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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave

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Just in case you all missed this, did not read it, or chose to ignore it; here it is again.

"...all of these so called tuning methods count for zilch the first time anyone alters the status quo and I don't know of a single classical instrument that has not been altered; most of them seriously. The little Bros Am piccolo in South Dakota  is perhaps the only example. Even the Tuscan viola has a fingerboard wedge.

It is not a myth that instruments have been altered. John Dilworth estimated that more than half of all del Gesu's have been re-graduated. No I don't know how he knows, but I do believe him. Forgetting Strad's and del Gee's for a moment, just looking at the majority of Cremonese, or even better northern Italian instruments. Only rarely do you see one that has a clean top and back. And this is not to mention all the other things that have been altered.

And although there is a lot of truth in the fact that expensive violins have been worked on by generations of skilled restorers, These same restorers are also responsible for most of the changes and much of the damage that classical instruments have  been subjected to. We have to accept that right or wrong, violin restorers are not in the business of preservation. They certainly did not supply the fundamentals, without which Cremones instruments would be no better than cheap factory instruments. 

As for archings been the key, that is just abject nonsense. The huge variety of Cremonese archings has nothing to do with tuning and everything to do with who was doing them and who they were doing them for. Economics being the major driving force. So, as I said at the very beginning if it is not the construction and not the varnish, (the great majority have little or no varnish); then we are left with the so called ground, or the treatment of the instruments surface, or the treatment of the timber itself, either before or after harvesting.  

Oh yes and of course there is another possibility. Perhaps sound-wise, they are not actually better, but having said all this, I still say that no-one has improved on the total package. As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists. It may not be a secret, it may simply be what several of you have been saying, anything from no TV or MN, to just plain knowing stuff that we still don't know, or simply just doing it better. As for designing our own instruments, as someone suggested, We may be getting close. I believe that thanks to Francois we are getting close to the drawing method, but this still leaves us a long way from the concept - the why. 

It has been an interesting theme, but for the moment I feel as if we are beginning to go around in circles on this one.    

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It would be very useful to discussions of this type if the big name makers, those who actually work on Strads, Guarneris, Amatis, Magginis, etc. would tell us which of the big name violins they have worked on have actually been regraduated.  Can't see how that would be a violation of their allegiance to the owners and players.

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I bet Paganini would break a string on purpose just to show he could play the piece on three strings. He sounds like that kind of a jerk.  :P

Hi Steven,

 

I suggest you read the collections of letters and correspondence of Paganini to decide if he was a jerk or not. I'm sure he was a great showman but he was also a very major contributor to violin playing technique and composition as well as a first class guitarist. His letters show him to be higly sensitive and intelligent person. Good businessman? Yes, sometimes. Great showman and entertainer, yes. Incredible violinist? Yes, clearly. Shortcomings, of course, just like the rest of us.

 

If you can find a copy of Paganini Intimo, published in Genoa in 1935 and written by Arturo Codignola you will see the man behind the violin, not just the hype and myth. If you can't read Italian, a translating program will give you some help.

 

Here's a link to another collection of Paganini correspondence compiled and transcribed by Roberto Grisley and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

 

http://www.skira.net/varia/musica/niccolo-paganini.html?___store=en&___from_store=default

 

Bruce

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Surely some instruments by lesser makers have been regraduated. The question was, how much more could you charge for an 'improved' instrument? Then you have Paganini who was in search for originally thick Del Gesus. Surely that would stop Vuillaume and other dealers from altering them too much. Yes, I'm aware that the damage had already been done in many cases by the time Paganini came on the scene. I'm guessing that regraduation of the plates would be apparent in a CT scan and I can't remember any CT scans with such signs, except for maybe one or two instances. I'm thinking of Strad posters, but of course these show mostly the finest instruments.

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I doubt that Stephen was being literal.

 

Paganini, as all great artists, was a product of his age.  He would have been as great today, but might have presented himself differently.

 

Here are two links that are interesting of Eugene Fodor. The first should be found starting at about 28:30 in the video.  The second is a recording earlier in his career.  To me it is one of the most heartfelt performances I've heard.  You can hear the difference, which is in part age, but in the video he has taken off strings (wisely leaving one—aside from the G— to keep the bridge from falling over).

 

Sometimes the links are appearing and sometimes not.  This never happened before.  Anyway it is worth looking it up on Ytube.

 

 

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Hi Steven,

 

I suggest you read the collections of letters and correspondence of Paganini to decide if he was a jerk or not. I'm sure he was a great showman but he was also a very major contributor to violin playing technique and composition as well as a first class guitarist. His letters show him to be higly sensitive and intelligent person. Good businessman? Yes, sometimes. Great showman and entertainer, yes. Incredible violinist? Yes, clearly. Shortcomings, of course, just like the rest of us.

 

If you can find a copy of Paganini Intimo, published in Genoa in 1935 and written by Arturo Codignola you will see the man behind the violin, not just the hype and myth. If you can't read Italian, a translating program will give you some help.

 

Here's a link to another collection of Paganini correspondence compiled and transcribed by Roberto Grisley and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

 

http://www.skira.net/varia/musica/niccolo-paganini.html?___store=en&___from_store=default

 

Bruce

Hello Bruce, 

 

 I was being flip when I wrote that, I did put the little irreverent emotocon after. Emotocons are hard to judge...

 

 I Actually have read up in Paganini, and what I read gave me pause to think of him and about him with empathy for his life. It sounds like  he was a very hard worker, who even though he was talented as all get out, made it in a tough market because of his personal strength. It looks like he pushed himself very hard. 

 

I'm not crazy about his music, but I have listened carefully to most of it. I like the guitar violin duets and a few of the caprices. I do have a great respect for him and can see how the mythologies about him often obscure who he really was, a person. If I were anywhere near a library I would go and check out as many books on him as possible because now you have my curiosity peaked about the specifics of his letters. 

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I feel as if we are beginning to go around in circles on this one.    

Roger, If, as i perceive, all of the various candidates for a "secret" have been logically shot down somewhere in this thread or in the associated PM's, either some of the arguments are faulty, or else we seem to be forced toward a verdict of "all hype".  Given your "As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists" opinion, I'd advocate spending some more time examining the arguments for flaws.

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It would be very useful to discussions of this type if the big name makers, those who actually work on Strads, Guarneris, Amatis, Magginis, etc. would tell us which of the big name violins they have worked on have actually been regraduated.  Can't see how that would be a violation of their allegiance to the owners and players.

I would consider that a very possible breach of contract ,....I know a lot of people who have to sign NDAs before even walking onto a site. I have several Ironwork clients who would be pissed if I were to make public any ..."particulars"

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It is the frequencies that make the difference in sound and not the thicknesses: otherwise, the problem would have been resolved long ago. Changing the thicknesses amounts to modifying the frequency: simple, but not for everyone.

 

Certain old instruments that you mention were regraduated later because, with time, the back plate can become slightly deformed, raising its frequency. The loss of hemicellulose likewise raises the frequency of the materials. Since the bass bars had been changed, it was easier to retune the top plate to a lower or higher frequency.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

Don't overlook damping.  And driving a damped system.  And a few other things.

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Just in case you all missed this, did not read it, or chose to ignore it; here it is again.

"...all of these so called tuning methods count for zilch the first time anyone alters the status quo and I don't know of a single classical instrument that has not been altered; most of them seriously. The little Bros Am piccolo in South Dakota  is perhaps the only example. Even the Tuscan viola has a fingerboard wedge.

It is not a myth that instruments have been altered. John Dilworth estimated that more than half of all del Gesu's have been re-graduated. No I don't know how he knows, but I do believe him. Forgetting Strad's and del Gee's for a moment, just looking at the majority of Cremonese, or even better northern Italian instruments. Only rarely do you see one that has a clean top and back. And this is not to mention all the other things that have been altered.

And although there is a lot of truth in the fact that expensive violins have been worked on by generations of skilled restorers, These same restorers are also responsible for most of the changes and much of the damage that classical instruments have  been subjected to. We have to accept that right or wrong, violin restorers are not in the business of preservation. They certainly did not supply the fundamentals, without which Cremones instruments would be no better than cheap factory instruments. 

As for archings been the key, that is just abject nonsense. The huge variety of Cremonese archings has nothing to do with tuning and everything to do with who was doing them and who they were doing them for. Economics being the major driving force. So, as I said at the very beginning if it is not the construction and not the varnish, (the great majority have little or no varnish); then we are left with the so called ground, or the treatment of the instruments surface, or the treatment of the timber itself, either before or after harvesting.  

Oh yes and of course there is another possibility. Perhaps sound-wise, they are not actually better, but having said all this, I still say that no-one has improved on the total package. As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists. It may not be a secret, it may simply be what several of you have been saying, anything from no TV or MN, to just plain knowing stuff that we still don't know, or simply just doing it better. As for designing our own instruments, as someone suggested, We may be getting close. I believe that thanks to Francois we are getting close to the drawing method, but this still leaves us a long way from the concept - the why. 

It has been an interesting theme, but for the moment I feel as if we are beginning to go around in circles on this one.    

 

Roger,

 

To help you I high lighted "The Secret" in red ;)

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Roger, If, as i perceive, all of the various candidates for a "secret" have been logically shot down somewhere in this thread or in the associated PM's, either some of the arguments are faulty, or else we seem to be forced toward a verdict of "all hype".  Given your "As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists" opinion, I'd advocate spending some more time examining the arguments for flaws.

I stand corrected and rebuked. Actually I was very taken by the quality of the arguments. But I did suggest that they should be shot down if they didn’t fly. I am not sure that any of them did including the rather weak suggestions that I made myself. 

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IMHO, the bottom line is that either something special done in the Cremona shops has survived the intervening centuries despite wear, aging, and restoration, or the whole business is illusory, based on a few chance superb instruments which are only heard played by violinists of rare mastery..  Trusting in Roger's experienced intuition here, what can we see in the (recently) published instruments we have to examine that sets them apart physically?  If Roger is right, there must be something which more experienced eyes than mine can perceive.

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Roger, If, as i perceive, all of the various candidates for a "secret" have been logically shot down somewhere in this thread or in the associated PM's, either some of the arguments are faulty, or else we seem to be forced toward a verdict of "all hype".  Given your "As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists" opinion, I'd advocate spending some more time examining the arguments for flaws.

Maybe this will help to get Roger's original question back on track. These are the final thoughts of Simone Fernando Sacconi at the end of his monumental book I "Segreti" di Stradivari".

 

Dommage !!! Je n'ai pas l'édition du livre en Français!!!

 

Italian - Sacconi's own words        

German translation - Olga Adelmann        

English translation - Cristina Rivaroli and Andrew Dipper

 

post-29446-0-09886400-1394658142_thumb.jpg

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Just in case you all missed this, did not read it, or chose to ignore it; here it is again.

"...all of these so called tuning methods count for zilch the first time anyone alters the status quo and I don't know of a single classical instrument that has not been altered; most of them seriously. The little Bros Am piccolo in South Dakota  is perhaps the only example. Even the Tuscan viola has a fingerboard wedge.

It is not a myth that instruments have been altered. John Dilworth estimated that more than half of all del Gesu's have been re-graduated. No I don't know how he knows, but I do believe him. Forgetting Strad's and del Gee's for a moment, just looking at the majority of Cremonese, or even better northern Italian instruments. Only rarely do you see one that has a clean top and back. And this is not to mention all the other things that have been altered.

And although there is a lot of truth in the fact that expensive violins have been worked on by generations of skilled restorers, These same restorers are also responsible for most of the changes and much of the damage that classical instruments have  been subjected to. We have to accept that right or wrong, violin restorers are not in the business of preservation. They certainly did not supply the fundamentals, without which Cremones instruments would be no better than cheap factory instruments. 

As for archings been the key, that is just abject nonsense. The huge variety of Cremonese archings has nothing to do with tuning and everything to do with who was doing them and who they were doing them for. Economics being the major driving force. So, as I said at the very beginning if it is not the construction and not the varnish, (the great majority have little or no varnish); then we are left with the so called ground, or the treatment of the instruments surface, or the treatment of the timber itself, either before or after harvesting.  

Oh yes and of course there is another possibility. Perhaps sound-wise, they are not actually better, but having said all this, I still say that no-one has improved on the total package. As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists. It may not be a secret, it may simply be what several of you have been saying, anything from no TV or MN, to just plain knowing stuff that we still don't know, or simply just doing it better. As for designing our own instruments, as someone suggested, We may be getting close. I believe that thanks to Francois we are getting close to the drawing method, but this still leaves us a long way from the concept - the why. 

It has been an interesting theme, but for the moment I feel as if we are beginning to go around in circles on this one.

It seems to me that every new member of the Pegbox should be required to confirm that they have read and understood this statement before joining.

Regards,

Tim

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Just in case you all missed this, did not read it, or chose to ignore it; here it is again.

"...all of these so called tuning methods count for zilch the first time anyone alters the status quo and I don't know of a single classical instrument that has not been altered; most of them seriously. The little Bros Am piccolo in South Dakota  is perhaps the only example. Even the Tuscan viola has a fingerboard wedge.

It is not a myth that instruments have been altered. John Dilworth estimated that more than half of all del Gesu's have been re-graduated. No I don't know how he knows, but I do believe him. Forgetting Strad's and del Gee's for a moment, just looking at the majority of Cremonese, or even better northern Italian instruments. Only rarely do you see one that has a clean top and back. And this is not to mention all the other things that have been altered.

And although there is a lot of truth in the fact that expensive violins have been worked on by generations of skilled restorers, These same restorers are also responsible for most of the changes and much of the damage that classical instruments have  been subjected to. We have to accept that right or wrong, violin restorers are not in the business of preservation. They certainly did not supply the fundamentals, without which Cremones instruments would be no better than cheap factory instruments. 

As for archings been the key, that is just abject nonsense. The huge variety of Cremonese archings has nothing to do with tuning and everything to do with who was doing them and who they were doing them for. Economics being the major driving force. So, as I said at the very beginning if it is not the construction and not the varnish, (the great majority have little or no varnish); then we are left with the so called ground, or the treatment of the instruments surface, or the treatment of the timber itself, either before or after harvesting.  

Oh yes and of course there is another possibility. Perhaps sound-wise, they are not actually better, but having said all this, I still say that no-one has improved on the total package. As cleaver as some modern makers undoubtedly are, or like to think they are, in my not so humble opinion, there is still a shortfall. I cannot quite place my finger on it, which is why I started this post, but I am convinced that 'it ' exists. It may not be a secret, it may simply be what several of you have been saying, anything from no TV or MN, to just plain knowing stuff that we still don't know, or simply just doing it better. As for designing our own instruments, as someone suggested, We may be getting close. I believe that thanks to Francois we are getting close to the drawing method, but this still leaves us a long way from the concept - the why. 

It has been an interesting theme, but for the moment I feel as if we are beginning to go around in circles on this one.   

 

 

 

Hi Roger

 

Ok.  I'll take the bait again.  Every time I post  on this forum, my clown suit gets bigger, brighter, and wilder.  But I'm too reckless to hold back, so I guess I am truly a fool.

 

I certainly agree with the first ground work of your argument.  But then you proceed to deduce by process of elimination.  That works great for TV plots, but it's treacherous as a way to actually think.   This kind of logic is valid only if two hugely difficult conditions are met:  1) your range of cases must encompass all possibilities, 2) to eliminate any one of the cases you must exhaust all its possibilities.   Outside of hyper simplified and confined situations, like pure math, these conditions are prohibitively difficult to satisfy.    As a result, theologians and lawyers love this approach.  You can 'rhetorically prove' almost anything if you allow yourself this tool. 

 

I like the line of asking which aspects of the old making could have an enduring impact.  As you well know, Ole Bull pursues the same angle of attack.

 

Certainly it's easy to agree with your conclusion that the 'ground' is one of the more enduring aspects.  But this can be expanded to include everything they might have done to treat very close or into the surface of the wood.  And obviously the wood itself is a very enduring aspect.

 

But can we exhaustively and conclusively eliminate the contribution of the varnish?  I don't think that's as easy as you suggest.   Admittedly, varnish can't be the one and only factor, because violins with little or no remaining varnish are sometimes still great instruments.  But that still leaves room for their varnish, or other good varnishes, to be a contributing positive factor.  And certainly we can agree that bad or excessive varnish can harm and instrument?

 

Arching (including the channeling)  also is something that survives, and has an impact.   In this I'm not taking about tap tones or resonances.  As you say, these are rather ephemeral.  And they tend to get pushed about by almost any small change to the current state of a violin system, even the weather!   But some things about the arching are highly enduring.  And some aspects of arching shape enduringly change the behavior and map of stiffness in the plate.  We hear plenty of discussion of manipulating stiffness by making parts thinner or thicker, but little discussion of geometric stiffness.   Manipulating stiffness by shape is not only independent of thickness/mass choice, but it also offers a degree of directional control.  Why do we discuss this so little?   Certainly, a wide and highly scooped channel versus a narrower channel rising more directly into the main arch presents a choice between a channel with laxer versus a stiffer geometry.    Predictably this translates into a largely controllable choice between warm/dark and a brighter brilliance.    Similarly, the kind of cupping inward of the top arching through the soundholes to the edge through the cbout area, which is often seen in Cremona work, overs a largely controllable choice to geometrically stiffen and brighten the top.

 

I know I'm a broken record about 'simple integer proportions' between ALL parts.  But it isn't necessarily just an aesthetic point.  As we know, partials are also related in simple integer proportions.  Putting ALL components into such simple relation may indeed help the instrument respond more harmoniously.  And potentially, this might have been one of the whys behind the old maker methods, not just a how.  Writers of the time, like Zarlino in music theory, or Palladio in architecture etc harp about it more than I ever could.  Moreover, the Greek and Latin writers that inspired the North Italians also put a great emphasis on integer proportions.  This is not only how they would suggest designing a basilica, or describe building a ballista, but Vitruvisus even recommends designing am amphitheater with large urns placed  throughout to stimulate resonance. Proportions among linear dimensions also lead to proportions in volumes and air masses.  The proportions between volumes enclosed by the upper and lower bouts might potentially also be one of the whys lurking behind the old designs.

 

Ok, enough.   I understand this stuff is tiresomely familiar for you.   Sorry for the rant.   Unfortunately,  this clown suit fits me really well.

 

David

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Strad's secret? I feel he simply worked diligently and didn't waste time looking for secrets.

I started to contradict you, but then I thought about people who want to be sports stars, and those who really are.  Sports greats are part myth, with a large helping of natural talent.  Is this Stradivari’s secret, after all?  Others have said it in this topic, but I wasn’t listening.

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True as far as it goes, except that there are thousands of makers who worked diligently and didn't waste time looking for secrets who didn't come up with the same results.  So we could probably play a game here and each person in turn could add a factor.  I'd add talent, but then there were thousands of makers who had talent.  So someone else could add, "Yeah but he had MORE talent."  Then, "On we go."   :)

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IMHO, the bottom line is that either something special done in the Cremona shops has survived the intervening centuries despite wear, aging, and restoration, or the whole business is illusory, based on a few chance superb instruments which are only heard played by violinists of rare mastery..  Trusting in Roger's experienced intuition here, what can we see in the (recently) published instruments we have to examine that sets them apart physically?  If Roger is right, there must be something which more experienced eyes than mine can perceive.

Hi there. Are you not aware of the number of Stradivari fiddles that are in use today, by top notch soloists and in major orchestras around the world? 

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