Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Isaac Stern on violins


Recommended Posts

Maybe 5 -10 years or so ago I remember reading an interview with Stern in the Strad re old v. new violins. His statement was something to the effect that unless a player had $250,000* to spend, his money would be spent better on a good modern violin. He also said (plainly) that just because something is old doesn't mean it's good. (as if that obvious point needs to be made amongst a bunch of violin lovers!)

I've had a lot of experience over the years playing on different instruments, and I can tell you that I've played modern instruments I've liked, and I've played dreck for $375,000. I've had more than one reliable luthier tell me the "price" is based on only 2 criteria: who made it, and it's condition. IOW, "sound" as such has no bearing on the price.

(and while we're here, let's just all admit ahead of time that it is the BUYER who determines the price, not the seller; can't escape "supply and demand.")

David Finkel plays a cello by Sam Z., and if he likes it enough to concertize on it, that's good enough for me to agree it's suitable as a concert-class instrument, and at least for that one individual instrument, (doesn't mean I'd want to own it necessarily).

As far as I know, the record doesn't reflect if Stern actually used his Sam Z. in concert, but then he also had a great Strad for his use. It may be "lonely at the top", but at least it's fun to be "spoilt for choice."

Maybe someone who has access to the Strad archives can post a link to the article.

* = more I think about it, this interview was probably a decade ago, meaning that the number quoted would be more like $500,000 in today's terms. Sorry, but the older I get, the faster time goes by. It's a curse.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you think a violinist of caibre like Stern would know the rating of violins between $200k to $500k ? To say the least,that they do not have the time to make fair comparisons.

If you like a violin and you can afford it, buy it. Most people make decisions base on what are available and what they can afford. Try some old violins before you

say old is not necessary better. It is a statement of someone's experience. Sometime you feel it is true. Some time you feel there is exception. you end up a closet of


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I suppose I have my own criteria for violins, they may not be the same as other players' ....

But here's what I've come up with after a lot of study : Tone vs price, evaluation of over 250 named makers

It's worth pointing out that in almost all cases I play violins and rate them without knowing what they are or what the price tag is, I don't think anyone can make a sensible decision any other way.

Sometimes I play them for 5 seconds (which is more than enough) sometimes I play them for an hour .....

Absolutely ZERO correspondence between the quality of the violin and the price tag. Anyone in the trade would tell you the same after a few drinks!

Violins are priced in the same way as antiques or artworks - by age and by name.

However, I have to admit that I would like a violin with a great sound AND a historic maker - the Lupot at Tarisio in March would be my ideal, though it didn't sound any better than a Silvestre that was a tenth of the price.

Martin Swan Violins

Link to comment
Share on other sites


The excerpt is too long for me to write out. I hope you can find someone who will read it to you or send you a copy. The essence is that a fine cellist with a Strad cello had been convinced by his equally fine colleagues to use for an upcoming recital a modern cello that seemed more powerful. After testing the two celli in the hall everyone agreed that the new instrument wasn't nearly as good and that the Strad had an almost magical character. Just like about everything else that has been written on the subject in the last week, this doesn't prove anything one way or another. Personally, though, I trust Sacconi more than I trust a whole lot of people, which in itself doesn't prove anything either. :-)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Personally, though, I trust Sacconi more than I trust a whole lot of people, which in itself doesn't prove anything either. :-)

Agreed, it's not the number of ears that count, but the *right* ears. Sacconi had the opportunity to hear many fine cellists play a lot of different instruments, IN THE SAME ACOUSTIC!

I'll tell you a story I find interesting if you promise to keep it just between the two of us:

Last season, a fine cellist in my band (finals in Chicago) brought back 2 nice instruments from [a well-known dealer in the NE]. Total of 5 of us, 4 standing around listening to the 5th. play them both back to back.

#1 I found too bright and nasal, and not particularly responsive (it was a rather small Gagliano of some kind). Clearly not a first-class instrument suitable for a highly-accomplished performer.

#2 Had all the qualities that #1 didn't, i.e, it was warm, responsive, full-bodied, characterful, round, etc., etc.

My favorite was clearly #2, and by a very long shot. (wish I could remember the maker).

But guess what? The four people I was playing for, including both players on the front desk, in addition to the personnal manager who happened to be standing there too, all picked the very bright #1.

My conclusion is that a "bright" instrument sounds louder from only 8 feet away, and since orchestral cellists are always wanting more volume, the others chose perceived volume over quality.

Oh well, it was her money and her choice. I say tomato, she says tomahto...

PS She ended up buying #2...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The great frustration of my life is that every time I do buy a good violin (and fully intend to play it for the rest of my life) I end up selling it a few weeks later ... customers always seem to share my enthusiasm!

If many people share your enthusiasm that can only mean you have excellent ears. Congratulations on your success!

BTW, can you direct me to the Sacconi article Will refers to??

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall reading some years ago a quotation from Stern in which he remarked that one of the finest violins he had encountered was that of Joseph Szigeti. That would have been one of the two instruments Szigeti carried everywhere with him throughout the mature years of his career. They were both Pietro Guarneris, one of Mantua, the other of Venice. One had once belonged to Tartini and one had been the concert instrument of Henri Petri. I used to know Szigeti quite well but I can't now remember which was which.

In his earlier years, Szigeti had played both Strads and Del Gesus but preferred these Pietros to all others.

Szigeti's late recording of the Brahms Concerto has a nice photo of both instruments on the LP cover.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, far as I'm concerned the whole fascination with things Cremonese is overdone. Our former "extremely opinionated" concertmaster loved and adored her Peter of Mantua, and I'm pretty sure she could have arranged to play a Srad had she wished. I once referred to it as her "Peter of Venice" and she gave me one of her well-known 'looks.'

Thanks for the heads-up re Szigeti...another fabulous Hungarian musician no longer with us. I love the Brahms Cto, I'll check out Amazon to see if there's a transfer to CD.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Beauty is only in the eyes of beholder. "Sound quality" works the same way. It is all subjective.

For example, some like loud violins, some like quiet violins.

If you are talking violins of price below $3k, price and sound quality are linearly correlated.

You can get a violin of some making contest winners for a few thousand dollars.

Their names are widely published in magazines. I believe they know how to make good violins.

Something like $250k and up instruments, I think it must have some special quality other than just pleasing

our ears.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


The reference to Sacconi is from his book, "The 'Secrets' of Stradivari." Page 106. I thought everybody in the world had that book! :-)

Thanks for that, Will. I'm sure everyone who's a luthier most likely would have that book in their library. I could never be a luthier because I don't have the patience, but I'll certainly try to find the book, either on Amazon or locally. Sacconi is the god, and I love to read and learn. If he'd only tell me where to put my soundpost my life would be copacetic! ;)

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...