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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave
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As for the cyclical explanation of what makes a Stradivari, I say a secret is a secret because it is a secret.  :)  

IMHO, this one is a secret wrapped inside an enigma, inside a mystery, concealed within a cunning marketing scheme........... :lol:

 

As usual, Martin is right, of course  :)

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To return us to Strad's secret, I do find it very telling that a thread on this subject can run to 36 pages (maybe 37 now), and yet this little anecdote of mine on the Quality & Headgames thread received absolutely no comment, challenge, endorsement or even expression of curiosity, irritation or agreement. So much for putting the cat among the pigeons ....

 

What is there to say? Five or ten years ago it would have caused some heavy controversy here. Now, experiences like that are much more widely accepted.

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Actually, Martin's declaration that the violin was a Stradivari immediately made us sit up and salivate like a Pavlovian mutt - well at least this old dog. Since I was a pup, the term, Stradivari, immediately signified something rare, exquisite and expensive. Hearing "Stradivari" immediately sets our expectations for something wonderful.

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Actually, Martin's declaration that the violin was a Stradivari immediately made us sit up and salivate like a Pavlovian mutt - well at least this old dog. Since I was a pup, the term, Stradivari, immediately signified something rare, exquisite and expensive. Hearing "Stradivari" immediately sets our expectations for something wonderful.

[Picks up blatantly Saxon antique fiddle.  Looks in bass f-hole, sees "Antonius Stradivarius" crudely lithographed on a paper label.  Puts down violin.  Yawns....]  That all depends.  Down, boy  :)  :P  :lol:

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A separate thread on birds eye maple is a good idea - I would really question the notion that it's in any way inferior as a tonewood.

 

To return us to Strad's secret, I do find it very telling that a thread on this subject can run to 36 pages (maybe 37 now), and yet this little anecdote of mine on the Quality & Headgames thread received absolutely no comment, challenge, endorsement or even expression of curiosity, irritation or agreement. So much for putting the cat among the pigeons ....

 

"I did find myself last week in a room with the Molitor Stradivari, a very good Tononi, and one of the best Vuillaumes I've played (it didn't really cope with the illustrious company).

The Tononi was without doubt the better sounding violin from all points of view, character, projection, variability of tone etc. I viewed the Molitor Strad when Tarisio had it. I must say I was smittin. Strad or no Strad it was stunning. I want to make a copy, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

But the Molitor was a Strad!

I wanted it, though with my eyes closed I and everyone else there would have chosen the Tononi.

Conclusion -  the secret of Stradivari is that it's a Stradivari!"

I viewed the Molitor when Tarisio had it. I must say, I was smittin. It was stunning. I loved everything about it. I want to make a copy, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.
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I viewed the Molitor when Tarisio had it. I must say, I was smittin. It was stunning. I loved everything about it. I want to make a copy, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

But did you play it?

If we're discussing quality of workmanship, wood, varnish, proportion, detail etc. then I'd have to say it's probably the most beautiful and desirable violin I've ever handled.

I was simply addressing the issue of sound, and questioning the tendency of contemporary makers to fetishise the "sound of Stradivari" on the basis of ropey third hand evidence.

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I was simply addressing the issue of sound, and questioning the tendency of contemporary makers to fetishise the "sound of Stradivari" on the basis of ropey third hand evidence.

 

I question it too, I think there is so much to improve in the violin as an instrument, sound wise, why try to emulate something that is far from perfect?

 

Low end for example, lots to improve there.

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But did you play it?

If we're discussing quality of workmanship, wood, varnish, proportion, detail etc. then I'd have to say it's probably the most beautiful and desirable violin I've ever handled.

I was simply addressing the issue of sound, and questioning the tendency of contemporary makers to fetishise the "sound of Stradivari" on the basis of ropey third hand evidence.

No Martin, I didn't get a chance to play it. I wish I could have though. I was so beautiful though. It still has so much of it's varnish left and the ground showed through so nice on the back. I wish Strad magazine would do a poster on it. I thought I would not like a light colored fiddle until I saw that one. The desirability scale is way up there for me too.
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I question it too, I think there is so much to improve in the violin as an instrument, sound wise, why try to emulate something that is far from perfect?

 

Low end for example, not very good IMO, at least the violins I've heard.

I was speaking strictly on the appearance of the violin. There was not a option to play the violin where I viewed it. They had it on view at a table by a big window with plenty of light, so I got a good look. I went back several times to look at it. I've seen a few Strads, maybe ten, but nothing as beautiful as this one. Tarisio did a poster on it and were giving them away, but they don't have measurements.

Edit: I did get to see the Lady Blunt, but not up close. It was in a glass case with bad lighting, so not a fair comparison. From what I could see it was something special also. It may have that great Strad sound, I don't know.

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Has anyone ever tried to show that Stradivaris do not have superior projection by any objective, or subjective measurement ( I don't think either was done in the Fritz/Tao study)? I understand it's possible for modern makers to achieve whatever the Italians did, but I haven't heard a modern instrument that does the same thing as a Strad or dG. I would like to.

Probably because great soloists can play on anything...and they believe in the mystique of Stradivari (and dG) too, even the most soloistic modern instruments aren't stretched to the limits of their abilities yet. Or very few are, anyway. Old instruments sell concert tickets too...there's that.

Definitely a kind of recursive loop.

So rather than Stradivari's secret, the secret belongs to any instruments old enough to awe the audience. It is amazing, isn't it...objects 350 years old can still perform so wonderfully. My experience is of a Strad/dG/etc. always filling the concert hall, and a certain Vuillaume not. It is not enough to be old...or a famous name. And believe me, I wanted to hear the relatively modern Vuillaume do the same as an old Italian. Those old Italian guys were doing something different to the wood, other than paying attention to it. They had to.

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Yes, this issue of projection is the final refuge of the confirmed Stradoholic - when all other arguments fall apart, the final incontrovertible proof is uttered "... yes but in a large hall, that's where a Strad comes into its own ....".

Most of the controversy around the Fritz/Curtin Minneapolis experiment settled down to this one point, and Stephen Isserlis in particular went in to bat for the Strad team with precisely this argument.

So, in order to put this argument under the spotlight, the most recent Fritz/Curtin experiment (in Paris) had an entire day dedicated purely to a comparative analysis of projection. The experiment was double-blind and very well thought out (which is not to say that it won't be torn to shreds by the Maestronet jackals when the results are published).

I was one of the guinea-pigs/audience members for this experiment.

I think it was about 50% Strads and del Gesus and 50% modern violins, mainly from French makers.

From where I was sitting, one of the violins had superior definition on the E string, and one of the violins was generally a bit pants. Otherwise they all sounded broadly equivalent in terms of projection to my ears. From the point of view of a listener, the differences between different soloists far outweighed the differences between different violins.

I went into this experiment with an open mind - as someone keenly interested in antique instruments and new instruments, any conclusion would have been welcome. 

Conclusion - there is no reason to play a Strad or a del Gesu which is not directly related to the monetary value, cultural value, iconic status, performance history and rarity of these instruments.

But these are attributes which modern violins simply can't have, so even if everyone went to that experiment and reacted as I did, it wouldn't change anything.

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Has anyone ever tried to show that Stradivaris do not have superior projection by any objective, or subjective measurement ( I don't think either was done in the Fritz/Tao study)? I understand it's possible for modern makers to achieve whatever the Italians did, but I haven't heard a modern instrument that does the same thing as a Strad or dG. I would like to.

Probably because great soloists can play on anything...and they believe in the mystique of Stradivari (and dG) too, even the most soloistic modern instruments aren't stretched to the limits of their abilities yet. Or very few are, anyway. Old instruments sell concert tickets too...there's that.

There is more to come from the various Fritz/Tao experiments, from data already gathered, including impressions about projection. We had a brief preview at the American Federation of Violin and Bowmakers convention.

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I was speaking strictly on the appearance of the violin. There was not a option to play the violin where I viewed it. They had it on view at a table by a big window with plenty of light, so I got a good look. I went back several times to look at it. I've seen a few Strads, maybe ten, but nothing as beautiful as this one. Tarisio did a poster on it and were giving them away, but they don't have measurements.

Edit: I did get to see the Lady Blunt, but not up close. It was in a glass case with bad lighting, so not a fair comparison. From what I could see it was something special also. It may have that great Strad sound, I don't know.

 

 

I understood you Berl, that is why I underlined "sound wise" in my post, I was mostly diverging on Martin's observation....and my old thinking on the weaknesses of all instruments, specially low end....the bass (instrument) being the one who suffers the most from the disease of undefined lows....or is it the tuba?..nevermind

 

Either way thanks for the post I looked up the Molitor and it is a beauty.

:)

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I understood you Berl, that is why I underlined "sound wise" in my post, I was mostly diverging on Martin's observation....and my old thinking on the weaknesses of all instruments, specially low end....the bass (instrument) being the one who suffers the most from the disease of undefined lows....or is it the tuba?..nevermind

 

Either way thanks for the post I looked up the Molitor and it is a beauty.

:)

I think it was the color and the ground that really struck me as special (the one piece back didn't hurt anything either). As I said I've never been a big fan of light colored violins, especially yellow. That is until I saw this one.
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