Skip to main content

Student performs on court ‘spy’ Corbett’s rare early-1700s violin ahead of auction

Thu 25 October 2018

A Trinity Laban student had the opportunity earlier this month to play a rare 300-year-old Italian violin which belonged to ‘rather colourful’ English court musician, composer, instrument collector, and alleged spy William Corbett.

Violinist Maria Januszewska was invited to perform in the Mackerras Room at Trinity Laban’s King Charles Court campus and in The Queen’s House, Greenwich, for a promotional film produced by rare and fine instrument specialist auction house Ingles & Hayday.

Video of Maria playing a short violin piece written by Corbett himself in the stunning period settings can be viewed via the Ingles & Hayday YouTube.

The violin is believed to date from 1710 and is formally known as the ‘Ex-Corbett; Ex-Bennett’ Girolamo Amati Violin. It goes up for auction on October 30 and has been valued at £200,000 to £300,000.

It can be traced back to its original owner, a Mr William Corbett (c. 1675-1748), thanks to the evidence of his will which describes the violin and its characteristic dark varnish, and the markings ‘WC’ branded into the violin’s bottom rib.

It was made by Girolamo Amati, a member of the leading family of violin makers in Italy from 1550 to around 1680 and his work is relatively rare, having been apprenticed to his father for the first 20 years of his career.

William Corbett was a talented London violinist who lead theatre orchestras, was appointed to the court of Queen Anne in 1709, and was also a composer in the popular ‘Italian Style’ with his music published in collections alongside Corelli, Albinoni and Purcell.

He travelled widely throughout Italy, giving concerts and collecting fine Italian violins. By the time of his death he owned several, including a violin by Stradivarius and eight Amatis.

It is during these travels that its alleged he worked as a spy for the English court, gathering intelligence about James Stuart the ‘Old Pretender’ to the throne, who was living in exile in Rome under Papal protection.

Find out more about the Strings Department at Trinity Laban.