In The Last Shade Tree, Aleta Rosenthal’s violin was made in 1838 by the Italian luthier, Giovanni Francesco Pressenda. Since the violin plays an outsize role in the lives of several of the characters, the curious reader might wonder if the maker actually existed. Indeed he did, and his violins have appreciated rapidly in recent years. Aleta’s violin is fictitious, but has the distinguishing characteristics of Pressenda’s real instruments—down to the identifying label located inside it.
Giovanni Francesco Pressenda (c. 1777 - 1854) trained under French masters rather than at the famous Cremonese schools he claimed to have attended. He opened his own shop in Turin in 1820 where he won over the town’s principal players, assuring a decent career for himself. Pressenda favored a thick orange to deep red varnish, long sound holes, and a one-piece back. He is considered by some modern enthusiasts to be the most important Italian violin maker of the 19th century.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s devilishly difficult Partita in D Minor, BWV 1004, is mentioned throughout the novel. Here you can see a manuscript page of the Ciaccona, the famously profound last movement.