari workshop production and was made during very lean economic times in Cremona. Everything from the use of locally grown willow wood for the back and ribs to the dark red brown varnish speak of a more earthy creation, but one which many believe to be the best sounding Stradivarius of them all.
Stradivari cellos and contemporary copies of them are often criticised for lack of depth in the lower register. It is in this area that the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ is so exceptional. It has all the tonal elegance and golden colouring of the iconic Stradivarius sound but also great depth and richness in the C string. A significant factor behind this aspect of the cello is its one-piece willow back. Willow can sound a little softer under the ear than maple, but produces an extra depth of colour and darkness of tone without sacrificing core sound and therefore projects extremely well in a concert hall.
Another significant advantage of this model is that the arching of the front is particularly low and subtly arched; many other Forma B cellos have higher, fuller front arching and thinner graduations. It is thought that the best sounding Stradivari cellos are those with low front arching, as this allows the plate to vibrate more freely, providing greater vibrating mass for the player to connect with and creating the potential to move air in a very powerful way.
It is generally believed that Forma B Stradivari cellos have to be coaxed carefully – like nervy thoroughbreds – in order to get them to speak and perform at their best. Fortunately, the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ is not an extreme example of this (probably a factor of its thicker graduations and softer arching) so, by Stradivarian standards, you can play into the instrument more freely and it responds with more ease and warmth. The long body of the Forma B and Stradivari’s placing of the F holes result in a full string length, so this model is best suited to players who are comfortable with larger intervals in the left hand.
Robin’s copies of the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ Stradivarius model are very generous under the ear, giving a lovely feeling of breadth, support and sonority to the player, along with a distinctively Stradivarian classical elegance of tone. These instruments are also very responsive to the choice of bridge design and can equally be set up to maximise the cello’s warmth and resonance or to steer the instrument towards power and projection.
Dimensions of the Stradivarius model
(measured over the arch)
String length: 693mm
Length of front (plate only): 762mm
Width of front upper bout: 345mm
Width of front middle bout: 234mm
Width of lower bout: 440mm
Height of front arch (including plate edge thickness): 25mm
Length of back (plate only): 761mm
Width of back upper bout: 346mm
Width of back middle bout: 236mm
Width of back lower bout: 441mm
Height of back arch (including plate edge thickness): 30mm
Depth of ribs: 117mm at top block, 120mm at bottom block
Zara Nelsova Discography (playing the Marquis de Corberon 1726)
Beethoven – Debussy – Brahms. Johannesen piano. 1968. CBC SM-51
Beethoven – Debussy – Debussy – Chopin. Johannesen piano. 2000. CBC PSCD 2018
Bloch Schelomo. Utah SO, Abravanel conductor. 1967. Vancouver VCS-10007
Chopin Sonata, Opus 65. Johannesen piano. 1968. CBC SM-52
Chopin – Franck – Poulenc – Rachmaninoff: Sonatas. Johannesen piano. (1969). 2-Golden Crest CRS-40899
Dvořák Concerto, Opus 104. – Concerto, Opus 104; Rondo, Opus 94; Waldesruhe, Opus 68. St Louis SO, Susskind conductor. (1976).
Hindemith Sonata, Opus 11. Newmark piano. ca 1963. RCI 197
Hindemith – Casadesus: Sonatas for Cello and Piano. Johannesen piano. (1973). Golden Crest CRS-4099
Morawetz Memorial to Martin Luther King. CBC Montreal Orch, Mueller conductor. (1975). RCI 213a/RCI 601/6-ACM 16