Stradivarius may still be the most famous name in violins – making Cremona a household word even in the United States – but Bologna’s luthier tradition is actually even older. There are approximately 300 professional liutai tucked away in workshops all over Italy, and one of them is proud of his local tradition, explaining that lute-making in Bologna was a respected craft way back in the year 1400 and that the town’s workshops have never ceased operating since that time.
Bruno Stefanini works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, shaping the wood, hand-painting it (at least 15 times over) with his own homemade varnish (every liutaio has his own secret recipe), and patiently waiting for his instruments to “mature”. He sells 4 or 5 stringed instruments a year, usually on commission, and otherwise provides expert repairs and adjustments to instruments already belonging to his devoted clientele.
Maestro Stefanini shares his workshop’s space with his wife, who enjoys collecting gadgets that might appeal to music lovers. Fittingly situated in Via delle Belle Arti (“Fine Arts Way”), near Bologna’s renowned conservatory, their shop is crammed with more and less expensive objects, all united in melody. He and his wife figure they have the world’s most complete collection of music-related items: from bow ties to mouse pads, from umbrellas to pot holders, there is something for everyone. Some of them are particularly clever, such as the Chopin Bag; some are particularly elegant, such as the silver pin in the shape of a violin.
Bologna is a delightful little city, filled with beauty and creative energy, and Maestro Stefanini’s shop captures the best of this spirito Bolognese.