David Bagué i Soler
Thinking with the hands
Bagué’s world is from the past but necessary in the present, an elitist world of dirty hands “Making instruments in an age of technology is patently absurd. I have ways of being able to recreate in myself 18th century thinking”
Skill, patience, intelligence, sensitivity, tacit understanding and artistic sensibilities all come together in a Bohemian house in Barcelona’s Gràcia neighbourhood. David Bagué i Soler greets me in his workshop, in a shirt that is open at the collar and in an apron that is worn with time. I suddenly find myself in a world of wood, surrounded by metal tools, glass cabinets, as well as newspaper clippings that transport me to another place and time. I realise that I have been taken back to the world of the luthier, the world of the craftsmen who make and repair stringed instruments. Bagué’s world is from the past but necessary in the present, an elitist world of dirty hands.
Recently recognised by the Catalan government for his work, Bagué comes from a family of artists. When he used to get home from school, it was to find his soprano mother singing at the piano, while his father would be painting at an easel. These Bohemian surroundings invested him with a love for the arts as well as a special sensibility. His father bought him a violin, and one summer afternoon, the 12-year-old David discovered his vocation: “I was alone at home with my siblings, and I became curious about the instrument and so took it to pieces. When my parents got back home and saw that the violin was destroyed, they reacted with true vision. They did nothing about it, but that was everything. I knew then that I would be a luthier.” At a time of rebirth in the country, when craftsmen were again experiencing a golden moment, Bagué learnt from them by visiting their workshops in Gràcia, and later on in Italy. “A trade is forged; it’s a matter of attitude,” he says, revealing his humanist spirit that allows him to think with his hands.
“If I wasn’t nostalgic I couldn’t make instruments,” he says. “Making instruments in an age of technology is patently absurd. I have my ways of being able to recreate in myself 18th century thinking: staying away from technology and the speed it subjects us to by taking refuge in my own universe, so I can keep going with this craziness.” He adds: “The proof is that still, when I come down each day to my workshop, I see with the eyes of a 12-year-old child. That is the art of living.” A craft is the combination of emotion and reason, “but in balance, because untrammelled emotion can lead to madness.”
To develop in this trade you need “art to live, art to feel the emotion for understanding the material,” he says. “To cut down a tree you have to ask for permission, and that means inspiring people into letting you work for a good cause.” The life-long journey of creating instruments is not a technical issue, although without technique you cannot be free. At the same time, he speaks of concepts, thought, philosophy, mysticism, humanism, of passing on technique, although he warns: “Tacit understanding leads to the tomb.” The craft of the luthier needs defending “vehemently because it is high culture, and the only way that Catalonia can move forward is working for this high culture,” he says. His trade is elitist, but he adds, “I am not, I think like a craftsman.”
He is currently involved in an unprecedented cultural project with the Cosmos Quartet chamber music ensemble, which bears in mind that “everything must come from civil society: the Catalan bourgeoisie was very sensitive, and invested in a country that we still serve today.” In order to make the instruments, he has to understand the artistic personality of each of the musicians: “We have become a quintet, the four musicians and myself, as I’ve become part of it with my own voice in the background,” because I think that I have to give something back to society.
Finally, Bagué says: “People who commission something from me place are placing their absolute faith in me,” such as Ruggiero Ricci, Leonidas Kavakos, Ulrich Edelmann, Sophie Heinrich, Giuliano Carmignola, Abel Tomàs, Jordi Savall and Wilfried Hedenborg, member of the main violin section of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Two of Bagué’s mottos are: “From Gràcia to the world” and “the more local, the more international,” as Catalan writer Josep Pla used to say.