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The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries-Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop by John Marchese

HarperCollins (March 27, 2007)

Sam Zygmuntowicz recently accepted a challenging commission

from violinist Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet:

to make a new violin that would equal Drucker's beloved Stradivarius.

Marchese documents their collaboration. (There was a recent review of this at violinist.com)

steinbs0.jpg

Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt

Houghton Mifflin; Har/Com edition (October 4, 2006)

Steinhardt turns this memoir about becoming a classical concert performer into an adventure.

The first violinist of the celebrated Guarneri Quartet searches for the right teacher and the right violin,

as well as quirky impressions of such virtuosos as Heifetz and Swigeti.

But above all is Steinhardt's ultimate challenge: interpreting J.S. Bach's Chaconne,

the most moving but inscrutable of all violin solos. (I've just ordered this one)

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I have read "The Violin Maker". Was a fun book. Very light, fast

read though. There are no 'secrets' here, and most of you guys will

find it pretty basic. But, an interesting look at the interaction,

(or lack of), between 'player' and 'maker'.

Have just started "Violin Dreams", so can't comment much

there...(have listened to the CD that came with the book more than

actually reading, though).....Am intrigued with Arnold Steinhardt

and am in the process of obtaining a copy of "Indivisible by

Four".

E.

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I've read The Violin Maker. It's a well-written little book, but won't be new information for anyone already acquainted with violins.

My favorite music-related read is Gentlemen, More Dolce, Please!. That one is priceless.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Erika

I've read
The Violin Maker
. It's a well-written little book, but won't be new information for anyone already acquainted with violins.

My favorite music-related read is
Gentlemen, More Dolce, Please!
. That one is priceless.

Erika,

What is Gentlemen... about and who's the author? Thanks.

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It's a memoir by Harry Ellis Dickson, a long-time member of the Boston Symphony. He's since passed away but the book is a classic. It's full of anecdotes of the orchestra, guest artists, guest conductors, etc. It's a little dated -- I think it was published in the '60s -- but really captures the orchestra life. It's also a good book to give to people who think orchestral careers are dull and unrewarding. Although it's out of print but you can usually find used copies for not too much.

Later in life Dickson wrote another book called Beating Time, which is a little dryer and contains more personal biography but incorporates some of the same stories as first book. If you can't find Gentlemen..., it's a good second choice.

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I started the Marchese book last night, and there are some surprises.

Sam Z makes only 6 to 8 instruments a year. I would have figured his output at about double that. The way the book describes him seems to indicate that his values are more oriented toward work satisfaction, and thinking through each instrument he makes, rather than making a lot of money by making more instruments. Still, ca. $30,000 x 8 instruments is $240,000. Not that bad, but he must have some high overhead living in NY.

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The Violin Maker by John Marchese MUST be read by everyone who makes violins. I read this in 4 hours on a weekend attending the Chimneys Violin Workshop in Tucson. A very apropos time.

Marchese nails the issues, history, personalities, and egos involved with making violins. He is eloquent and has done his homework.

Get this book and enjoy!

Mike

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Well, I've gone ahead and ordered copies of all three books. I hope they can come up to the expectations generated.

FWIW, some of you may find amusement in Paul Adam's book, "The Rainaldi Quartet" (originally published in England as "Sleeper". It's a murder mystery revolving around Cremonses violins, a sister instrument to the Messie, various violin dealers, auctioneers and forgers. It's a very amusing book in places, a good read, a not impossible plot premise, and on the whole worth your attention. At any rate, it would seem that readers in these forums (fora?) would be a natural audience for the book.

I highly recommend.

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I second the recommendation on The Rainaldi Quartet. A bit "DaVinci Code"-ish, but well-written; would be a fun read for anyone who enjoys mystery novels and violins. I enjoyed it thoroughly although it took a second read before I decided I was satisfied with the ending!

Thanks Omo for pointing out the other two books; I'll look for them both. I'm especially interested in the Steinhardt book. Speaking of the Guarneri Quartet, a book I've enjoyed and read several times over the years is "Quartet: A Profile of the Guarneri Quartet" by Helen Drees Ruttencutter. It's an expansion of an article that originally appeared in The New Yorker in the late 1970s. The book is copyright 1980 so I doubt it's still in print, but worth a read if you can find it used or in a library. -Steve

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quote:


Originally posted by:
skiingfiddler

Still, ca. $30,000 x 8 instruments is $240,000. Not that bad, but he must have some high overhead living in NY.

His last instrument sold for $48,000, so that could be adjusted up a little.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Erika

quote:


Originally posted by:
skiingfiddler

Still, ca. $30,000 x 8 instruments is $240,000. Not that bad, but he must have some high overhead living in NY.

His last instrument sold for $48,000, so that could be adjusted up a little.

Erika, Thanks for that update.

At the beginning of his book, Marchese gives a $27,000 price for Zygmuntowicz's violins, when Marchese first met Zygmuntowicz. When that was, I can't determine from the book, but I get the feeling Marchese first met Zygmuntowicz sometime between 2000 and 2002. It was clearly before the Tarisio auction of the Stern del Gesu copies, which Marchese mentions at the end of the book. The copy of Stern's Panette, Marchese notes, sold for $130,000. After the auction, Marchese states, Zygmuntowicz raised his price to "over $40,000."

To get a bargain, it looks like we all should have bought our own Zygmuntowicz's before that 2003 auction.

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I should modify that last post -- this was back in fall, so for all I know they could be even more now. By a quirk of luck, my husband ended up with one to try out overnight last fall, and I know the selling price on that one (it was already sold) was $48K. It was REALLY nice, though!

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I read "Violin Dreams," but only because I received it as a gift. My violin interests are related to violin making, violin repairing and violin makers, rather than interpretation and performance of violin music. Therefore, I didn't really care for this book.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, I've rec'd and read the books mentioned here, after having been inspired to look them up by the various posts. I have to report that the only thing I didn't enjoy was that there wasn't more of them.

I love the anecdotal histories of folks whose lives I more or less envy; how else can I get to know what it's like to live with fiddles the likes of Strads, Josephs, and even Sams? I'm not likely to come up with fifty grand for a violin, nor to be able to play it well enough to deserve one. It's fascinating to watch the lives unfold, to meet the legends of our times, if only in printed form, to share in the quiet joys of luthiery with someof the most talented hands working today.

The Dickson book, too, was a pleasant read, though it covers an earlier period; not a fault, by any means. I do wonder, as the copy I found was the second edition (or second movement, as the author subtitled it), whether it might have been toned down a bit from the original?

FWIW, Marchese indicated he'd read a book by Beament on the physics and construction of the violin; I have it on order, and look fwd to it. Also, I'm pleased to note, both he and Zygmuntowicz seem to have been taken by Heron-Allen's violin book, which I thoroughly enjoyed for its interesting perspective and exhaustive coverage. It had been panned for being "dated", but it seems to me that it has interest because of that, embodying the thoughts of the cognoscenti of the late Victorians, who were, at the least, a hundred years closer to the greats of Cremona than we are today. Also, I'm charmed by the mouse on the cover.

So. I'm open to still more suggested titles. Anyone care to post a few?

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Bob A, You're ahead of me now. I'mm just starting the Steinhardt book now.

I think he wrote I like:

The violin, resting on the shoulder,

is placed midway between the head and the heart.

A thought worth contemplating,

and something I'd never thought of before myself.

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I've always liked Arnold Gingrich's "A Thousand Mornings of Music" which I've read probably a half-dozen times over the years. Gingrich was the founder and publisher of Esquire Magazine. In his 60s he developed a passion for the violin (which he'd played as a child but had given up as a young adult) and this book relates his experiences with playing and collecting violins. He owned some really nice instruments (including an early Strad) and through his connections had the opportunity to play some of the most famous violins. His writing about his collecting experiences gives anyone who dreams of owning a great violin a vicarious thrill. This book was published in 1970 and is apparently long out of print but was fairly widely distributed so should be relatively easy to find--I see Amazon has a few used copies. -Steve

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I'll second Steve's recommendation on "A Thousand Mornings.." Amazing to think that not too many years ago, one could actually afford to buy old instruments. I read it several years ago, and if I remember right, Gingrich started out with commercial versions of 4 makers (Strad, Guarneri, Amati, and Stainer??? or some similar foursome) -- and, on taking them to a high-end violin shop, found that they actually had very little resemblance to the real items. A fun story of discovery, and, again, to think it wasn't all that long ago. Who among us could afford those violins now?

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I pretty much worked my way through the Steinhardt book. To be honest I thought it draged a bit early, but picked up pace (co-incidentally with more discussion of my interests - his instruments and Bach).

I kept looking at the cover photograph to figure what that peculiar instrument was:

(cf. pic on page 1 of this thread)

Now I find it is his latest fiddle:

a small cut-down Storioni viola (hence the out-sized f-holes and odd shape)

The read fertilised a few dormant interests for me:

symbolism in Bach's music, being one.

Here's one tangent I was lead to follow: (take a listen)

secret chorales in the Chaccone

provocative if not totally convincing?

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Both of the Steinhardt books are wonderful. He writes very well, with a light touch, and gives just the right mix of entertaining anecdotes and serious reflections.

By contrast, I found Isaac Stern's autobiography not very illuminating.

The Roth book is entertaining but very opinionated. He seems bent on proving that Heifetz was the greatest violinist ever (a fact that may be true but doesn't call for verification), at the expense of both Paganini and especially Milstein. Also, he seems to be obsessed with the practice of starting to vibrate on a long note after the beginning of the note (at least, that's what I think he' referring to), which he detests.

Has anyone read Carl Flesch's autobiography? It's fascinating, not only for many piquant anecdotes, but also for his critical survey of the outstanding violinists he had heard in his lifetime, starting with Joachim, Sarasate and Ysaye and extending up to the 1930s.

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