The known history of this important tenor viola begins at the end of the 18th century in Milan when Don Paolo Canzi (b. circa 1734), a wealthy property owner, acquired it from the Milanese violin maker Pietro Giovanni Mantegazza. During Canzi’s stewardship the viola became known to the earliest historian of Italian violin making, Count Cozio di Salabue, who wrote extensively about the instrument in his manuscripts.
The unique identifying feature of this Brothers Amati tenor viola is the Latin motto by the Roman philosopher and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC) that is painted directly on the entire span of the ribs: Aetas non in homine, sed virtus consideranda. (“Age is not so much to be considered in a man, as his virtue.”)
It is not presently known for whom the Amatis made the viola, though they had more experience than other craftsmen in furnishing richly decorated bowed instruments to the royal houses of Spain and France. Many of these instruments bear a motto associated with a ruling family. The quotation from Cicero, however, is an erudite reference that reflects the moral taste of the patron; only a handful of printed editions of Cicero’s works were available when this viola was built in the late 16th century.
This tenor is one of about two dozen instruments of its type that were made by the Brothers Amati. Although several are housed in museum collections including the Ashmolean, the Royal Academy of Music and the Music Instrument Museum of Berlin, more have been the concert instruments of top musicians such as Atar Arad, Roberto Diaz, John Graham, Toby Hoffman, Kim Kashkashian, William Primrose, and Pinchas Zukerman.
These violas were originally more than 45 centimeters in length, but most have been reduced, and some were altered quite dramatically. Thankfully, the “Canzi, Trampler” has been only slightly shortened to 44.3 centimeters in length. Its tonal qualities qualify it as one of the most desirable concert violas in existence.