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Title: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:00:48 am

                                    Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?

(Nov. 22, 2008) —

Some sell for more than $3.5 million. Only 700 of them exist, and they’re stored in vaults, frequently stolen and often counterfeited.

The object in question? Stradivarius violins, constructed by famed Italian instrument-maker Antonio Stradivari between 1680 and 1720. Treasured for possessing sublime acoustic properties, these rare instruments have spawned dozens of theories attempting to explain their legendary tone, and luthiers, makers of stringed instruments, are still trying to reproduce it.

The question remains: Are Stradivarius violins worth all the fuss?

There’s no objective answer, said James Lyon, Penn State professor of music in violin. When Stradivari was crafting violins, most musicians performed in churches and courts. Rulers and the wealthy sponsored artists to enhance their prestige. As music moved away from this patronage system in the first half of the 19th century, Lyon explained, musicians’ careers became dependent on fitting more people into concert halls. Thus, although they were originally built for much smaller venues, almost every Strad still around today has been altered to sound best in a large concert hall setting.

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:06:22 am

The violin world frequently stages blind tests of modern and vintage violins, including Stradivari’s, Lyon noted, and as often as not the audience prefers the sound of the modern instruments. But many musicians and luthiers argue that these tests are virtually meaningless. For one thing, the player usually knows which violin is the Stradivarius and could unintentionally bias the results by playing the fabled instrument differently. For another, even trained musicians can’t reliably pick out the sound of a Strad, he said.

Asking people to choose between modern and vintage violins, said Lyon, is like asking their favorite ice cream flavor. You never get complete agreement because people like different things. In addition, it takes a while to get to know an instrument, and the testing format doesn’t allow for this. Sometimes half a year after purchasing an instrument, Lyon explained, the player “is still learning how it wants to be played.”

Still, luthiers since Stradivari’s time have tried to reproduce the classic “Strad” sound. Some claim the secret lies in the craftsmanship, others the varnish, others the wood. Virtually every aspect of the violin has been touted as the key. Scientists, too, have tackled the question from various angles.

Some chemical analyses suggest that the smooth, mellifluous tones may have resulted, in part, from an application of an oxidizing mineral such as borax, often used in Stradivari’s day to prevent woodworm infestation. Dendrochronology, the study of annual growth rings in trees, suggests that the wood Stradivari used grew largely during the Little Ice Age that prevailed in Europe from the mid-1400s to the mid-1800s. Long winters and cool summers produced very dense wood with outstanding resonance qualities, the thinking goes. The dense wood also helps the instruments stand up over hundreds of years of use.

In light of the dozens of theories put forth to explain the Stradivarius reputation, Lyon can’t choose just one. “I think there’s likely no magic bullet here. Stradivari was just an incredibly consistent craftsman, and he was a real groundbreaker.” But given technological advances over the last 300 years, he added, it seems crazy to assume that the old luthiers knew everything there was to know about their trade.

The mystique remains, however. Asked if putting aside the monetary value of the instrument, he would like to have a Stradivarius to play, Lyon said, “Yes, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t. Partly it’s the history that goes with them.”


Adapted from materials provided by Penn State University.
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 MLA Penn State University (2008, November 22). Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/11/081108164152.htm

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:10:24 am

                            Decoding The Stradivarius: Chemically-Treated Violin Mimics The Masters

(Mar. 27, 1998) —

Can a modern era violin be chemically treated to sound nearly as perfect as an 18th century Italian classic?
Come listen and decide for yourself!

The secret of success about 17th and 18th century Italian violin artisans -- long a puzzle to music aficionados --
is the unique chemistry of the materials they used in their instruments. Texas A&M biochemistry professor and amateur violin maker Dr. Joseph Nagyvary will discuss and demonstrate
his findings on this topic at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's
largest scientific society, in Dallas March 31.

For years, Nagyvary has been examining samples of wood from string instruments made by northern Italian craftsmen of the 17th and 18th centuries, including cellos made by Antonio Stradivari. He has determined that
a key factor in the vibrant tonal quality of the instruments made by Stradivari and others is wood soaked in brine.

Based on his findings, Nagyvary has made several chemically treated violin,s and claims their tone is difficult to distinguish from many of the excellent instruments crafted by the early Italian masters. He cites compliments he
has received from several international concert violinists, including Elizabeth Matesky and Zina Schiff, who have performed using Nagyvary violins and have given high marks to the instruments.

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:16:44 am

                                     Scientists Dispel The Mystery Surrounding Stradivarius Violins

(July 13, 2005) —

Antonius Stradivarius violins are shrouded in more myths than any other instruments in world history.

At Mid Sweden University, researchers are using modern technology to uncover his secrets. At the international acoustics conference ICSV12, taking place in Lisbon on July 11-14, 2005, Associate Professor Mats Tinnsten will be presenting the latest research findings in the field.

"It's not possible to copy Stradivarius violins exactly, since wood is a living material with great natural variations. The results of new research indicate, however, that we will be able to overcome such difficulties with the aid of advanced computer support," says Mats Tinnsten.

The Italian Antonius Stradivarius, 1644-1737, introduced a geometry and design that became the exemplar for all violin-makers. Of the 1,100 instruments he built, some 650 still survive. The extremely high value of these instruments was demonstrated at an auction at Christie's in London in April. The 'Lady Tennant' Stradivarius violin sold for more than SEK 14 million, the auction record for a
musical instrument.

"His craftsmanship is still unexcelled. Few after the death of Stradivarius have managed to produce anything that even approaches his best work," says Mats Tinnsten, who, together with Associate Professor Peter Carlsson, is researching whether it is possible to copy Stradivarius violins with the aid
of modern technology and powerful computers.

What the Mid Sweden University scientists are trying to create is a violin with the same acoustic properties as a Stradivarius instrument. This work is progressing in stages, and it was decided that
the first stage would involve calculations based on the top of the violin.

"With the help of advanced mathematical optimization method, we can determine how a top should
be shaped to achieve the same properties as a top from a genuine Stradivarius," says Peter Carlsson.

The reason it is not possible to simply copy a top or an entire violin exactly is that it can never be assumed that the new top will have the same material properties as the old one.

During the 12th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, ICSV12 at the Lisbon University of Technology, Mats Tinnsten will show how far along he and Peter Carlsson have progressed in their pursuit of the perfect violin.

"Stradivarius violins were made of slow-growth spruce. Perhaps our research will help create a new instrument-making industry in northern Sweden," concludes Peter Carlsson.


Adapted from materials provided by Swedish Research Council, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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 MLA Swedish Research Council (2005, July 13). Scientists Dispel The Mystery Surrounding Stradivarius Violins. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from­ /releases/2005/07/050712233805.htm

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:19:41 am

Dr. Joseph Nagyvary plays a violin he made in
his lab at Texas A&M University.

(Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo
by Kathleen Phillips)

                         Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor

(Dec. 28, 2006) —

Answering a question that has lingered for centuries, a team of scientists has proved that chemicals used to
treat the wood used in Stradivarius and Guarneri violins are the reasons for the distinct sound produced by
the world-famous instruments.

The conclusions, published in the journal Nature, have confirmed 30 years of work into the subject by Joseph Nagyvary, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Texas A&M University, who was the first to theorize that chemicals -- not necessarily the wood -- created the unique sound of the two violins. Nagyvary teamed with collaborators Joseph DiVerdi of Colorado State University and Noel Owen of Brigham Young University on the

"This research proves unquestionably that the wood of the great masters was subjected to an aggressive
chemical treatment and the chemicals -- most likely some sort of oxidizing agents -- had a crucial role in
creating the great sound of the Stradivarius and the Guarneri," Nagyvary says.

"Like many discoveries, this one could have been accidental. Perhaps the violin makers were not even aware
of the acoustical effects of the chemicals. Both Stradivari and Guarneri wanted to treat their violins to pre-
vent worms from eating away the wood. They used some chemical agents to protect the wood from worm infestations of the time, and the unintended consequence from these chemicals was a sound like none other,
" he adds.

The team tested several instruments, including violins and cellos, produced by Stradivari and Guarneri from
1717 to around 1741, using spectra analysis and other methods.

The results and those previously reported by Nagyvary showed that two specific areas of the instruments accounted for their unique sound -- chemicals used in the varnish and fillers of the instruments, and the
overall wood treatment process used by Stradivari and Guarneri.

"This is highly gratifying for me, because it proves what I first proposed 30 years ago -- that the chemicals
used to treat instruments and not the unadulterated wood itself -- were the reasons for the great sound of
these instruments," Nagyvary explains.

"I was criticized and ridiculed when I made these claims, and to have undeniable scientific proof that I was
correct is very satisfying, to say the least."

Antonio Stradivari (1644 to 1737) made about 1,200 violins in his lifetime and kept a large inventory of them,
and would only sell one when he was ready to part with it. Today, there are only about 600 Stradivarius
violins remaining and they are valued at up to $5 million each.

Although lesser known, Guarneri del Gesu was a contemporary of Stradivari and his instruments are considered
equal in quality and price by experts.

Nagyvary, a native of Hungary who learned to play the violin by using an instrument that once belonged to
Albert Einstein, has wondered for years how Stradivari, who could barely read and had no scientific training,
could have produced instruments with such a pristine sound.

"I started researching this in the early 1970s and from the beginning, I was convinced that the chemicals
used to treat the instruments were the real key, not the wood itself," he says.

There is still a missing piece of the puzzle, Nagyvary believes.

"The next step is to identify the chemical agents involved. To do that, more precious wood samples are
needed," he adds.

"But in the past, there has been a lack of cooperation from the antique violin business, and that has to be overcome. It may help us to produce violins and other instruments one day that are just as good as the
million-dollar Stradivarius. And this research could also tell us ways to better preserve instruments, too."


Adapted from materials provided by Texas A&M University.
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 MLA Texas A&M University (2006, December 28). Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from­ /releases/2006/11/061129151126.htm

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:32:14 am

                                Rings Tell Tale Of Stringed Historic Instrument's Origin

(Nov. 20, 2001) —

A University of Arkansas researcher and his colleagues used tree ring records to accurately date
the wood used in a famous violin purported to be made by Stradivarius and showed that the wood
was hewn during the violin maker's lifetime.

Malcolm Cleaveland, professor of geosciences, joined lead investigator Henri Grissino-Mayer of the University
of Tennessee in Knoxville and Paul Sheppard of the University of Arizona in reporting their findings at a recent meeting of the Violin Society of America in Carlisle, Pa.

The violin in question bears the name Messiah and is believed to be one of the instruments made
by the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivarius. After a colorful past, the instrument landed in
the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, England, where it has remained on display -- enclosed in glass.

Four years ago an American expert declared the Messiah a fake. The controversy over the violin's
origin escalated as a British violin maker and tree ring researcher dated the instrument to the 1680s, while a
German tree ring expert put the date in the late 1730s -- too late to be an authentic Stradivarius. The British investigator measured the violin itself, while the German researcher measured the rings using photographs.

"The German researcher didn't have an instrument to measure, and the British expert presented no convincing graphical evidence or verifiable statistical evidence for his assertions," Cleaveland said.

The controversy continued in the violin world, where enthusiasts consider a Stradivarius to be almost priceless.
This particular instrument is prized because of its pristine condition.

Helen Hayes, the president of the Violin Society of America, put together a panel of American dendrochronolo-
gists led by Grissino-Mayer, who invited Cleaveland and Sheppard to measure the tree rings in the Messiah.
The researchers brought specialized microscopes and measuring equipment to the Ashmolean, where they
carefully teased out the tree rings lying beneath a coat of varnish on the front piece of the violin.

The front of the violin is made from Norway spruce from somewhere in southern Europe. It is made from two
pieces of the same tree joined together at the center in what is called a "butterfly." The oldest rings from the center of the tree would be found at the center of the violin's front, so the researchers were allowed to remove
the strings and use their microscopes and instruments to make measurements.

The researchers compared the rings to tree ring chronologies for Norway spruce found at high altitudes in the
Alps of Austria, Italy, Germany and France. They also compared the Messiah tree rings to those of another
famous violin, the Archinto, which they measured at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The Archinto, a confirmed Stradavarius dating back to 1696, had more rings for comparison -- 159 versus 109 in the Messiah.

They were able to determine, by comparing the Messiah to the Arhcinto and the Archinto to the tree ring chronologies, that the wood in the Messiah dates back to 1686 -- during the lifetime of Stradivarius.

"We can't confirm that this is a Stradivarius, but we can say that it's in the right time frame," Cleaveland said.


Adapted from materials provided by University Of Arkansas.
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 MLA University Of Arkansas (2001, November 20). Rings Tell Tale Of Stringed Historic Instrument's Origin. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from­ /releases/2001/11/011119072029.htm

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:35:53 am

Thickness maps of the top (A) and back plates (B).

The contemporary violins are presented on the top row, and the antique on the bottom row.

The violins have been anonymised. Scales are given in mm.

The fourth instrument on the upper row is a viola, which typically is thicker than a violin
(image size has been reduced to match that of the violins).

(Credit: Stoel BC, Borman TM, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002554)

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:46:41 am

                                       Secret Of The Sweet-Sounding Stradivarius:

                             Wood Density Explains Sound Quality Of Great Master Violins

(July 2, 2008) —

The advantage of using medical equipment to study classical musical instruments has been proven
by a Dutch researcher from the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). In collaboration with a re-
nowned luthier, Dr. Berend Stoel put classical violins, including several made by Stradivarius, in a
CT scanner. The homogeneity in the densities of the wood from which the classical violins are made,
in marked contrast to the modern violins studied, may very well explain their superior sound production.

Experts are fascinated by the fact that classical Cremonese violins from the famous masters such
as Stradivari (1644 -- 1737) and Guarneri del Gesu (1698 -- 1744) are still unparalleled in their abili-
ties of tonal expressiveness and projection. 300 years of technological advancement has not provided
substantial improvements towards paralleling the achievements of the classical Cremonese violin makers.

It is obvious to look for clues in the material properties of the wood from which these violins are made, however until now it was impossible to study this without risk of damage to these instruments, each valued at several million dollars.

A unique collaboration between the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands and Terry Borman, luthier in the United States, led to new insights. Previously, at the Division of Image Processing, Department of Radiology, Dr. Stoel developed a computer program, in collaboration with pulmonologist Dr. Jan Stolk, that calculates lung densities in emphysema patients from Computed Tomographic (CT) scans, in order to demonstrate the efficacy of certain medical treatments.

Based on his knowledge of measuring lung densities non-invasively, Dr. Stoel designed a new computer program
to study wood densities from CT scans. Subsequently, he and Terry Borman scanned in New York five Cremonese and seven contemporary violins at Mount SinaiHospital, and analyzed the wood densities.

The average wood density of the classical and modern violins did not differ significantly. However,
the differences in wood density between early and late growth were significantly lower in the ancient violins.

Since differentials in wood density impact vibrational efficacy and thereby the production of sound,
it is possible that this discovery may explain the superiority of these violins. This insight offers new possibilities
into replicating the tonal qualities of these ancient instruments, as the researchers con-
clude in PLoS ONE.


Journal reference:

Stoel BC, Borman TM. A Comparison of Wood Density between Classical Cremonese and Modern Violins.
PLoS One, 3(7): e2554 [link]

Adapted from materials provided by Public Library of Science, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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 MLA Public Library of Science (2008, July 2). Secret Of The Sweet-Sounding Stradivarius: Wood Density Explains Sound Quality Of Great Master Violins. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/07/080701221447.htm

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 08:54:34 am


                                        ANTONIO STRADIVARI, VIOLIN MAKER


Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 09:18:00 am


The violin came into existence in around 1550 as the successor to the viol, a mediaeval string instrument.

The idea behind the violin was to imitate the high female singing voice, with all its musical possibilities – ‘singing’ long, romantic melodies, whether loud and strong or soft as a whisper... And the instrument even has a feminine shape, with its nice rounded shoulders, its waist and hips, neck and head.

Playing the violin is a real experience. When you play an instrument like this it is actually like a relationship with someone you really love.

In my life I’ve played a number of beautiful violins, but my present instrument is the best of all!

It was built in 1667 by Antonio Stradivarius, undoubtedly the best and most famous violin builder of all times. He built this violin when he was 23 years old, in the year when he married. He must have been very much in love at that time, and sometimes I imagine that his betrothed was a very beautiful girl and that he built this violin especially for her. He may even have built it to celebrate her qualities, who knows?

The sound of the instrument is so romantic, loving and warm!


Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 09:30:15 am


                         San Zaccaria Altarpiece

                         Giovanni Bellini,

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 09:41:24 am

The most famous violin makers (luthiers) between the late 16th century and the 18th century included:

Amati family of Italian violin makers:

Andrea Amati (1500-1577),

Antonio Amati (1540-1607),

Hieronymus Amati I (1561-1630),

Nicolo Amati (1596-1684),

Hieronymus Amati II (1649-1740)

Guarneri family of Italian violin makers:

Andrea Guarneri (1626-1698),

Pietro of Mantua (1655-1720),

Giuseppe Guarneri (Joseph filius Andreae) (1666-1739),

Pietro Guarneri (of Venice) (1695-1762), and

Giuseppe (del Gesu) (1698-1744)

Stradivari Family (1644-1737) of Cremona

Gagliano family of Italian violin makers:


Nicolo I and

Ferdinand are outstanding of these

Giovanni Battista Guadagnini of Piacenza (1711-1786)

Jacob Stainer (1617-1683) of Absam in Tyrol

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 09:51:11 am


Messiah Stradivarius

The Messiah-Salabue Stradivarius of 1716 is a violin made by Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari of Cremona.

The Messiah, sobriquet Le Messie, remained in the Stradivarius workshop until his death in 1737.

It was then sold by his son Paolo to Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775, and for a time, the violin bore
the name Salabue.

The instrument was then purchased by Luigi Tarisio in 1827, and later by French luthier Jean Baptiste Vuillaume
of Paris purchased the Messiah along with Tarisio's entire collection upon Tarisio’s death in 1854. Vuillaume's son-
in-law named it Le Messie because, he said,

"[this] violin is like the Messiah of the Jews,

because one always waits for him but he never appears."

The Messiah eventually was bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

As a condition in the will of the former owner, the Museum can never allow the violin to be played.

Today, the violin remains unplayed and is almost in its original state as when it was made in 1716.

Because of this, it one of the most valuable of all the Stradivari instruments.

Title: Re: Is A Stradivarius Violin Better Than Other Violins?
Post by: Bianca on November 23, 2008, 10:18:34 am

                                                            The "Messiah"

                                                            Stradivari Violin

Antonio Stradivari, the great master luthier, died in 1737 at the age of 94. His sons, Francesco and Omobono continued his workshop.

Between the years 1774 and 1776 the great violin collector Count Cozio di Salabue bought many violins made by Francesco Stradivari, as well as many of Antonio's violins that were still available in the Stradivari workshop, from Antonio's youngest son, Paolo, who was a cloth dealer. One of these violins, purportedly made by Antonio Stradivari in 1716, later became known as the "Messiah" or "Messie."

In 1827 the traveling Italian violin dealer, Luigi Tarisio, acquired the violin. Tarisio constantly boasted to his acquaintances of the beautiful violin he had discovered, but he never brought it forth to show anyone. The French violinist Delphin Alard (son-in-law of the famous French luthier, Vuillaume) exclaimed, "Your violin is like the Messiah...One always waits for him, but he never appears!"

When Tarisio died in 1855, Vuillaume, the great Parisian luthier and dealer, realizing that Tarisio had a large stock of valuable Italian violins laid away somewhere in Italy, traveled to a farm near Milan, belonging to Tarisio, where he found and purchased over 140 instruments, including the fabled "Messiah," which apparently had never been used. Even though it was already nearly 150 years old, it looked as new as if it had just come from Stradivari's hands.

Vuillaume opened the violin and changed the bass-bar and modernized the neck angle. He displayed it in a glass case in his home, and made several very fine copies. It was his delight to challenge visitors to tell which violin was his, and which was Stradivari's. In 1872 he exhibited it at the Exhibition of Ancient Musical Instruments in London. Vuillaume died in 1875, but the "Messiah" remained in the possession of his family, until it was purchased by Alard, his son-in-law.

The Hill family, a famous family of luthiers and collectors in England, bought the "Messiah" from Alard in 1890. The price was a record £2000, and they purchased the violin on behalf of a wealthy collector from Edinburgh. The Hills opened the violin, and changed the bass-bar again. They wrote about the "Messiah" in their famous work on the life of Antonio Stradivari, and also wrote a monograph just about the "Messiah." They repurchased the violin in 1904, sold it again in 1913, and repurchased it again in 1928. (Since then, the value of the instrument has been estimated to be £10,000,000 by the well-known dealer, Charles Beare.)

In 1940 the Hill family donated the legendary violin to the British Nation, in order to see it permanently preserved in pristine condition. It is housed at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, in the Hill Room. Access to the instrument is strictly limited.

Click here to see audio/video movies about the "Messiah" violin.

A debate is presently raging amongst experts as to whether or not the violin was actually made by Antonio Stradivari, as some scientific authorities have dated the wood of the instrument as coming from the year following the death of the master luthier. See this article for more information on dating problems. And this article, too. And a third article.