Viola #133 By Clifford Roberts, 2003. 16 3/8.”
Clifford Roberts (1953-2010) is most highly regarded as a maker of fine contemporary violas, though his work and life were tragically cut short by a rare neuromuscular disorder which first effected his eyesight.
By the age of 18, Clifford could play ten different instruments, and had already become proficient in several vocations including making instruments, silver jewelry, leather sandals and bags, furniture and linoleum cut prints. His formal training began at the age of 12, working with terra cotta and stone as an advancing sculptor under the direction of Bronka Stern, and then moving on to the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. After which, he moved to Italy and studied at the Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria di Cremona, the International School of Violin Making in Cremona, where his mentors included Pietro Sgarabotto, Gio Batta Morassi, Francesco Bissolotti and Pier Luigi Galetti. Clifford returned to the United States in 1975, establishing his own atelier in New York.
His clients have included Toby Appel, Michael Tree, Alan Shulman, Fred Sherry, John Dalley, Paul Arnold, CJ Chang, David Blinn, Yumi Hwang, John Koen, Dan Panner, Nathaniel Rosen, Michael Strauss, Basil Vendryes, Steven Werczynski, and many others. Having said that, Clifford’s limited output and the caliber of musicians performing on his instruments have made them quite desirable.
This Clifford Roberts viola after Guarneri from 2003 could be categorized as his later work, unilaterally exhibiting artistic grace and precision through the lines and craftsmanship, without any hints of the deterioration which became quite extreme. Large, round bead to the edge, with a deep, somewhat softer, yet remarkably consistent channel and impeccably inlaid purfling, for a very italian feel on this lightly antiqued and highly shaded instrument. The back, slab cut, but in two pieces, with an irregular flame, matching the head stock, medium grained spruce for the table, and tighter, even flamed maple selections for the ribs, finished in an oil varnish intended to deepen over time. At almost 20 years old, this 16 3/8” or 416mm viola boasts a voice that is dark, velvety, but immediate, clear, and powerful; modular with ample resistance and flexibility. Noted on the label as #133, and probably among the last to be imbued with such an artistic balance.