Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Cremonese verus the rest


Recommended Posts

"Soulless" is an interesting way to put it.

I take these questions as striking at the heart of the matter. So, I enjoy such questions. Even though I don't much care what the "real" answers are.

I will submit the opinion that arguing such a point against the opinion of experienced people, where you have no firsthand knowledge or experience yuorself, puts you at such a huge disadvantage that I wonder why people even attempt it. I'm not saying that everyone cannot have an opinion, but the degree to which inexperienced people want act *as if* they have firsthand experience is, for lack of a better word, unfortunate.

The only thing I can liken it to from my own life (since I don't pretend to know the difference between these fabled Cremonese instruments and ones that are not, firsthand - I don't have any truck with these instruments) is when I get into a discussion about violin making with a non-maker who still, by virtue of having read Scientific American or some such thing, is convinced that he knows more about the process than I do.

And they are out there.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 332
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Jeffrey, I can understand where you're coming from but I suppose

we'll have to agree to disagree about some things. To clarify a

little on what i said..... logic has nothing to do with it being

unlikely that the Cremonese makers haven't been equalled since.

That was merely an opinion of mine. But as I keep on saying, it is


However, I agree with your point about different levels of appeal,

especially to the player......I've experienced this myself

both with violins and bows.

As for surpassing with what is essentially a copy, then yes, this

clearly could happen in terms of sound quality. However this can be

separated from the unique innovation that these old makers

introduced. That can never be taken away from them and never

surpassed (probably). Overall, I'd not have any problem in calling

them the greatest makers because of their innovation. But as I've

said before, my original post was about sound quality compared with

subsequent makers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

These types of tests described in the original post have been done over and over again.

For something in print, check Strings Magazine, Sept/Oct 1990, #20, an article by Rober Cauer.

I don't have it in front of me, so I'll attempt to quote from memory and notes.

" An audience of about 140 musicians judged the sound of 12 cellos, six new and six old.

The new cellos were the work of contemporary cello makers. The old cellos represented quite an impressive selection: A Gagliano; two Goffrillers; a Montagnana; a Stradivari; and a Tecchler. To keep the comparison as objective as possible, the player was blindfolded, and a large linen screen was placed between the player and the audience. When the audience of cellists handed in their ballots, the top scoring cello was old; the second, third, fourth and fifth highest scores were by new cellos; sixth and seventh were old; 8th-new; 9th-old; 10th-new; 11th-old; 12th-old. An old instrument got the highest score, but famous old instruments also got the two lowest scores. As a group, the modern cellos scored much higher than this collection of famous old cellos."

I won't attempt to argue that there are no differences in sound between classic Italian and some modern instruments, or between any two instruments for that matter.

I will state my opinion and experience though that even musically educated audiences (of musicians) listening in double blind tests are repeatedly unable to conclude that old Italians are superior.

One can always find some reason to invalidate any test, but at some point it seems like the preponderance of evidence might prevail.

Darnton, you and I both know that we can hand someone a rotten sounding fiddle, tell them it's a Strad (it might be real or a good copy), and most will be pretty impressed with the sound.

I won't say that the placebo effect is without value, but I'm a reality freak and tend to do a minor amount of proselytizing for reality (whatever the heck that might be).

You'all can have the last word. I don't have time to come on here often.


David Burgess

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems to me the reality that is being championed here is the one in which only "hard data" has validity.

Though useful, it would be a sad world if we were limited to that reality.

I propose that if the above described test were repeated a thousand times (with a different 140 listeners or even the same 140) you would find sufficient variance in the results to invalidate any claim by either side to superiority.

For it to be a truly objective test it must be replicable both over time and by different investigators. I find results such as this as "anecdotal" as the most mystical and poetic propaganda by a dealer.

Since all such tests have been (and I suggest will remain) flawed in methodology, and will fall very short of "objective evidence," I prefer to accept the judgment of history, and the vast majority of soloists, and virtually every serious collector, dealer and contemporary maker. I do not find it "intellectually dubious" to believe that there was a group of artisans who perfected a craft and have rarely been matched since. Nor more than I would find it intellectually dubious to suggest that Mozart or Keats or the archecitect of Reims Cathedral have never been matched.

But then I am one of those who believe convention and usage -- the cultural evolution of a society -- including the fetishizing of certain makers/painters/writers/objects -- proceeds for reason, not randomly. That a Canon is not the only critierion of worth, but it is a criterion of worth that has a basis. It is not simply phychological smoke and mirrors.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In my experience, new cellos fare much better in this type of test than violins--so much the better for modern cello makers. I've come to realize that violins, violas, and cellos are three very different instruments, all with their own rules. In spite of my claims about violns, I often can't tell a new cello from an old one--even when I'm playing it, though, again, at the best end of things I've never heard anything to match a Strad cello. I once sold a new cello (a Whedbee, if anyone wants to know) to a customer for something a LOT more expensive. That cello ruined my sale--later it went up against both a Rugeri and an Amati, and in my opinion it was a clear winner by a long shot. The owner certainly felt that way too, much to my damage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Let me say it explicitly that blind test is a test for " tone" only, IGNORING the " look" and

"construction beauty", "the comfortness of the players", " pride of owner ship" "affection OF "

" the feel of the player" ......etc, etc.

many important factors.

Quality of tone is subjective.

How can you prove anything scientically? ( cannot be proved nor its opposite assertion be proved )

Average people do not know much about tone. For example, my ears are not good to judge the quality of very fine tones.

"Cremonese violins are unsurpassable " an assertion of course is an opinion, but it is world top players' consesus. Also we have to count the luthiers' opinons, becausee every good instrument has a luthier behind it. Their collective opinions SHOULD carry more weights,

PS. People have presented isolated cases to make their points. It is fine but not a scientific proof. (if exits ;it must be too expensive to be carried out.)

We maintain

Quality Of Tone is subjective. The subjectivity is a big block.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know a famous teacher who was blindfolded at her Batmizva, and given a number of fine violins to choose from. She selected the Stradavarius, and still owns it about 60 years later, though she often used a Vuillaume in her career as well. Lucky Lady. Probably she liked the Strad's ease of execution, as Michael mentioned earlier, as few or no 13 year olds are allowed around such fiddles as a rule.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

>I notice that, almost without fail these arguments never include opinions from the owners or players of Cremonese instruments... <

I had breakfast with Bernard Greenhouse during the cello event David mentioned above. He was quite rattled by this event where his Strad didn't fare very well. Not long after, he had Rene Morel restore his instrument.

Jeff Solow was the blindfolded cellist, he didn't recognize his own instrument ( Montegnana) in the mix.

I've participated in quite a few well controlled listeining tests recently with old vs new, same instrument different players, same instrument different bows, same players and instruments different venues etc.

The one conclusion I've reached is that in a lively concert hall, experienced, knowledgeable listeners cannot distinguish between old and new. That new instruments tend to sound better to the audience. But the difference is very noticeable to the players.

Oded Kishony

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Several people have brought up the question about what players themselves think.

I've had private conversations with a number of well known players who prefer "blankety blank" modern to their famous old Italian.

In one case, the player felt obligated to use the Italian because it was furnished for their use by a foundation.

In another, the player said that use of a particular instrument was part of the image, and that audiences expected that instrument to be used.

In another, the player used a modern copy, and just told people that the original (also owned) was being used.

I think statements like this will seldom be made publicly.

Would you make a public statement that might possibly diminish the value of your biggest financial investment?

And would you go on the record if you were a musician with a statement which will almost certainly provoke the reaction, "Poor guy, he's not a good enough player or listener to understand the difference."

It's always been a challenge to get valuable old instruments for the comparison tests. One thing Robert Cauer has done to make it easier is to guarantee to the owner that the exact identity of each instrument won't be publicly disclosed, and that the published outcome won't include which old instrument was ranked where. Why? Owners are concerned that a low ranking could affect market value some day. That's why Roberts article is a little vague, giving the final results by "old" or "new", and nothing else.

I don't think I've ever met a musician who was totally immune to peer pressure and other people's judgments. I had difficulty with the sale of one of my instruments because a fairly prominent player was concerned that everyone would know from the appearance that it was new. This blew me away, because this individual clearly has the professional stature to be a trend setter, not a follower.

I heard of another situation where a much loved Becker wasn't used because the conductor didn't like the appearance. What a shame.

Oded has been part of a group that has done some of the most comprehensive tests of instruments, both subjectively and scientifically, including getting feedback from good players.

Can you pick any one of these tests apart? Sure. Anybody can pick stuff apart. That's not even a challenge. Come up with better tests if you can, including logistics on how to get everything together and satisfy concerns of the owners. There probably is no one perfect test. If there is, let's have it.

That's why I mentioned "preponderance of evidence", and I mean to include evidence that is both subjective and scientific in nature.

My own opinion from everthing I've heard, played, and the musicians I've talked to?

I won't go so far as to say that "the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes", but I think there might be a fat man in a Speedo in this parade. Hee hee.

Some will always believe he's wearing a tux.

I'm usually wrong though.

I'm outa here, and I mean it this time, dang it!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

"--I won't go so far as to say that "the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes", but I think there might be a fat man in a Speedo in this parade--"

Instruments, players, recording industry, buyers, or listeners, when all summed up, It hink It is billions dollars market.

When such a huge money is in consideration, I find any thing normal, including a very delicate brainwash, ornamented with even some academic face lifts.

Right any time, any where a fat man or thin man, probably a liitle bit ignorant or being blindly idealist to some extend is very possible.

I liked this post,


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can see both sides of the argument some to extent. It's not as though all Strads [or fill in the name of your favorite old maker] are equally great. If I remember right, Alina Pogostkina used to have a not-so-hot Strad on loan. She gave it back and switched to a terrific-sounding Grainer and is doing very well. Now whether that was just a so-so Strad or a Strad in need of work, I don't know. Sometimes the problem with loans is that the owner doesn't want the fiddle worked on, even though it has obvious problems. I know someone who had a Gagliano on loan for a competition... a nice violin that needed work, but the owner was too nervous to give permission. In the end the player gave it back and used her own violin because she felt the issues with other were holding her back. I know someone else who bought a Strad and spent several years getting it set up optimally. When he first bought it, no, it wasn't all that great, but he sensed the potential. Now it's fabulous and been in any number of recordings.

My thought is that the finest contemporary instruments can top a good percentage of fine old instruments (not necessarily Cremonese... but a lot of five- and six-figure old instruments), but that the finest old Italians are unbeatable. That is IMO. As always, your mileage may vary. If you don't like Cremonese violins, that's easily solved... just don't buy one. Besides, that leaves more to go around for everyone else.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the most compelling pieces of hard evidence that Strads are truly different and better is in the last edition of the 'VSA Papers'.

Oliver Rodgers has a comparison of a Strad with all the VSA competition winners. If you look at those spectrograms (maybe someone can scan them and post the Strad compared to a tone winner) the Strad is obviously different, with more peaks and greater density of peaks suggesting a very rich tone. I haven't seen enough spectrograms of Strads and compared them to other instruments, but this one example is very striking.

Oded Kishony

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Originally posted by:
Jeffrey Holmes

I'll just quote myself if that's OK...


Originally posted by:
Jeffrey Holmes

Which Strad?Which example of the "best" later maker? Which player? What venue? Which day?

If only everyone thought thay way Jeff, then I don't think we would need to be having this discussion and modern makers would be quite content. But as we all know, the overriding opinion is that: "Older is better... full stop, end of story".

I don't see David Burgess's comments as being particularly biased towards new instruments - I think all he is asking, all any new maker is asking really, is to be able to work on a level playing field.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I didn't say his comments are biased, I said his viewpoint is from a necessarily biased location. If someone wants to say that there's no way someone who's sunk $4 million into a violin can be neutral, as David said, then conversely, it's fair to say that likewise there's no way that someone who derives 100% of his income from new making, as David does, can be neutral, either.

Personally, I wouldn't make either claim--I'm just pointing out the weakness of his statement by turning it around to apply to him. In short, I don't think he's right, but if he is, the same type of comment can very fairly apply to him, as well

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I must say how enlightening it has been to follow this thread, one of the best in months! Having copied and pasted whole chunks of it into a separate file for saving, I want to say "Thanks" to all who posted, and expecially to Michael Darnton for sharing his thoughtful insights. We are all so lucky to have Maestronet!

With all the wine references, I am reminded of Galileo's wonderful description: "Wine is light held together by moisture."

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Originally posted by:
Michael Darnton

I didn't say his comments are biased, I said his viewpoint is from a necessarily biased location. If someone wants to say that there's no way someone who's sunk $4 million into a violin can be neutral, as David said, then conversely, it's fair to say that likewise there's no way that someone who derives 100% of his income from new making, as David does, can be neutral, either.

Personally, I wouldn't make either claim--I'm just pointing out the weakness of his statement by turning it around to apply to him. In short, I don't think he's right, but if he is, the same type of comment can very fairly apply to him, as well

As far as I know, perceptions of tone quality of modern versus million dollar instruments don't affect my income. The price difference alone is enough for most people. If prices were the same or similar, that would be another matter.........then one could make a stronger argument that we're competing for the same market, and that I have an agenda or a bias. I basically sell what I make, regardless of people's feelings about the merit of modern versus old Italians.

It's not that I've taken the position that new instruments can compare favorably with old Italian

because I'm a modern maker. It's more that I'm a maker partly because my experience has led me to believe that modern makers can make a product that isn't inferior in any way to the old Italians.

I like doing something I can feel good about. I don't have to BS anybody. I'm no longer involved in conversations like,

"Geez, this Strad sounds like sh--, what are we going to do? I guess we can find an amateur or collector who doesn't know any better."

Oops, I better be careful what I say, or I might disappear like Jimmy Hoffa!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...