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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave

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Therefore, the truly great work done by modern makers, is still considered inferior almost automatically, and it is a shame. There is no doubt that Stradivari was a genius, but no doubt, the secret is that you can't be an original unless you ARE one. And then of course, you don't give a damn about what other people do, or did. 

 

If you want to be a great painter or composer, it is pretty clear to everyone that you should know as well as possible Rembrandt, or Bach, but it would be ridiculous to try to be them, but among violin makers, that is pretty much what people do. Can there be something of a secret there? 

 

 

Nicely put. :) 

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No Craig, it's just a waste of time.

 

If you really feel like it, copy-and-paste whatever you want into http://translate.google.com/ - it will automatically recognize the language and render it into English.

 

Even my post #624 in a peripheral language is recognized and translated.

 

 Ahh, I see!

 

Thanks, my friend.

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Magnus, thank you. A direct hit.

I'm not good enough yet to stop listening to everyone else, but I agree that at some point, a maker has to emerge as him-or herself from the base of diligent hard work and copying they are grounded in. Cubism would never have flown without Picasso's solid grounding in Classical Art. Bad analogy, because Cubist violins would be a bust, but the point is there-- your identity as a "great" maker has to point to something unique and powerful, and at the same time, can't be too far out in left field.

Rambling...

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On a more serious note, I am decidedly getting the impression that there really IS a secret. It is just looked for in the wrong place, because it is not really concerning Stradivari, but everyone else. So, in other words, what made Stradivari so great was that he, and the other best italian makers, rather lacked something rather than posessed it. 

 

And this secret, that is  easily found in most modern-day violin workshops, is the unhealthy attitude to our work - if your concern is to "become as good as Stradivari" you have created an enourmous obstacle for yourself, and lost all your independence of thought. It is a goal that doesn't make sense. Stradivari himself would have hated it. The creative spirit, and independence of style that made his (and ALL the other Cremonese makers) work so strong, can't really be "copied", because that itself is contradictory. You may "copy" an appearance, but not a spirit, so no matter how good a copy is, it is always in a certain sense, inferior. 

 

Therefore, the truly great work done by modern makers, is still considered inferior almost automatically, and it is a shame. There is no doubt that Stradivari was a genius, but no doubt, the secret is that you can't be an original unless you ARE one. And then of course, you don't give a damn about what other people do, or did. 

 

If you want to be a great painter or composer, it is pretty clear to everyone that you should know as well as possible Rembrandt, or Bach, but it would be ridiculous to try to be them, but among violin makers, that is pretty much what people do. Can there be something of a secret there? 

word.

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There is no doubt that Stradivari was a genius, but no doubt, the secret is that you can't be an original unless you ARE one. And then of course, you don't give a damn about what other people do, or did. 

 

While I agree with most of this, I think there is a good reason to try to copy Strad, or any other instrument that happens to perform in some desirable way.

 

To learn what the maker might have done, and how it works.

 

In that respect, due to the physical/functional nature of the violin, there is a difference from painting or sculpture, although even in those fields, I'm sure they have to study great examples intensely, in order to form a solid base from which to launch their own concepts.

 

Personally, I have learned the most from attmpting a moderately accurate copy of a particular Strad, to see how it works (or doesn't), and try to understand the tonal differences from the original.  This is not necessarily to try to get closer to the Strad the next time, but to have a better feel for how to make an instrument sound the way I want it to.  And I don't necessarily want everything I make sound like a Strad.  Or Guarneri. 

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While I agree with most of this, I think there is a good reason to try to copy Strad, or any other instrument that happens to perform in some desirable way.

 

 

Absolutely. It is definetly part of the work. I am merely trying to address this issue about the secret, and where it might be. I am not sure I totally agree with my own post. But the way violin makers regard their own work, their own professional history, and how quality is defined, is very particular. Certainly a matter worthy  of study in itself.

 

For example; most people in this business are very much concerned with speculation upon what "acoustical" technique or principle was employed by the old masters. But it is not completely clear why. It is very vague, why this is so important, and what exactely the goal of it is supposed to be. 

 

You might reply; it is because they achieved consistently great acoustical results. We want to do the same. But then again, that is not a very precise answer. Those instruments that have come through to our time are all different. They are appealing in a number of ways. Also, they were probably preserved because they were good, and got better still by passing through the best repair shops in the world for hundreds of years. A Testore is still perceived as "very good" although it is obviously much less sophisticated than a Stradivari, and it is highly unlikely they share any particular "acoustical" principle other than the natural selection of good instruments through time.

 

No one is more convinced about the greatness of the old masters than I, but I think that in this thread, where we are discussing the nature of the "secret" it is interesting to discuss how strangely overlooked it is - that the nature of the "original" is what makes them most special.

 

Not that you can just go ahead and be "original". Most people who do that end up as some eccentric failure, often with craftsmanship issues. As a matter of fact there are several instruments of this type preserved from what we consider the "golden age" as well. If you go looking in dusty corners of various instrument museums, you find some survivors. So it was no different back then.

 

But some people have what it takes, I have seen several examples. To mention one, I remember very well the instruments by J . K. Lochmann at the Cremona triennale in 2000, I think it was? Very distinct, fresh and striking, but always very sound craftsmanship. Many makers who could have made fabulous new instruments, make "copies" out of commercial reasons, and therefore we loose what they might have contributed with. 

Edited by Magnus Nedregard
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I am merely trying to address this issue about the secret, and where it might be. 

 

We have ample evidence that Strad himself did not think that copying Strad is the right strategy. Knowing what and how he did it is only part of the formula. There must have been "something" which mattered and which is not amenable to mechanical inspection nor does it randomly manifest. 

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No Craig, it's just a waste of time.

 

If you really feel like it, copy-and-paste whatever you want into http://translate.google.com/ - it will automatically recognize the language and render it into English.

 

Even my post #624 in a peripheral language is recognized and translated.

Mine doesn’t work too well... but it’s a well known proverb, so a google search finds it.

 

Cha sgeul-rùin e ‘s fios aig triùir air.

 

If three know it, it’s not a secret.  

 

That could apply to the Cremonese school as well: Amati, Guarneri, Stradivari... that’s way more than three people.

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On a more serious note, I am decidedly getting the impression that there really IS a secret. It is just looked for in the wrong place, because it is not really concerning Stradivari, but everyone else. So, in other words, what made Stradivari so great was that he, and the other best italian makers, rather lacked something rather than posessed it. 

 

And this secret, that is  easily found in most modern-day violin workshops, is the unhealthy attitude to our work - if your concern is to "become as good as Stradivari" you have created an enourmous obstacle for yourself, and lost all your independence of thought. It is a goal that doesn't make sense. Stradivari himself would have hated it. The creative spirit, and independence of style that made his (and ALL the other Cremonese makers) work so strong, can't really be "copied", because that itself is contradictory. You may "copy" an appearance, but not a spirit, so no matter how good a copy is, it is always in a certain sense, inferior. 

 

Therefore, the truly great work done by modern makers, is still considered inferior almost automatically, and it is a shame. There is no doubt that Stradivari was a genius, but no doubt, the secret is that you can't be an original unless you ARE one. And then of course, you don't give a damn about what other people do, or did. 

 

If you want to be a great painter or composer, it is pretty clear to everyone that you should know as well as possible Rembrandt, or Bach, but it would be ridiculous to try to be them, but among violin makers, that is pretty much what people do. Can there be something of a secret there? 

 

......chi va dietro altrui mai non gli passa innanzi.....(Michelagnolo Bonarroto fiorentino)
 
(who follows someone won't never be able to overtake him - Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence)
 
 
Davide
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......chi va dietro altrui mai non gli passa innanzi.....(Michelagnolo Bonarroto fiorentino)
 
(who follows someone won't never be able to overtake him - Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence)
 

 

 

As in bicycle racing, just follow them until you get what you can from them, and then pass at the appropriate time. :)

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Do you have any EVIDENCE for this or you are only SPECULATING ?  I am getting tired being lectured by you without you supplying a shred of evidence in support of what you're claiming.

If you try doing small stepwise adjustments to a playable instrumen you won't have any problems in hearing changes that are too smallto measure mechanically. I do tuning in steps of rougly 2/1000 mm because these changes are audible and if I do bigger changes I may go to the land of no return...

If you do changes in this way and measure spectral changes it is easy to see the hardening of the plates (say 5 Hz in a few hours). Over a few days/weeks the plates change more but it gets exponentially slower with time.

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