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David Rivinus is a violin maker living in Portland, Oregon who specializes in the epidemic problem of player injuries. He received his formal, traditional training during a four-year apprenticeship at the prestigious shop of Hans Weisshaar in Los Angeles, California and, while there, enhanced his education, employing his love of cameras and darkrooms to become the shop photographer. He estimates that he has photographed and measured well over 350 rare stringed instruments and bows, including approximately 25 documented and certified instruments by Stradivarius. While in L. A., he was also commissioned to photograph the Richard D. Colburn collection of dozens of sometimes-priceless instruments and bows.
More recently, he has designed a series of ergonomically shaped violins and violas that were featured in a full page article in the August 4, 1997 arts section of the New York Times. His work has been captured in an hour-long documentary shown on public television. He is the only violin maker of his generation to have had one of his instruments commissioned by the National Music Museum and that particular viola is on permanent display there. His violins and violas are owned and played by members (present and retired) of many symphony orchestras throughout the world including the San Francisco Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the New Mexico Symphony, the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Netherlands Radio Symphony, the Limburg Symphony, the Adelaide Symphony and even the tiny Tasmania Symphony Orchestra. He has lectured and written on a variety of violin-related topics, especially those pertaining to the early history of the violin and those about injuries.
In 1968, long before he made his career choice, he decided to take some time off from college and build a harpsichord. He ordered a 5-foot straight-side single-manual from Zuckermann, had it shipped to Germany where his parents were stationed and, before he was done, had built two harpsichords and one clavichord. "I seem to remember that, in those days with Zuckermann, you even had a choice of leather plectra."
Since then, his violins have absorbed almost all of his working time, "But I must say, I missed all those delightful mechanical aspects of a harpsichord. There's so little that actually moves on a violin or viola — at least so that you can see it." So when the opportunity came along to build a Zuckermann Flemish double-manual, he jumped at the chance. "This was an instrument ordered back in 1985 by a Portland dentist. I suspect that, when the enormous box arrived with its lengthy set of instructions, there might have been some cold feet." In any case, the harpsichord kit stayed in its box for a quarter of a century. It was eventually bought from the dentist by a pair of musicians who were more interested in playing than building and that's when Rivinus got the commission.
"My wife had an accident a decade or so ago that has greatly impaired her mobility. So, in order to find something enjoyable that we can do together, we both went to art school." The results are clearly evident on the harpsichord where the floral motifs on the soundboard are coupled with a lighthearted, whimsical painting of flying cherubs playing a concert above the fields of Flanders. "We started with lots of research into historic instruments. But then we chose to be more faithful to the spirit of 17th century harpsichord building than what we may think were important 17th century artistic details." While the soundboard painting is fairly typical of what one sees on extant historic instruments, the painting on the lid became a joyful expression of what would bring the owners a sense of delight. "I used the faces of as many relatives and friends of the owners as I could, painting little portraits of them. Then, to turn them into cherubs — and regardless of their gender — I superimposed these faces onto images of my then-8-month-old granddaughter. It so much fun!"
Rivinus has high praise for this particular model. "It has a wonderful, rich sound with lots of bouquet — a far cry from those straight-sided instruments I built 40 years ago. And I suspect that part of it is the fact that the soundboard sat in a box doing nothing but seasoning for 25 years before I even got to it. What a pleasure!"
David L. Rivinus-Violin Maker