Luthier extraordinaireRene Morel

A luthier (pronounced loo-ti-AY — the profession of making or repairing stringed, and especially bowed, instruments), Morel was “arguably the best violin restorer in the world,” said CNN. The grandson of an instrument maker, Morel was an apprentice luthier starting at age 12. He and his master, Paul Mangenot, made two violins per week — by hand. “We had no machinery,” Morel said later, “not even an electric motor.” Born in France, Morel moved to New York in the 1950s and specialized in restoration, which he called “adjustments.” He was the go-to guy when musicians like violinist Itzhak Perlman or cellist Yo-Yo Ma needed work done on their instruments. A musician would bring an instrument, sometimes worth millions, to Morel’s shop and play a few notes. “He would put up his sleeve and say, ‘You see the goose bumps’,” says Perlman. “He said as long as he didn’t get the goose bumps, it was not properly adjusted.” Sometimes that would take some work: a complete restoration of Bernard Greenhouse’s 1707 Stradivarius cello took two years, and was recounted in the 2001 book The Countess of Stanlein Restored by Greenhouse’s son-in-law, Nicholas Delbanco. Morel died in New Jersey on November 16, from cancer. He was 79.

From This is True for 20 November 2011