Sometimes nicknamed “Haydn’s wife” because his music sounds similar to that of Haydn, Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743 and died in Madrid in 1805.


A virtuoso ‘cellist, Luigi Boccherini wrote a large amount of chamber music, including over one hundred string quintets for two violins, viola and two ‘cellos, a dozen guitar quintets, nearly a hundred string quartets, and a number of string trios and sonatas (including at least 19 for the ‘cello). His orchestral music includes around 30 symphonies and 12 virtuoso ‘cello concertos.




From as long as I can remember, music and records have been a part of my life.

This was in great part because my parents were selective followers of the “new age” disciplines and sciences such as phrenology and psychology – and Huxley, who was a friend of mother’s French teacher. This all manifested itself in nightly concerts given by my father on his HMV reentrant gramophone in the hope that subconsciously they could instil a love of music whilst I slept.

Whether this was the fact or that I inherently loved music one may never know, other than that was when it all started.

I am talking of a time when the only other forms of home entertainment were the radio concerts and comedy shows or the BBC news with the occasional rantings of Hitler.

I should have included home recitals with Uncle Albert on piano, mother viola, aunt Belle violin and father the ‘cello playing Schubert quartets. Magical when you are three.

My father was a member of the world renowned London ‘Cello School founded by Hubert Walenn. It was a school to virtually all the world’s greatest ‘cellists from 1919 until 1953 when Walenn died.

Nearly every month the school would hold recitals in the upper room of a house in Nottingham Place. Rows of “school chairs” were arranged at a right angle to the windows and with a walkway down the centre. At the far end to the left was a grand piano and an empty chair nearby denoted where the performer would sit.

To me, then, the majority of the people attending appeared to be foreign nobility with men in dark suits, extravagant waistcoats and patent leather shoes. The “mature” ladies attended in their best finery, looking like the mourning Dowager Queen Mary with long black dresses, pearl necklaces and beads – awesome – but it was 1951 and King George VI was at death’s door.

As a child I had to sit on the floor in the front row with my parents behind me, much to the chagrin of the “more important” members who felt they were being ousted.

It was at such an occasion that a little chubby girl came to perform just feet away from where I was sitting. With amazing gusto she played “the Elephant” from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns. I was entranced, how could such a little person produce such loud sounds? It was six year old Jacqueline du Pré who had been playing for just one year, taught by Hubert Walenn.

For another 3 to 4 years we attended the “concerts” before Hubert Walenn died in 1953 and the School closed, but in that time we were privilege to the intimate closeness of world famous ‘cellists just a few feet from where we were sitting.

The concerts were very inspiring and I persauded my parents to send me for ‘cello lessons. Eventually I went part time to the Royal College of Music and then was referred to the London ‘Cello School under the tuition of Miss Yvonne Morris.

“John, hold your arms up”, she used to say, “think of the ‘cello as a woman you are making love to.”

Well I must say she was a delectable mature lady with a Spanish Gipsy appearance as in an Augustus John painting. Her slightly chubby fingers would hammer the fingerboard in a most erotic manner – and I was only 15!

Looking back I think the 1950’s saw the total demise of the way the world had been between the wars and the last vestiges of pre-WW1. I feel so lucky to have experienced “the lost world”.

However, the lost world had been captured on records of various sorts, speeds and sizes and can still be played today with a better rendering than ever originally imagined.

Now it was possible to have the same intimacy with the performer in one’s own sitting room.

30 years later with new equipment in the factory I started making ‘cellos with the assitance of a Luthier. There were two models, an Amati after Andrea Amati (1505 – 1577) and the large Montagnana after Domenico Montagnana (1687-1750).

The principle was good. The models were jigged to be machined four at a time on the carving machine for the Luthier to finish and build.

But then the words of Miss Morris came back to me and I understood that a ‘cello was a lover and could not be replicated.

John Davies Cellos



This is possibly the most iconic painting of a ‘cellist and perhaps Augustus John’s most famous painting, considered his best portrait.

The sitter is Guilhermina Augusta Xavier de Medim Suggia Carteado Mena, known as Guilhermina Suggia, (1885 – 1950), a celebrated Portuguese ‘cello soloist. More than 70 sittings over the course of three years were required for John to finish the painting.

Madam Suggia studied in Paris with Pablo Casals, patron of the “London ‘Cello School”. She built an international reputation spending many years living in the United Kingdom, where she was particularly celebrated.

For many, the posture required to hold a ‘cello between the legs was considered unbecoming for a
proper woman*.

Despite its negative associations, some women played the ‘cello in the standard posture, with the instrument held between the legs with the assistance of an end spike.

To preserve their decency, as this was considered quite indecent by society, many women wore large dresses to hide their legs, as in the portrait of Madam Suggia.

Her “Montagnana” ‘cello seen above, rests in Conservatório de Música do Porto, her home-town in Portugal – note the retro fitted end spike.






Copy of the Domenico Montagnana ‘Cello
by John Davies Framing

“The ‘Cellos made by Domenico Montagnana (1687 – 1750) have a dramatic appearance with equally dramatic tone and were known as the “Mighty Vanetion”. They are uncompromising and sometimes difficult to play but are greatly favoured by the true virtuoso for their expressive and passionate tone”
From the Cambridge Companion to the ‘Cello – 1999


*See this article by the University of Nebraska for more information regarding spikes.

Copyright John Davies