Violin by Charles Harris II, Adderbury, circa 1820
About Charles Harris IIWe have a bit of a soft spot for Charles Harris II! In addition to making really stunning instruments on a long pattern Strad model, Harris had a major impact on the development of British violin making.
Charles Harris the second, often referred to as Charles Harris of Oxford to differentiate him from his father, was born in London in 1791. His father was a customs official turned violin maker who made instruments for the London trade and was the first teacher of Samuel Gilkes. Harris junior spent the early part of his life in London, training firstly with his father and then with John Hart.
By 1816 Harris and his family left London for Oxfordshire, settling in the village of Adderbury around 1819. The next decade was one of relative calm and stability before fate interfered: in 1828 Harris inherited a portion of a large estate in a village called Steeple Aston near Oxford. Sadly, things went downhill from there: Harris became heavily in debt whilst trying to build a large country manor on his new estate. He declared bankruptcy in 1843 and died of tuberculosis less than a decade later.
Despite all that was going on in his life, Harris continued to make violins, even taking on the young William Ebsworth Hill as an apprentice following the death of his father Henry Lockey Hill in 1835. This association means that the Oxfordshire maker turned failed member of the landed gentry had a direct impact on the development of the British violin in the 19th and 20th centuries.
About the violinThe violin is based on Stradivari´s long pattern of the early 1690s. This model is very unusual among British makers: Daniel Parker and Edinburgh´s Matthew Hardie were its most famous proponents. The violin was made during Harris´ Adderbury period and is inscribed as such.
The front is two pieces of fairly wide-grained spruce. The back is two pieces of attractively-figured maple and the ribs are of similar wood. The head is a replacement made by the Hill workshop. The varnish is a deep orange-brown, laid over a lighter ground.
The length of back is 361mm, typical of the long pattern model.
How does it sound?This is a violin that loves to sing! It is resonant and very responsive, ringing with the slightest touch. The sound is on the darker end of the spectrum but with an unusual amount of higher frequencies shining through. This gives the instrument a good deal of projection: the opening of the Bruch Concerto is an incredible showcase for its expressive yet carrying sound.
ConditionThe violin is in very good restored condition. As mentioned above, the head is unoriginal to the violin and was made some time later by the Hill workshop.
The violin bears the inscription `Made by Charles Harris, Adderbury, Oxon´ on the inside back. The date is now illegible but most likely reads 1820.
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