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Cremonese "secret"?


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This subject invariably comes up in various discussions, with no definitive answers in hundreds of years. What do you members think about the relatively recent findings & claims that a "mini ice-age" occurred in that part of the world just prior to the 'golden period', producing extremely fine tone-woods, which haven't been duplicated since? It sounds as feasible (or more-so) to me as other theories I've heard.

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I think it wasn't "prior" enough for the wood to represent any significant component of the wood in a classical Cremonese violin. Also, there's an implication that denser wood makes better violins, which isn't true. Fine grain wood has been available in every period; usually the best violin makers did NOT use it--the Cremonese included.

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This is a subject that ticks me off! People try to atribute, these fine instruments to a varnish, or a climate condition,etc.... But they in turn forget the one most important thing, the CRAFTMEN!! No, I not mad! These questions are great, because the real best minds add their two cents and that is craftmen!! As to the mini Ice age, I agree with Mike on this one!! The weather pattern was around abgout the same time as these instruments were being made.

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I agree, the mini ice age would more likely have made for the finer grain in my 1826 instrument than for the Strads. Plus if it was just tight grained wood from a short growing period, that was and is available in high latitudes and high alpine areas. Any ledgendary Scandinavian violins out there?

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I don't have the article with me, but I think they were claiming the "ice-age" period was 50-150 (roughly) years prior to the time of the Amati's, Strad, etc. Anyway, plenty early to have produced mature trees. I can't buy the idea that instruments continue to improve in sound FOREVER. Do controlled comparisons of good old vs. good modern instruments show any positive results? There are certainly makers today whose workmanship is comparable to that of the old masters.

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There have been a lot of fine violin makers, good craftsmen, in the last 300 years, but they haven't made anything really special. I think there's more to it that that. But I do think that most people are looking in the wrong direction. I liked seeing the mini-ice-age idea, even though I don't agree with it, because it's someone looking in a different direction for a change.

My personal opinion is that some definite key is still missing. The easy answers, however, are obviously not the correct ones.

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Michael- how about burnishing? Doesn't burnishing cause more density? Could there be any possibility that by burnishing the soft sprucewood top, it would produce a different (hopefully better/louder) sounding instrument? I know you guys hate these comments from us non-makers. Just supposin'.

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Burnishing doesn't change the wood--it just positions it differently. However, it also changes the texture of top wood in exactly the opposite direction from which it should go. That is, it lowers the soft wood and compresses it, leaving the hard grainlines relatively higher. That's the opposite of what you see on good violins. Really, though, I doubt that burnishing would have any effect on the tone at all.

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I am no violin maker and no expert. I do find this interesting. Many think that old violins sound that much better, I think some might be surprised to try and pick them behind a screen as opposed to good moder maker.

Art, is not dictated by mathematics, I think that to many these days are hooked on precise mathematic measurements, as opposed to : How can I shape this particular piece of wood to make it sound best?

One can see that many old instruments were assymetric as in the human face or everything else in nature. I can picture Strad having a back finished with preliminary graduation, and then knocking on it to check resonance and then taking a bit more here, then a bit more there in order to obtain what he was looking for.

So I would venture to say the missing ingrediants might be artistry, ...imho!

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Perhaps a hypothesis:

A few weeks ago I attended the final homegame for our UH basketball team. Afterwards, the band played the national anthem of two foreign athletes: Canada and Israel.

I'm sure the phrasing must have been off when played by the UH band. Those athletes must have been thinking, "Hmmm, doesn't quite sound like how we play it at home." Maybe if the band had more time... Have you heard how, say a Chinese band in Beijing, played the Star Spangled Banner?

So while we all agree that we love that Cremonese or Italian sound, I'm not so sure that many foreign (non-Italian) makers know how to genuinely achieve this. There are a lot of nuances to the sound.

While not impossible, it is a rare achievement for a non-native speaker to learn a foreign language fluently - i.e., to be indistinguishable form the native speaker, without accents or other giveaways. And without a similar fluency in the so called Cremonese/Italian sound, foreign violin makers may be exercising the utmost control upon the choicest wood -- striving to carve an Italian sounding violin in vain... Being born and raised in Italy has to be a competitive advantage over all the pretenders.

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"I think there are some definite clues that the wood is the issue, as well as concrete proofs that other things aren't of the consequence sometimes ascribed to them."

And here by "wood" do you mean the bare wood itself, or some treatment of the wood? I realize that this is merely speculation, but I'm interested in whether or not you would consider domestic wood a contender, or would you consider that the origin of the wood in question has a direct bearing on its potential for producing a specific tone quality?

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Michael , you make some great instruments so I am sure you tried to compare to some older instruments, What do you think?

Also I have a question: What did a Stradivary and Guarneri , or my fav Guadagnini sound like when they were new. I would bet not much diferent then yours and some maybe not as good.

I have heard that some well known soloist actually in some of their performances actually play copies of their prised instruments and no one actually can tell the diference and some find their instruments actuall sound so much better on those particular day

Was it not Stainer that was the favorite in the days of Stradivari?

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The effects of a good violin are much more obvious to the player than to the audience. A good player doesn't even have to be playing a good violin to impress an audience--he can do it with a bad one.

I think it's very dangerous to speculate about the future--Vuillaume said his violins, which are very good, would equal Stradivari's in 100 years. . . he was wrong.

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Yes, and this is the point: that if the instrument does a major assist for you, and permits you to focus your attention on musical things other than the technical problems of attacking particular (on some instruments, virtually all) notes in particular ways so they don't start with ugly noises, just to name one of the many advantages of a fine violin, the tonal results may be similar to your listeners, but the lack of difficulties results in your own performance (separate from the performance of the instrument itself) being noticibly better.

This is one reason that really great players, with unlimited technique, sound fine on bad violins (and why blind tests can be so uninformative--a good player, the type usually chosen for these tests, overwhelms the differences between violins with his technique), but lesser players find a great instrument to give a huge boost to their ease in playing, and consequently their *apparent* skill level.

Yet even the greatest playes get physical relief from an instrument which they don't have to fight to make work right. If you really want to hear differences between instruments, though, put them in the hands of players who can barely play.

It's not really all about tone. Though tone is a big part of it, too, only a tiny percentage of listeners have ears that are well-enough trained to notice the difference.

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Now, I have not really thought about it that way.

That is why I love this place.

So if I understand you well, you are saying it is not so much the tone as the ease of rendition that then allows for the freedom to be more musically effective

Thanks, now I think that shows it for me in a slightly different light.

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I think of it this way;

If you are a fairly good violin player, all you have to do is pick up and play an "exceptional" instrument to immediately see exactly what the difference is, or what all the fuss is about.

You will think to yourself, "Man, I HAVE to have this instrument... I've never sounded like THIS before."

It's effortless.

I remember the first time I was ever exposed to some really top quality world class bows... the difference in them and what I was used to was tremendous. You almost can't put it into words. They seemed more like jewelery than bows, and they just feel and play better. They really do make you want to own them.

So, I have to wonder how "subjective" such qualities are. I think that people who believe that the difference is subjective or somehow "not real" are usually speaking from naivete or ignorance, well meaning - but out of the loop in a way.

The more I'm around violins, the more I realize that people don't routinely pay millions of dollars for nothing. They will only pay such amounts for "the best" in most cases.

Of course for us the question becomes, why are they the best? What makes such instruments exceptional?

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Naive or Ignorant I would not say I fit in any of those categories.

I was a professional violonist and I know what a good instrument can do and what a not so good can do. I have played good bows and I have played Exceptional bows. And some exceptional bows were not the most expensives. Nor for the great violins I played on. I play now a not so expensive instrument that, in the quartet I play in runs circles arround the Guarneri owned by the other violinist.

I can understand what Michael means about ease of play, but I would much rather buy one of his violin or one of Johannson (Iceland) then spend tons to get a really old second quality instruments. I have also played instruments that I thought sounded out right bad , but my colleagues thought that was the best I ever sounded. Go figure.....

No instruments in the world is worth its play in millions except in antique value.

I heard Perlman in an interview stae that Oistrakh never played a good instrument. So what does one make of that?

The value of most of those instruments is perpatrated by dealers that want to make artists think that they MUST play a Strad or Guarneri in order to make it to the next level.

Hogwash is my answer to that.

Here is an intersting link..


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We've gone round and round on the issue of whether instruments made after 1750, especially contemporary ones, can match Strads and del Gesus, and any one person's assertions aren't very meaningful in coming to a conclusion. But if one looks at the world of top notch performers, one finds all kinds of preferences:

--Classic Italians only (Strads): Joshua Bell

--19 Century is just fine: Hillary Hahn and her Vuillaume.

--Switching back and forth between classical Italians and contemporary instruments: Elmar Oliveira with his del Gesus and Curtin and Alf.

--Giving up on Strads and del Gesus in favor of a contemporary instrument: Christian Tetzlaff and his Greiners.

If a player wants to spend the most possible money for a violin, then a Strad or del Gesu is the instrument to buy. If the player wants to buy the instrument that most fulfills their musical needs, then each instrument needs to be looked at individually, separate from pedigrees and certificates.

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When one looks at larger selection than a group of four players who were selected with bias to illustrate a particular point, the situation looks a bit different. :-)

Of course all stories have their background. Elmar, for instance, is a very active violin dealer who has the wonderful skill of being able to play any violin at it's peak potential within seconds, which is why he was chosen to record the test recordings for the 24 Strads and del Gesus in Bein and Fushi's "Miracle Makers" book----recording three full CDs of material within something like two straight days of recording: an accomplishment beyond incredible. I saw some video from the last hours of the recording, and he looked like he was literally reeling from lack of sleep and expenditure of energy, but you certainly can't hear it in the recordings!

By the way:

"Oistrakh, David


b 17.09.1908 Odessa

d 24.10.1974 Amsterdam

V Admiral Kasyerinov 1699 Strad., A.

V Cannone 1742 Guarn. d. G.

V Conte di Fontana 1702 Strad., A.

V Iussopov 1736 Strad., A.

V Malakov 1713 Strad., A.

V Marsick 1705 Strad., A.

V Oistrakh ? Strad., A.

V ex Polyakin 1712 Strad., A.

V Serge Shahovsky 1707 Strad., A.

V USSR 1717 Strad., A.


Oistrakh played the Conte de Fontana for about 10 years before trading it for the Marsick 1966, which he owned until his death. The Oistrakh, a present of the Queen Elizabeht of Belgium, was stolen from the Glinka Museum for Music and Culture in June, 1996. The Admiral Kasyerinov, the Serge Shahovsky, the ex Polyakin and the Malakov are owned by the USSR State Collection, to which Oistrakh had access."

(from http://www.jose-sanchez-penzo.net/strad.html )

As for the Reuter site: anything you want, one way or another can be found on the internet. Here's link for those who enjoy contrarian philosophy: http://timecube.com/

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