Great Instruments with Great Stories

Cello by Luigi Rovatti, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1915

Rovatti was born in Italy in 1861 and trained there as a pupil of Joseph and Enrico Rocca. He emigrated to Argentina in 1885, producing about 1,000 violins, viola, cellos, and guitars before his death in 1931.

This particular cello was the property of Ennio Bolognini (1893-1979), whose widow donated it to the Smithsonian. Bolognini was a highly gifted and flamboyant cellist, composer, and conductor who was also a gifted singer, had been the South American welterweight boxing champion, and an early aviator who helped establish the United States Civil Air Patrol at the beginning of the Second World War. According to the cellist Stephen Kates, who visited Bolognini in Las Vegas (where he lived from 1951 until his death), Bolognini “could play anything at will, and with a fantastic tone.” When, shortly thereafter, Kates visited Pablo Casals and conveyed to him greetings form Bolognini, Casals exclaimed: “Bolognini! The greatest cello talent I ever heard in my life,” an opinion seconded by the great cellist Emanuel Feuermann, who is reputed to have said: “For my money, the world’s greatest cellist is not Casals, Piatigorsky, or myself, but Bolognini!”

Although the Rovatti cello is a finely-made instrument in its own right, its particular interest lies literally in its top, which contains over 50 autographs (most apparently written with ball-point pen, which has indented the soft spruce) of famous musicians and entertainers whom Bolognini worked with or admired, making it a "who's who" of classical music and entertainment of the mid-twentieth century. Among the most easily legible are:

On the left (bass) side of the instrument

Signatures on the upper bass side of the Rovatti Cello

Remo Bolognini (1929-1973), violinist, brother of Ennio Bolognini

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), Austrian-American violinist and composer

Dmitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), Greek-American pianist and conductor who led the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (1937-1949) and the New York Philharmonic (1951-7)

Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), father of the modern classical guitar movement

Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973), Hungarian-American violinist

José Ferrer (1912-1992), the first Hispanic (Puerto Rican) actor to win an Academy Award

Bruno Walter (1876-1962), German-born conductor of many famous American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra

Richard Crooks (1900-1972) American tenor, a leading singer at the New York Metropolitan Opera

G[iovanni] Martinelli, (1885-1969), Italian-American tenor, also a leading singer at the New York Metropolitan Opera

János Starker (b. 1924), Hungarian-American cellist and teacher

Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985), Hungarian-American violinist and conductor who led the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (1931-1936), and the Philadelphia Orchestra (1936-1980)

Richard Tucker (1913-1975), a leading American operatic tenor of the post-war era

Stephen Kates (1944-2003), American cellist, and the last person to sign Bolognini’s cello

Signatures on the lower bass side of the Rovatti Cello

Willy Kapell (1922-1953), American pianist

Vl[adimir] Horowitz (1903-1989), Russian-American pianist

Victor Borge (1909-2000), Danish-American pianist and comedian

Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995), Hungarian-American composer known particularly for his film scores, which included Spellbound (1945), Quo Vadis (1951), Ben-Hur (1959), and King of Kings (1961)

Ferruccio Tagliavini (1913-1995), Italian lyric tenor

Raya Garbousova (1909-1987), Russian-American cellist and teacher

Wilhelm Steinberg (1899-1978), German-American conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1952-1976), the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1958-1960), and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1969-1972)

Frank Miller (1912-1986), American cellist, principal of the Minneapolis Symphony, the NBC Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony orchestras

Ennio Bolognini (1893-1979), cellist, conductor, composer, boxer, aviator, and autograph collector

Johnny Lujack (b. 1925), American football quarterback and 1947 Heisman Trophy winner.

Rudolph Kolisch (1896-1978), Austrian-American violinist, teacher, and string quartet leader

José Echániz (1905-1969), Cuban-American pianist and teacher

Joe E. Brown (1892-1973), American actor and comedian

Ezio Pinza (1892-1957), Italian-American opera, musical theater, and film singer (bass)

Ed Sullivan (1901-1974), American entertainment writer and television host best known as the presenter of The Ed Sullivan Show

On the right (treble) side of the instrument

Signatures on the upper treble side of the Rovatti Cello

Pierre Monteux (1875-1964), French-American conductor of, among other orchestras, New York’s Metropolitan Opera (1917-1919), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1919-1924 and later), and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (1935-1952)

Michael Rabin (1936-1972), American violinist

Zubin Meta (b. 1936), Indian conductor permanently resident in the United States, where he has led the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1962-1978) and the New York Philharmonic (1978-1991)

Zino Francescatti (1902-1991), French violinist

Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976), Russian-American cellist and teacher

Ferde Grofé (1892-1972), American composer, pianist, and arranger, best known today for his Grand Canyon Suite (1931)

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), Swiss-American composer

John Barbirolli (1899-1970), English conductor who, early in his career, succeeded Arturo Toscanini as music director of the New York Philharmonic (1936-1943). He was also chief conductor of the Houston Symphony (1961-1967)

Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982), Polish-American pianist

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), Italian conductor active in the United States as music director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera (1908–1915), the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1926–1936) and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (1937–1954)

Signatures on the lower treble side of the Rovatti Cello

Pablo Casals (1876-1973), Spanish Catalan cellist, conductor, and composer. In this country, his activities including playing at the White House for Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John Kennedy, and performing at the Marlboro Music Center in Vermont

Jascha Heifitz (1901-1987), Lithuanian-American violinist

Rudolf Friml (1879-1972), Czech-American pianist and composer, whose best-known works are Rose-Marie and The Vagabond King

Isaac Stern (1920-2001), Ukranian-American violinist

Diran Alexanian (1881-1954), Armenian-American cellist and teacher

Jack Dempsey (1895 – May 31, 1983), American boxer who held the world heavyweight title from 1919 to 1926

Lily Pons (1898-1976), French-American coloratura soprano, a principal at the New York Metropolitan Opera for over 30 years

John Corigliano (1901-1974), concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic (1943-1966)

Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942), Ukranian-American considered by many major musicians to have been the greatest of twentieth-century cellists

Leonard Rose (1918 -1984), American cellist and teacher

Nathan Milstein (1904-1992), Russian-American violinist

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