22 March 2023

The Rosenberg Collection - Masterclass of the Violin World

By Lark Music

Norman Rosenberg quietly slipped away from the classical music scene on 17th February last year at the age of 95. He was a remarkable person, probably the last of his kind in the violin business. Norman had an amazingly good eye for detail and a photographic memory that none of the modern age digital gadgets would ever be able to capture and store. Being a musician himself, he was also very passionate about music, supporting other musicians by lending them instruments from his collection, and also, rather intuitively, matching the sale of an instrument to the right player.

Norman was a frequent visitor to the London auction salerooms for many decades, and for someone who never travelled abroad (nor used the London Underground), it’s astonishing to see the sheer volume and high quality of the instruments and bows in his collection. So overwhelming it must have been that Tim Ingles and Paul Hayday needed to organise two separate auctions. It is also a phenomenal achievement, bearing in mind that Norman came to London from the North of England with very little money, but with an incredible drive to succeed and a passion for fine stringed instruments.

As we’re fast approaching this unique event and the auctions of Norman’s collection in London, we are grateful to have caught up with Tim Ingles who told us more about it. (We were both privileged to have known Norman personally and collaborated with him for many years, and hence, the reason for taking the liberty of referring to him by his first name.)

Would we be right to refer to the forthcoming auction of Norman Rosenberg’s collection as the ‘sale of the century’?

In my experience, working in the auction world over the last 30 years, there has never been a sale of a private collection with the amazing breadth and depth of Norman’s – probably not even in the last 100 years. The Bloomfield Collection at Sotheby’s in 1988 or the Menuhin Collection in 1999 were both spectacular in their own way, but in terms of their scope they can’t really be compared to the Rosenberg Collection.

I can just picture Paul Hayday and yourself entering Norman’s house in Cricklewood, blissfully unaware of the sheer volume of the collection. How does one even begin putting such a collection together?

Paul and I were initially overwhelmed with the sheer size of the collection, but one has to remember that Norman had been actively buying and collecting instruments for over 70 years. I imagine that many of the instruments which remained in the collection are ones which Norman considered to be the finest, or the most interesting, and which he therefore chose not to part with during his lifetime.

What were the most surprising initial discoveries?

Obviously, most of the initial excitement was around finding such a large quantity of fine instruments in the house. Norman liked to show his visitors a small selection of instruments, but I think outside the family, very few people were aware of how many wonderful instruments he owned. When we found the cupboard where he kept the best things, and took these out, one by one – including fabulous examples of Grancino, Balestrieri, Ceruti, Vuillaume, Stradivari, Guarneri, Montagnana, and Rocca – that was an amazing moment.

I myself was surprised how many great bows Norman had. When he visited us he talked almost exclusively about violins, and violins was the area where most people considered his greatest expertise lay, but there were boxes and boxes of lovely bows by many of the greatest French makers – Peccatte, Maire, Henry, Pajeot, Voirin, Lamy, to name but a few.

What have you learned about Norman as an avid collector? Were the fine Italian instruments his preference?

Norman was a musician as well as a dealer and collector. He was a well-respected expert – one of the best in the business – so he was able to spot genuine instruments at auction which other people might have missed, especially in the days before there were images in auction catalogues. But crucially he also chose by sound, and it has been genuinely surprising how many people have commented on the fact that practically everything in the collection sounds great – even the Andrea Amati violin which was in pieces in a cardboard box in Norman’s workshop.

Also, it is great to see how the collection covers most of the major schools of violin making – the whole Cremonese School from 1575 to 1810, lots of great instruments from Milan, including all the great Milanese families. Milan was obviously one of Norman’s particular loves, but there are also great violins from Venice, Mantua, Turin, and Florence. It’s a bit like a masterclass in violin expertise, and I think the catalogue of the collection will be regarded not only as a fine tribute to Norman, but also a valuable reference book for violin experts.

What would be the most surprising lots for the auction, or rather, the least expected ones?  

There wasn’t much in the collection which came as a surprise – we were expecting quality and that is exactly what we found. But it has been fascinating and hugely rewarding working through Norman’s collection and identifying instruments by rare makers or even “mystery” makers. It is exceedingly rare to see the work of Andrea Gisalberti, Santino Lavazza, Zosimo Bergonzi, Bartolomeo Calvarola and Antonio Gibertini, so to see all of those in one day was pretty exciting!

Interview conducted by Gordana Jevic, Business Development Executive at Lark Music, former Commercial Executive of the specialist classical music magazines: The Strad, Gramophone, International Piano, Choir & Organ, Double Bassist and Classic Record Collector

For more information on the forthcoming sales, please check the following links:

The Rosenberg Collection Part I (Lots 1-96) 28th March 2023, Ingles & Hayday Auction House, London

Ingles & Hayday | The Rosenberg Collection Part One | 28 March 2023

The Rosenberg Collection Part II (Lots 97-206) 6th June 2023

Ingles & Hayday | The Rosenberg Collection Part Two | 6 June 2023

Are you a collector of fine instruments?

Lark Music is immensely proud to have collaborated with Norman Rosenberg during his life. We would be honoured to continue our work with this collection.