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Kallie

Question about1666 Stradivari Violin(Ex-Back)

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Hi everyone.

 

A while ago I watched the Vengerov Masterclass video,

At 24:09 in the video, Corina Belcea started to play.

I was really amazed at her playing, but more the sound of her instrument. Before I saw the video, Ive never heard of her. So I did a Google search, got to a Wikipedia page, and got some info. I wanted to specifically find out what violin she plays, as the violin in the video had this amazing, sweet sound that I've never heard before. Now I've heard a few Stradivarius violins, like Vengerov, David Garrett, Joshua Bell(Live), Anne Akkiko Meyers, Andre Rieu, etc. But the sound from the violin that Corina Belcea plays in this video really sounded different in ways.

 

According to the info I found on Wikipedia, "Belcea plays a 1666 Stradivarius violin on loan from the Beare Family."

So I again did a Google search, and found out the 1666 Stradivarius violin is the oldest known surviving Instrument of Antonio Stradivari. It is apparently labeled "Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666" He was 22 at that time the violin was made.

 

Strangely, considering that this is his oldest instrument, I couldn't find much info on the violin itself.

 

So my question is, does anyone perhaps have pictures/info/plans on this violin? I'd love to make a copy of this violin someday. Has anyone noticed a difference in the sound of that violin that she plays?

 

Ps. I do hope the violin that she plays in the video is indeed the Ex-Back Stradivarius(1666), otherwise I don't know how I'm going to find out what violin she was playing when that video was made.

 

Thank You for reading. :)

 

 

 

 

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If you are able to track down a copy of the Stradivari Varnish book (perhaps at a university library?) you can see very fine photos of the Back starting on page 156. The arching appears to be very high -- almost 22 mm on the table with a steep recurve, no doubt that has an influence on the sound.

 

good luck 

 

Chris

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No doubt the violin is part of the young player's sound, but she, herself, has to be a factor, too.

 

In the book, Antonio Stradivari: The Cremona Exhibition of 1987, p. 19, Beare makes mention of the 1666 Strad with the "alumnus Nicolo Amati" label, but then casts doubt on Stradivari being a direct pupil of Amati, because that assertion of teacher/pupil relationship is not repeated in any other Strad label. Beare suggests that that omission might be because Amati took exception to Stradivari making such a claim.

 

In that same book, Beare does give Stradivari's birth year as 1644.  Other authorities give a year as late as 1649, and, so far, no birth certificate has been found to resolve the issue.  So, in 1666, Stradivari could have been as old as 22 or as young as 17.  But, interestingly, either age, especially 22 and even 17, for a Cremonese maker of that time is rather old for his first violin, if the maker was trained as a violin maker from the very beginning of his career training.  The suspicion is that Stradivari might have been trained as a wood carver before he turned to violin making, and thus the delay in making his first violin.

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I agree that the sound of this violin is rather different from the others on the video, primarily the soulful D string.  I also see very high arching and strong recurve, increasing the likelihood that it is that old Strad.

 

Interesting (to me, at least) is the comparison to another Strad with high arching that I am familiar with... i.e. Sloans ex-Jackson.  One of the standout abnormalities of his instrument is an exceptionally strong sound output from the CBR resonance, which just happens to be on the lower positions of the D string.  Perhaps that is a result of high arching and thin graduations... one of the reasons I'm making a similar one at the moment.

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Thanks Julian.  Beautiful violin, I wonder what the width of the center bouts are?  Beautiful model though.

 

Edit: It may be listed in Hills book.  I'll have to check.

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Kallie,

The ex-Back and the Alumnus Amati are two different instruments. Rather like the "Clisbee" of 1668 I think that the "Alumnus Amati" has quite open soundholes, more like a Nicolo Amati than the kind you see on the ex-Back, Aranyi etc. where they narrow in a highly exaggerated way at the extremes. Then you get things like the 1670 Tullaye that seem to be an effective half-way between the two. In fact Strad seems to have some sort of tension throughout the 1670s as well where he goes between a very Nicolo Amati-like soundhole or something more personal (maturing to the soundhole we recognise as typical by the early 1670s). The 1677 Sunrise is a pretty good example of him wimping out and going Amati rather than Strad. I have a feeling that the "Alumnus Amati" though very bold for a Cremonese violin, is a slightly exagerated Nicolo Amati form rather than the total bombastic explosion that you see in the ex-Back or the Aranyi. I saw the Alumnus in passing years ago - literally for a few seconds, and those are the impressions that I remember, though I wouldn't trust them completely, but they do tie in with what I've seen on the video.

In short, it's not the Ex-Back, and I am not certain that the Ex-Back will be a good substitute.

Beare is curating the Ashmolean's Stradivari Exhibition this summer in Oxford. Lets hope that he decides that this one is worth putting into it!

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Concerning the 1666 Alumnus Amati Strad, the Beare book on the 1987 Stradivari Cremona exhibit contains a somewhat puzzling statement of uncertainty about that instrument.

 

On page 19, Beare states that he has never had any doubts about the violin or the label being authentic.  Beare notes that Sacconi felt sure that the instrument was Stradivari's first.  The Hills, in their Stradivari book, give no clue of any doubts about the instrument and label being anything but authentic Stradivari.  That instrument, along with its label, is one of the main reasons the Hills were quite sure that Stradivari was Amati's pupil.  So, we have the Hills, Beare and Sacconi all convinced of the Stradivarius authenticity of the violin and its label.

 

Nonetheless, the fiddle was not included in the 1987 exhibit, although it was apparently available for it.  Beare offers this somewhat cryptic reason (p. 19): "Although well made and already showing distinguishable Stradivari characteristics, there are also signs of inexperience which have led others to have reservations about it, for which reason it was decided not to include it in the1987 exhibition."  What does that statement mean?  It could mean that some people weren't sure that the fiddle was made by Stradivari, and thus it didn't belong in a Stradivari exhibit, or it might mean that the fiddle, while made by Stradivari, was not a good representation of his early work, and thus did not belong in a Stradivari exhibit.  I wonder which of those possibilities best represents the thinking of the people who selected the instruments for the exhibit.

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Ben, Skiingfiddler, Enjoyed reading your commentary on early Strad.

There are other instruments with dates of 1665 circa called the 'Salabue' & 'Aranyi' that appear to be of very similar narrow-flamed maple on the back, but quite a different feel to the outline. Make an interesting study.

 

Loved the master class video, BTW

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The "Ex-Back" Stradivari violin once belonged to a member of my family,who played it in orchestras in the south of England.

I believe this violin is in the Royal Academy of Music collection.

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Ski, 

 

I think I can see Beare's point in leaving it out in 1987. He starts with the Tullaye of 1670, which to put it fairly is about the most primitive Strad form in a continuum that explains his work. The half-dozen 1660s Strads that survive are all a bit weird. Even the 'back' which a lot of us are familiar with thanks to the Royal Academy wasn't so familiar in 1987.

 

Remember that before 1987 - it seems a world away - there really weren't any great public resources of photos such as those we can depend upon these days. Also, don't forget that the violin world in 1987 was nearing the end of the Hill's era. Surely the last thing that you would want in an exhibition such as that, when anyway you are showing forty-or-so of maybe seven hundred instruments, is to show one that people will be shaking their head over. If you don't need to cause controversy - don't. But that is a reflection on how the audience would look on it, and not a reflection of the integrity of the violin itself. It was a different world back then, and caution of this sort was probably wise. Just look at the number of people who prattle about the authenticity of the Messiah! - wouldn't 'we' have all loved it if the rumour mill could have said he'd tripped up and put a fake in the exhibition (even if he hadn't)? Why bother? I think his commentary that you have quoted says it all - if you read between the lines. 

 

 

Omobono

 

The historiography of these instruments is quite interesting! 

Cozio writes: 

Antonio Stradivari was, as he himself admitted, a student of the praised Nicola Amati. During the early years of working on his own, he put the label of his teacher in some instruments, as it was possible to see in one of these instruments dated 16[....], which belongs to my collection. Stradivari tried and succeeded in perfectly copying the archings, work, and perfection of voice quality of his teacher. He clearly mentions this on his early labels with his own stamp. This is described in my register, with the dates from 1665 to 1666.

 

Lancetti MSS [cited by Hills] states that Stradivari used a label with the words "'Nicolai Amati Alumnus' about 1666"

 

Hill writes in the first edition of their book on Stradivari (but removed in subsequent editions)

"Although we have not met of a single instance of a Straduarius Violin bearing the maker's name prior to 1668, we have seen instruments bearing the signature of Nicholas Amati which can be readily recognized by the practised judge as having been the work of Straduarius.... " replacing this with "Having met with a violin by Stradivari (since the first edition of this work), dated 1666, it would appear that he left the workshop of his master at that time, or not later than the year of his marriage in 1667" 

 

Well there we go! 

 

It seems as if Stradivari was going through a bit of an intellectual journey of his own, coming up with something distinctive - as certainly the Ex-Back is, but also beholden to Amati. Sadly labels have been swapped but I wonder if there are two streams of work? The stuff that he made as himself, and the stuff that was either 'Alumnus Amati', or simply labelled Amati, which was made to be sold through the Amati workshop? It all seems a profoundly difficult area to get to grips with. 

 

Incidentally the narrowing of the soundholes appears proportional to the extremeness of the arching, although it looks like Strad definitely emphasised this. It is not simply the result of using paper f-hole templates on a steeper curve!

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Strictly for fun, and with *some* relevance to this post... anyone want to say anything about this fiddle? 

(actually quite a bit of relevance to this post) ... just got it out of the cupboard and dusted it down. 

post-52750-0-02076100-1367420062_thumb.jpg

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Strictly for fun, and with *some* relevance to this post... anyone want to say anything about this fiddle? 

(actually quite a bit of relevance to this post) ... just got it out of the cupboard and dusted it down. 

 

As a learning experience and happy to be corrected, here's what I see in terms of the model (without making any judgment about what the fiddle is):  In general, the outline of the back is based on Amati, with Amati like corners which point straight out, rather than being hooked inward the way Stradivari corners would be. 

 

The exception to this Amati outline is the outline of the C bouts.  These C bouts do not have the regular curve (as in an arc of a circle) I associate with Amati (and with del Gesu, too), but have a straight line component  (or, better stated, an irregular curve, somewhat flat along its middle)  I associate with Stradivari or maybe Bergonzi.

 

The f holes look like something between an Amati and Stradivari, with more outward swoop in the bottom part than Stradivari might have but less than Amati.  If I had to choose between Stradivari and Amati for these f holes, I'd give the nod to Stradivari, probably based on the fact that the f holes don't strike me as elegant as Amati's.

 

To sum up, I see a hybrid Amati model with touches of Stradivari in it, especially in the C bout outlines.

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Bravo Ski, 

 

Well for giggles, here's another photo.... whaddayathink? :)

 

(I love S**t like this!) 

 

I assume we're looking at two different fiddle backs, here.  The one in the foreground looks a bit more Amati-ish than does the fiddle in the previous post.  The one in the background (with the crowned button), with its hooked corners, starts to look like a Stradivari.

 

OK, Ben, I'm ready for the surprise which negates everything I've stated.

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Thanks for the little excursus, Ben, on early Strad instruments above. I like the "two streams" theory.

 

As for your superimposed fiddle.................

 

23233.jpg

 

 

Placed side by side with the "ex-Back" the differences are quite pronounced and the elegance of the latter apparent.

There are Amati features in the instrument on the left but the model doesn't speak with the same conviction.

to my eye........

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Kallie,

The ex-Back and the Alumnus Amati are two different instruments. Rather like the "Clisbee" of 1668 I think that the "Alumnus Amati" has quite open soundholes, more like a Nicolo Amati than the kind you see on the ex-Back, Aranyi etc. where they narrow in a highly exaggerated way at the extremes. Then you get things like the 1670 Tullaye that seem to be an effective half-way between the two. In fact Strad seems to have some sort of tension throughout the 1670s as well where he goes between a very Nicolo Amati-like soundhole or something more personal (maturing to the soundhole we recognise as typical by the early 1670s). The 1677 Sunrise is a pretty good example of him wimping out and going Amati rather than Strad. I have a feeling that the "Alumnus Amati" though very bold for a Cremonese violin, is a slightly exagerated Nicolo Amati form rather than the total bombastic explosion that you see in the ex-Back or the Aranyi. I saw the Alumnus in passing years ago - literally for a few seconds, and those are the impressions that I remember, though I wouldn't trust them completely, but they do tie in with what I've seen on the video.

In short, it's not the Ex-Back, and I am not certain that the Ex-Back will be a good substitute.

Beare is curating the Ashmolean's Stradivari Exhibition this summer in Oxford. Lets hope that he decides that this one is worth putting into it!

 

 Thank you for clearing that up. Main reason I thought the 1666 Strad was the Ex-Back, is because that's what I read here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Stradivarius_instruments

 It was the only one dated 1666. Do you know if the violin that Corina Belcea played in that video is the 1666 Alumnus Amati Strad?

 

 

I agree that the sound of this violin is rather different from the others on the video, primarily the soulful D string.  I also see very high arching and strong recurve, increasing the likelihood that it is that old Strad.

 

Interesting (to me, at least) is the comparison to another Strad with high arching that I am familiar with... i.e. Sloans ex-Jackson.  One of the standout abnormalities of his instrument is an exceptionally strong sound output from the CBR resonance, which just happens to be on the lower positions of the D string.  Perhaps that is a result of high arching and thin graduations... one of the reasons I'm making a similar one at the moment.

 

Glad Im not the only one hearing the difference. Please do tell me how that violin turns out. I'd love to know if the high arching and thin graduations is what makes the violin so so different.

 

Some pictures of the 1666 Back

 

Thank You for giving some images.

 

 

Does anyone know if the violin that Corina Belcea plays in that video is for sure the 1666 Alumnus Amati Strad violin? The only reference I could find to the 1666 Strad, was the one labeled Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666. However, I find it strange that he would have only made 1 violin that year?

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  The one in the foreground looks a bit more Amati-ish than does the fiddle in the previous post. 

 

I just realized that the fiddle back in the foreground in post  #14 is the same fiddle back as in post #12.  Must be the photography which deceived me; couldn't be my eye.  Anyway, the statement about the fiddle in the background of #14 being more Stradivarian than the one in the foreground still stands.

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Does anyone know if the violin that Corina Belcea plays in that video is for sure the 1666 Alumnus Amati Strad violin? The only reference I could find to the 1666 Strad, was the one labeled Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666. However, I find it strange that he would have only made 1 violin that year?

 

I don't know what fiddle Belcea is playing, but as I interpret Ben Hebbert's post and in my own looking around, there are at least two Stradivari violins attributed to the year 1666, the ex-Beck and the Alumnus Amati.  I can't find reference to another Strad specifically of the year 1666, although the new Thoenne and Roehrmann 4 volume work has another early Strad dated as 1666-1669, but not definitely to 1666.

 

If the speculations that Stradivari began his training and working life as a wood carver, and not as a violin maker, are correct, then it's not at all surprising that there are only one or two or no violins for any specific year for those very early years,1666 to 1669.  He might have been making his living primarily as a wood carver and only secondarily as a violin maker in those early years.

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OK - time for me to 'fess up. Obviously that's not a Strad tucked away behind the underpants in my wardrobe... but I thought it was a worthwhile fiddle to make a few serious points with. (I kind of know you all rumbled it anyway).

 

It's a really classy Caussin, dated internally for 1885 and I *think* its a copy of the "Alumnus Amati", made for Silvestre when he owned it (otherwise it's something else between that, the 1665 Salabue, and maybe others in that league), and its really interesting how much the original must have matched the (albeit very different) ex-Back in terms of wood choice (I've sneaked this into the Royal Academy and seen the two together, just for giggles).  It's nowhere near the quality of say, a Voller, and a close look makes it very obvious what it is. Still, they got the wood, basic varnish look, outline and soundholes right! The head looks like Testore on a bad day, but that's precisely what you should expect (and the Strad label, predictably says a preposterous 1716). The instrument in the background - actually in the Stradivari varnish book is the c.1666 ex-Back. 

 

Skiingfiddler, you were right on the mark with your observations, but they kind of prove why something like this (only genuine of course) would have been risky and unexpected at the 1987 Exhibition. Sorry to make you a guinea pig, but I think the experiment was worth it. Incidentally all photos taken on my iphone - absolutely no digital manipulation! 

 

So, whilst I'm rolling on the floor laughing my head off! Everyone has come out of my little prank really well! :)

 

I think we have to be really careful with 1660s Strads until we know more. Most of them have 'circa' caveats, and possibly because this whole area has been under researched. There is no such thing as 'the earliest Strad'. I doubt that organising them into chronologies based on stylistic development would help either because of the points I raised earlier. An earliest confirmed date may well be the Salabue of 1665 or the Alumnus Amati of 1666. But it's a really difficult field! 

 

Thanks guys! :)

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Skiingfiddler, [....] Sorry to make you a guinea pig, but I think the experiment was worth it. Incidentally all photos taken on my iphone - absolutely no digital manipulation! 

 

 

I enjoyed the exercise, and learned a lot.  Thanks for doing it.  Hope you will repeat such teaching moments.

 

My only regret is that it can't be done live, in person, with actual fiddles in hand.

 

Maybe some enterprising dealer with a vault full of nice fiddles will someday come up with the idea of having fiddle tours for visitors.  For a reasonable fee, a dealer gives a live lecture over the fiddles in his vault to a person or a small group, in person.  Violin tours of the UK.

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Just so I'm on the same page with you here.............

is the B & W fiddle the Alumnus Amati (Ashby, Silvestre) in question?

 

22413853.jpg

 

If it's not, I'd like to see a pic if you have one. Thanks.

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Omobono, 

 

Actually Beare has been extraordinarily successful about keeping pictures of the Alumnus Amati out of public circulation, and Belcea's publicity shots aren't terribly helpful either. The Caussin copy clearly has a combination of traits that you see in the ex-Back, Salabue, and others from that period with that suspicious "Stramati" look about it. I'll bet a pint of beer on it being a copy of the Alumnus and quite a good one at that, but I won't put any money on it, nor will I stake my reputation on it. 

 

If anything, the b&w shots you've put up have a fairly mature upper half to the soundholes, which gives it a Strad look (although the pictures are pretty poor), more like the Aranyi of 1667, rather than this rather dubious "Stramati" look. No idea which one it is :(

 

Here's the best I could find of Belcea's Strad (cropped from publicity photos). You can see the similarities of the front. 

post-52750-0-49622000-1367493180_thumb.jpg

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Ben, very helpful again.

Here is the Aranyi (which is fortunately well documented in the public domain).

 

t5t5t.jpg

I love the term "Stramati"............

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