Luthier David John Morse on the Beauty of the 1740 “Ysaÿe” Guarneri del Gesù Violin

This is a standout even among instruments of starry provenance

By Scott MacClelland | From the November-December 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

The one-piece back of the 1740 “Ysaÿe” Guarneri del Gesù violin is “one of the most perfect pieces of wood ever to be made into a violin,” says David John Morse, who’s been making fine violins of his own for decades. Named for the famous Belgian virtuoso who played and owned it (for more on his famous sonatas, see the feature in this issue), this particular instrument has also found its way into the hands of Isaac Stern, Ivry Gitlis, Pinchas Zukerman, Sergey Khachatryan, and Yehudi Menuhin. So it is a standout even among instruments of starry provenance, and to Morse, it also seems almost a fluke among the del Gesùs.


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  • 1740-Ysaye-Guarneri-del-Gesu-violin-back-Nippon-Music-Foundation
  • 1740 Ysaye Guarneri del Gesu violin front, Courtesy of Tarisio
  • 1740 Ysaye Guarneri del Gesu violin back, Courtesy of Tarisio
  • 1740 Ysaye Guarneri del Gesu violin scroll, Courtesy of Tarisio

“It is more voluptuous and curvaceous than many of his others, whose arches tend to be flat to the edges in every direction,” he says, and notes the fineness of the annular rings and the medium flame, or curl. But, he says, del Gesù knew he had stumbled upon an extraordinary blank when he began to carve it, “and he worked it perfectly, obsessively.”  

A version of this article first appeared in the March 2006 issue of Strings magazine.