It was early in April 2015 that I had a brief conversation with my friend (and lodger) Guy Johnston about his plans to research the origins – and subsequent history – of his beautiful cello, made in Rome in 1714 by David Tecchler. I was about to go to Rome for a few days, so Guy asked me if I could try to find Tecchler’s workshop while I was there. His friend David Souden had discovered an address in Rome where Tecchler was said to have worked -16 Via die Leutari, in the parish of San Lorenzo in Damaso. Via dei Leutari, of course, means ‘street of luthiers’…
This happened to be only 10 minutes walk from my hotel in Rome, so off I went on the morning of 9th April and found the building easily. It is in a narrow street running at a right angle to the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and is roughly midway between the Piazza Navona and the Campo dei Fiori. No one seemed to be in when I rang the bell, so I took a few photos of the building and of the large wooden doors at the base of it. Looking behind me, I noticed that the house opposite had been occupied, roughly 100 years after Tecchler’s occupation of number 16, by the composer Gioacchino Rossini, while he wrote the opera, The Barber of Seville.
Outside the apartments
Tecchler studio door
A man and a woman sitting at a table on the street, just outside a nearby workshop, were looking at me a little suspiciously. I explained to them that I was interested in the building at number 16 and wondered if they knew where the owner was. They said they had no idea, but very helpfully suggested that if I was interested in the area, I should visit the local bookshop, just at the top of the street, which might have a book about the local buildings…
I wandered into the bookshop with my husband Peter who had just arrived to join me on the search. But within seconds, the man I’d seen sitting in the street returned with another man in tow, whom he introduced as Stefano Sbordoni, the owner of the building at number 16, Via dei Leutari! It turned out that Stefano, who spends most of his time in Tuscany, just happened to be in Rome that day, getting his motor cycle repaired….Somehow, this story was meant to grow.
I explained to Stefano that we were looking for the workshop of a famous luthier, on behalf of a friend. Stefano was instantly interested, instantly helpful and instantly friendly. He suggested we sit down at a cafe over the road where we talked for half an hour and found out that he was not only a music-lover, an amateur flautist and a producer of wine in Tuscany, but that he was deeply interested in the history of his building ( or ‘palazzo’ )’ which is now converted into self-catering apartments , and that he would try to track down a book he knew which documented the buildings of that parish of Rome and the uses to which they had been put from the 16th century until today. The book is called ‘Le Botteghe d’Arte…di una zona di Roma dalla fine del XVI secolo a oggi’ – by Saverio Franchi and Orietta Sartori. (Artisans’ Workshops in an Area of Rome from the end of the 16th century until Today.)
In the meantime, Stefano took us to his ‘palazzo’ and opened up those huge wooden doors at the bottom, revealing Mr Tecchler’s workshop, which currently housed Stefano’s motorbike, a few bicycles and a lot of other household stuff, but whose wooden ceiling and stonework appeared to be a few centuries old. The building itself had been much renovated during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the floors above the ground floor are now converted into self-catering apartments, but Tecchler’s actual workshop (or currently, ‘garage’, as Stefano apologetically described it!) appears not to have been much altered.
Just 4 hours later, the extraordinary Stefano personally delivered a copy of the book to my hotel. It shows that during the 17th and 18th centuries the entire area around Via dei Leutari was full of artisans’ workshops. Other artisans of that period included tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, bookbinders, printers, mapmakers, as well as countless makers of stringed instruments. (Many musical performances of that time would have been given at the nearby Teatro Della Pace as well as in local churches and it was the presence of the many musical ensembles in the area, (including string players) which drew many instrument makers to work in Rome. Tecchler himself, alongside several other luthiers of the 17th and 18th centuries, came from Austria to work there).
The book also documents that David Tecchler had used the workshop on the ground floor of 16 Via dei Leutari from around 1688 until 1703. After getting married he moved to an adjoining parish in 1699 but continued to lease the workshop at 16 Via dei Leutari until 1703. We don’t yet know where his next workshop was situated, except that it was somewhere in a neighboring parish. So the research will continue; Guy’s cello was finished in 1714; whether we will ever know exactly when it was begun, and whether Tecchler already had the wood, (which he would eventually use to make that particular cello), while he was living at Via dei Leutari, are questions which may never be answered.
But the ever helpful and enthusiastic Stefano quickly agreed that a solo performance by Guy, on his Tecchler cello, should take place in that very ‘garage’ where Tecchler once worked, (as well as a performance of one of Rossini’s lovely string sonatas, in honour of that composer’s presence, a century later, in the building opposite). I never dreamed that we would get so far in just one day! With great goodwill and excitement Stefano is now clearing his ‘garage’ and transforming it into a space where Tecchler’s work of art, with Guy’s help, will soon fill it with wonderful sound.
Plans are going ahead for 16th October 2016… Watch this space.