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Alan Clayton – Luthier 

September 12, 2020 September 2020 No Comments

As part of its music education outreach programme, the Martinborough Music Festival (MMF) team decided to include a session for adults. Nick Arnold, who organises the annual winter Medici Lectures, allocated MMF a slot. Marion Townend arranged for Carpenter, Chairmaker, Carver, Wood Turner and now Luthier, Alan Clayton, to be the speaker.

Alan, formerly of Martinborough, had a coffin making business crafting simple coffins with neatly dovetailed joints. He also had a liking for Renaissance music but no instrument on which to play “I was too mean to buy an instrument. I believed I had the skills to make one, so I sold my business and I went for it”. Now based in Wellington, he has a new career as a Luthier or maker of stringed instruments.

Traditionally, a Luthier would be apprenticed to a Master or pay to go to a school. In New Zealand, these opportunities are unavailable “you work it out for yourself and use the internet”. Alan already had the woodworking and turning skills to carve the plates and scroll, veneer the finger board and tail piece, turn the pegs and end pin, do the precision framework on the bridge and fashion the various decorations, purfling edges, inlaid decorations and to make rosettes. Alan makes viols on commission and services all bowed instruments from early to modern. Some of his instruments go overseas.

Violins were first constructed around 400 years ago with the leading makers being from the Italian families of Stradivari, Guaneri and Amati. Alan says “they got the design right. With all the technology available today, there is little that has or can be improved on design or sound-wise”. It is a privilege to play on an instrument made by any of these makers. Gillian Ansell, of the New Zealand String Quartet, plays a viola made by Nicoló Amati courtesy of the Adam Foundation. While the basic design may not be that different from the original, Alan says what has changed is the style of playing – in the early days of the violin, they were played in the mannered style of Haydn until the flamboyance introduced by the compositions of J.S. Bach and N. Paganini.

Two of their works gave us the virtuoso violinist. J.S. Bach’s Partita in D minor BV4 has been described as one of the “greatest achievements of any man in [music] history” while the virtuoso violinist N.Paganini’s 24 Caprices have been cited as “one of the hardest works for solo violin – 24 fiendishly demanding pieces for stringed instrument”. It is “double stops, left hand pizzicato and spiccato bowing” which make these compositions show pieces. Alan brought along VUW Graduate, Claudia Tarrant-Matthews, to play the Bach and the No 9 Caprice by Paganini for the audience. Thankyou Alan for a stimulating and informative presentation.

Gillian Ansell will play her Amati viola in the “Two Treats” concerts being held by MMF in lieu of a full Festival programme, on Sunday 4 October.  Seats are available. For more information and tickets visit www.martinboroughmusicfestival.co.nz

Winifred Bull

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