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Cremonese Violins - Which part of its beauty has been matched?


pigcat
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quote:


Originally posted by:
jbythesea

If there is one thing that I believe in - it's that talk

is cheap. For those people who say that there is no doubt in there

mind one way or another - put your money where your mouth is. I

propose the following challenges depending on your point of

view...A blind test where you listen to 10 well set up and top notch

instruments played by the same player, same song/scales

etc. One of them is a Cremonese instrument. That player can

have no experience with any of them. That player will be

blindfolded so there is no influence to how it is played.

Sounds like a pretty useless test.

If a player were to spend millions of dollars on a violin, it would likely be in his/her best interest to get the most out of it - NOT just play it like everything else. The whole point of spending those extra dollars, for a player, is to get to that last 1-5% that a modern instrument can't offer. If you don't bother to learn to take advantage of that little extra bit that a great fiddle can offer, than you would be better served by a much cheaper modern instrument.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
pigcat

I've heard real Strads in a great concert hall. At the same concert

there are also some symphony pieces in between too, and there's the

concert master solo part. Absolutely no comparison. I can see the

concert master is doing real hard to get himself heard. But yet it

was just sounded like a small sound trying to make a way to get out

from a crowd...Then the Strad came back and, you know, the Strad

just sounded so much bigger and doesn't give an impression of the

soloist playing really hard to get the full volume.


But the concertmaster was playing a Strad too!

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Gosh... one of these days I'm going to count the number of posts contributed to this subject in general... There have been a great many threads devoted to the comparison of classic and contemporary violins...

I believe this is very healthy. Many are passionate about the issue...

Falstaff put in my usual 2 cents on a related thread, but I can repeat the mantra here: If we're talking sound, which classic fiddles & which contemporary fiddles are we comparing? What player and what day? What venue?

Talk is cheap, but becomes less so if backed up by personal experience, in my opinion. Let me go further...

Gennady's post reminded me that I've always wanted to ask a few questions of the participants of these threads... I can probably get relatively close in guessing responses for the participants I know... and there are some pretty experienced folks in this crowd who I may not always completely agree with... but I do very much respect their opinions. There are also a good many here who I don't know well, so, I'm curious... I'd like to ask each person that has offered an opinion here:

1) How many really top end instruments have you held (best period Strad, Guarneri, Bergonzi, Guad with reputations linked to great players)?

2) How many top contemporary instruments have you held?

3) How many of each category have you played?

4) Do you feel that you have the capacity to properly exploit the instruments you played?

5) If the answer to #4 is "yes", did you notice differences in sound and response?

6) If the answer to number 4 is "no", how many instruments of this type have you heard played (live) by someone who can really exploit them?

7) How many players capable of exploiting these instruments have you heard play (live) both an old and a new instrument?

8) Pertaining to #7, could you hear a difference?

I'll stay away from the visual asthetics for now...

Yuen; I liked your comment about the meal and the waitress... and David, I liked your comment about the concertmaster's Strad.

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Well put Jeffrey.

The other thread on this subject is also enlightening I am sure you

all have read the other thread:

"For the big bucks fine fiddle fans" and listened to James E.

playing several fiddles from Fulton's collection.

I think he sounds best on the first one labeled Marsick

(but corrected to d'Assignies).

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So:

1) 2 good Strads, 2 mediocre ones; 1 good del Gesu, 1 mediocre one, and 1 in pieces; 1 Bergonzi, and 2 Guadagnini.

2)Lots - no idea at this point, but it's a big number. I look at and play everything I can get my hands on.

3)3 Strads, 2 del Gesu, 1 Bergonzi, 2 Guadagnini.

4)Properly exploit, as a prominent professional musician might? Not quite. But, having worked with musicians on sound adjustment in the past, I can nevertheless get a pretty good idea of what a violin will and won't do with my own playing.

5)Yes, but more so as a listener than as a player. This could easily be due to my own playing, so I don't draw any conclusions from this.

6)Many - not sure of an exact number.

7)I can think of at least seven for sure, likely more.

8)Yes.

Perhaps I haven't made myself perfectly clear in previous postings - I'm not advocating old instruments above everything else; what I am saying is that I personally can hear a difference between top shelf Strads, Guarneris, etc., and top contemporary violins, and I'm certainly not the only one to experience this. But were I a professional musician, forced to choose between a theoretical mediocre Strad and a top contemporary violin, I'd very likely choose the latter. As with so many things, it all comes down to how much you can afford to spend...

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1) How many really top end instruments have you held (best period

Strad, Guarneri, Bergonzi, Guad with reputations linked to great

players)? I worked in a federation shop (Art Toman) where they came

through with some regularity (some stayed and I got to spend a good

deal of time with them opened and closed). I was at the NBSS for 8

years where they came through on occasion. Took a trip to the

Shrine in South Dakota and looked at the display as well the

archives where I held the pieces. Took regular "field days" with

Art Toman to look at important instruments through dealers that he

knew. Visited dealers in the Boston area to look at them. Some

of the absolutely most beautiful instruments I've seen. Over

all I'd say 20+

2) How many top contemporary instruments have you held? 20+ (add to

that the numbers I held as a scribe at VSA competitions).

3) How many of each category have you played? 0

4) Do you feel that you have the capacity to properly exploit the

instruments you played? No

5) If the answer to #4 is "yes", did you notice differences in

sound and response? N/A

6) If the answer to number 4 is "no", how many instruments of this

type have you heard played (live) by someone who can really exploit

them? During the 6 of the 8 years I lived in Boston I

compulsively went to see the BSO, Soloists, chamber music,

etc. So,I'd have to say a fair number. The compulsion was such

that I would tune out everything else and focus on the violin(s).

It became a chore. I was also able to hear some fine players play

them in Arts Shop

7) How many players capable of exploiting these instruments have

you heard play (live) both an old and a new instrument? Quite a few

in Arts Shop and I went to a sound tasting that was put on by CAS

at MIT. At one point it compared new and old by players. I

have sat through hours of the tone testing at VSA competitions.

8) Pertaining to #7, could you hear a difference? I could hear

differences in the individual instruments and I heard what I would

consider to be very good and very bad instruments in both camps. I

took ear training courses at NEC. I don't claim to be an expert,

but I wouldn't call myself a slouch. I have a few

friends who are very good players. For a while we would get

together every time I finished a violin and have a sound tasting

where they played different instruments and we compared them

as critically as we could until the wine ran out.

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1) How many really top end instruments have you held (best period Strad, Guarneri, Bergonzi, Guad with reputations linked to great players)?

4 Strads, 1 del Gesu, 1 Amati, 3 Guadagnini, 2 Gaglianos, 2 Gofriller

2) How many top contemporary instruments have you held?

3 Landons

1 Darnton

3) How many of each category have you played?

Classic: 6

Modern: 4

4) Do you feel that you have the capacity to properly exploit the instruments you played?

Hell no.

5) If the answer to #4 is "yes", did you notice differences in sound and response?

I'll answer yes anyway.

6) If the answer to number 4 is "no", how many instruments of this type have you heard played (live) by someone who can really exploit them?

6

7) How many players capable of exploiting these instruments have you heard play (live) both an old and a new instrument?

2

8) Pertaining to #7, could you hear a difference?

Yes.

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1) How many really top end instruments have you held (best period Strad, Guarneri, Bergonzi, Guad with reputations linked to great players)?

10 or more Strads (from different periods, so no, they were not all great)

4 Del Gesus and 1 composite

3 Bergonzis

5 Guadagninis (though I don't know if Guadagnini belongs in this category)

plus Ruggeris, Amatis, Montagnanas, Pressendas, Roccas...

2) How many top contemporary instruments have you held?

Burgess, Curtin, Alf, Borman, Zygmuntowicz, Greiner, Landon, Darnton, Gusset, Widenhouse, Becker, Ravatin, Regazzi, Moes, etc. (more than one example of each maker)

3) How many of each category have you played?

Basically all of them, with the exception of one DG and one Bergonzi.

4) Do you feel that you have the capacity to properly exploit the instruments you played?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, yes.

5) If the answer to #4 is "yes", did you notice differences in sound and response?

Yes.

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Mauricio and Falstaff

Is it safe to assume that you were only able to play these

instruments for a relatively short time? Or were you able to take

them home and play them for months to learn how to exploit their

potential completely?

The reason I ask is that my original challenge was scoffed at as a

"useless test" because the player had to be able to get the last

1-5% out. I can see the point. The only reason I can think that a

good player wouldn't be able to do this is that he wouldn't have

been able to spend time with it or have it adjusted to his taste.

Yet, three people so far claim to hear the difference. Surely many

more have made this statement in the past that are not speaking up

now. Believe me that you are making me doubt my convictions and I

feel that I should return the favor.

I have to assume that the sound is from one players bow or

then we have really added some serious variables. Was it on the

same day or we are we relying on memory  - what was the last

song you heard on the radio a week ago today? My ear training

teacher at NEC would ask something like "try to remember the sound

of Heifitz playing the opening to the Bach Sonatas and Partitas.

Now imagine standing in front of an anticipating audience and

that little sound in your head is what they hear. "

Wmeng, you say that you can not make any conclusions and I admire

your honesty. I am puzzled how it is that you answer yes.

Tell me if the following assumption is wrong: you either played

them for a short time or there were different players at different

times playing instruments that they were familiar with. If the

assumption is correct and a difference can be sensed under these

conditions, what is wrong with my challenge? Well, besides the

fact that I was an aggressive ass and deserve to be told

so.

--Joe

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There's always a lot of interesting discussion about the design of

an experiment to assess cremonese and modern instruments.  The

discussion often centres on which violins are being compared in any

putative experiment. However, lying behind all of these discussions

is an assumption that what is better (applied to a maker, not

individual instruments) can be defined. Here are some thoughts:

Strads command huge prices at auctions and are played by the best

players. Why? Well a reasonable assumption is that they sound

better than other violins. Lets say the hypothesis is that Strads

are better than anything else (as some people sincerely

believe). There could be many definitions of what better means and

I suspect that some people believe all strads are sonically

superior. Personally I believe (but do not know because the

experiment has never been done properly) that this is highly

unlikely. This is mainly due to the probability that good makers

who may have studied strads and other great violins and used modern

tools to make the instruments are highly likely to have produced

work of equal or even higher quality. Why would they not? The

idea that there is some secret ingredient in the ground, varnish or

wood of Strads strikes me as very unlikely but not impossible. This

hypothesis is certainly not supported by the evidence, so far,

imperfect as it is.

A more reasonable definition might be that the overall body of his

work is of higher quality than the body of work from the best of

more modern makers. This would at least give room for the

possibility that a number of his instruments to be less good than

other makers efforts. This I think is a much more realistic

proposition and can be used to explain why listening tests so far

have not conclusively shown that Strads are better

sonically.....maybe the "bad" ones were chosen in the tests. But if

we take this definition then we have to accept that from a quality

of sound at least it may be better to play a good modern

instrument. We also get into grey areas here which ought to affect

the desirability of Strads and their market value.

Personally I don't believe either of the above....but its only an

opinion awaiting confirmation or disproval by a well -designed

experiment. But as I said above, this belief is based on the

probability that other great makers in the past have matched or

exceeded Strad (and del Gesu etc etc). Why on earth would they not

have with more knowledge and better tools and materials?

One other thing and that is the assumption by some people that you

can reliably and objectively assess the sound of violins if you

know who made them. The amount of evidence accumulated by

psychologists over decades has shown conclusively that the effect

of prior knowledge can significantly modify our opinions, even

though we are completely unaware of the effect, regardless of

experience. Its a natural phenomenon associated with the human

brain. Hence the need for double blind (sorry about the mixed

metaphore) tests for listening to violins.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Argon55

There's always a lot of interesting discussion about the design of

an experiment to assess cremonese and modern instruments.  The

discussion often centres on which violins are being compared in any

putative experiment. However, lying behind all of these discussions

is an assumption that what is better (applied to a maker, not

individual instruments) can be defined.


I personally think it will be a challenge to simply define what "good/better/best" is, period... depends on your point of view. If one holds "Strad sound" or Guarneri sound" as what is most desirable, which instrument, or group of instruments, do you choose to set in creating this sound model? If one believes that modern instruments can be "better" than what, in the past, has been accepted as such, what factors of the sound would one use to base a test to prove this upon??

I asked my series of questions in order to find out from what vantage point opinions are being offered. I find the answers so far interesting. I have a few more that I'll ask later on, as I'm curious how sound is percieived by the group.

You've had some interesting things to say in the threads pertaining to this subject... but you didn't answer my questions.... would you please?

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Joe, you made some very good points. These were not all on the same day, so yes, it is based on memory. Memories of your jaw dropping or not. You are right, the time I spent with these instruments were not very long, they varied from minutes to a day or two. For sure it would be fairer to judge them in a row under the same circumstances, preferably in concert form, otherwise the ability to "cut through noise" would go undetected.

To be honest, playing these instruments were not the strongest defining factor on my judgement, among others because many violins often sound better at a distance than under the ear. My point is based on Jeff's question of "which Cremonese violins vs. which contemporary makers?"

In terms of aesthetic beauty some contemporary makers have definitely excelled (minus the charm of age, of course), but regarding sound quality at this point my opinion is that some of these great contemporary violins have come very close to an average Cremonese (a huge feat), but compared to top notch Strads, Del Gesus and Bergonzis? No, not yet, unfortunately. Not by a mile.

To be fair I should mention that I don't know for a fact that the contemporary violins I tried were their makers' very best. Even fairer would be to hear a soloist actually perform on a modern fiddle, but except for the few Greiners around, they just don't do it.

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I in no way put myself forward as qualified to be jury in any such test.

I played all the instruments I played for short periods.

The ones I heard played by competent players was for longer periods, in intimate chamber settings.

I know I heard a difference when that player, for instance, played on my violin (which is no slouch) and on his strad.

(But then I must quickly add, I heard a difference when someone else, also a professional, played his strad).

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Jeffrey,

Is there any way to move the posts that are dealing with the new vs

old sound to the other thread? pigcat started this tread with a

much richer and more sensible set of questions. He would

probably love it if all of this hootin' and hollerin' would just go

away so he can get discussion on the rest of his original

questions.

--Joe

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Thanks Mauricio,

This gives me insight and challenge. May I ask where it is, in your

opinion, that the moderns fall short? The closer we can

identify this, the better chance of putting a Strad quality

violin in the hands of the ones who may be helped by it the

most - the beginners

I realize that this may open up the door to the "sound description"

discussion.

--Joe

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First; the reference to the VSA Papers article (cited at the beggining of this thread) was written by my mentor Oliver Rodgers. What one can easily observe by simply looking at the spectrum output of the Strad is that it simply LOOKS completely different from every other violin tested. The Strad spectrum has many more resonant frequencies than any of the modern violins. These are the 'spikes' that one can see which indicate the violin's ability to vibrate at those frequencies. This phenomenon is often referred to as 'modal density'. Acoustical researchers are divided as to whether modal density is a result of material properties or construction. Personally I favor construction, but obviously the material properties are also important. I'm waiting to see if Cremonese wood has any special properties before I'm willing to attribute modal density to it. At this point it seems that the wood is fairly ordinary.

Second: I've just had the opportunity to play on one of the finest Strads, called the 'Jackson' aka 'Sloan'. When I fist heard the 'Jackson' (1714) Strad I happened to be walking by when a colleague was playing it. I stopped dead in my tracks. The sound was completely captivating-I could not keep walking.

When I played the instrument I was not able to make a bad sound, despite my considerable talents in this regard ;-) The instrument has an instant, fluid, effortless response. The sound is complex, rich, yet powerful, mysterious and seductive. I've played a dozen or so Strads including the Betts as well a other Cremonese instruments, Amati, Del Gesu, including the Kreisler DG, Bergonzi etc. In my experience the 'Jackson' aka "Sloan" is the only Strad I've played to have all the properties associated with the master's golden period violins.

Listening to the Jackson played in a hall among other instruments, both modern and old, including a Del Gesu and a Bergonzi I could not pick out the Strad from the other Cremonese violins, but I did identify the Cremonese instruments as a group as having a richer, fuller tone.

It's been my experience that in a concert hall the acoustics of the room dominates the sound of the instrument. The advantageof playing such a great instrument for a soloist is the sheer joy of sound one can produce. I think this translates into a richer, fuller, deeper interpretation of the music, simply because there's more interesting sounds for the musician to work with.

I've played many dozens of contemporary instrments, many of which I thought were superb, non of which approached the qualities of the 'Jackson'.

Oded Kishony

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Thanks Falstaff.

I too hear a difference when two players play the same

instrument and I have no doubt that your instruments are not

slouches. Hmmm....Don't get confused by all of the negatives

in that sentence. I mean to say that I'm sure that your instruments

are good. In what way do you feel that they fall short of the top

tier Strads?

Mine fall short in looks,sound and most importantly, price? At

least for the time being

I know that sound is very difficult to describe. This might be

 where the tech instruments can be of simple use. I don't

mean to say that you can look at a graph and tell if an instrument

is a good one - rather for an aid in developing a sound

language for instruments. We use terms like hollow, harsh, full,

smooth, I've even heard trapazoidal. I'm guessing that this is

already tried, but someone could take these terms and look at

graphs of the instruments that people often describe with them and

see where there is a strong and weak peaks. Maybe just create .wav

files that we could all play on our computers to get on the same

page. I don't know but it's a thought.

Anyhow, hear goes. Mine seem to lack the mix of sweetness (higher

overtones) and what I call the gypsy sound (just the right amount

of that hollow or distant sound of the lower overtones) both

together. If I get one, I seem to lose the other and I want 'em

both. Some times projection, but a sound post adjustment can often

better that. I'm not quite sure that the sound I'm going for is

axactly any one instrument or group. It's a sound that haunts me

and I have to be true to myself despite the standard.

--Joe

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Jeffrey,

In answer to your questions:

) How many really top end instruments have you held (best period

Strad, Guarneri, Bergonzi, Guad with reputations linked to great

players)? One strad from just before the golden period.

2) How many top contemporary instruments have you held? Two. A John

Dillworth and a Niel Ertz.

3) How many of each category have you played? Two. Strad and Ertz.

I loved the Ertz

4) Do you feel that you have the capacity to properly exploit the

instruments you played? No, I'm an amateur

5) If the answer to #4 is "yes", did you notice differences in

sound and response? No because I played them some time apart.

6) If the answer to number 4 is "no", how many instruments of this

type have you heard played (live) by someone who can really exploit

them? Lost count....probably around 30 as soloists

7) How many players capable of exploiting these instruments have

you heard play (live) both an old and a new instrument? None

playing the same piece on different instruments sequentially.

8) Pertaining to #7, could you hear a difference? Not

applicable.

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Joe. There's been a misunderstanding. When I say "mine," I -- sadly -- do not mean one that I made. Just an 18th c FrankenFiddle I inherited that has some lovely qualities (much lovelier when played by my accomplished friend.)

I guess if there's one quality that seems to be present when a Strad is played - even in a small room - that I've never felt listening to modern or contemporary or 19thc fiddles -- has to do with "omnidirectionality" -- that it's hard to pinpoint where the sound comes from.

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I doubt anyone could devise a definitive test. When it comes down to it, you're evaluating art, which by its nature is subjective.

I avoid holding the really expensive instruments... too much money at stake, it makes me nervous. A Guad is the only one mentioned I've had in my hands. I'm less anxious about new instruments... I've had in my hands violins by Curtin, Alf, Borman, Ravatin, Becker, Matsuda, and Zyg, plus a number by not-so-well-known contemporary makers. There are others I've seen up close but haven't touched (Moes, etc).

I'm not a player. I might pluck a string here or there but usually not. I'm fortunate to have friends who can get a lot out of good instruments, so I've heard most of the above and many top-end instruments in person, up-close. As far as the same player on both old and new instruments, I'm not sure. I've heard several, but of those there were only about four players whose styles I knew well enough to be able to divorce the player's sound from the instrument's sound. I don't have a trained enough ear to be able to pick those apart on one or two hearings.

As far as hearing differences between old and new instruments, if the instruments are played back-to-back, yes. If not, sometimes. To be fair, the same applies to listening to two different old instruments, or two different contemporary instruments. I need to hear things against each other to make a comparison.

I would score better if this were a bow quiz. I think the sound difference between bows is more in-your-face whereas violins are more nuanced.

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