Does Old Cremonese sound exist - Subjective vs Measured


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Like most others I have followed recent inflated threads about the extended blind test.

 

Bruce Tai brought up an interesting view from a more measurable perspective: 

http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/330446-claudia-joseph-fan-paris-test-what-i-liked/page-6#entry628476

 

Anders Buen has also modernised Dünnwald's research and gives some visual summary

http://www.akutek.info/Papers/AB_Old_Italian.pdf

 

Because this is the root to why we make violins in the first place I'll give it a shot. I think there should be more measurable tests before all great Strads and DGs are behind glass.

 

My personal opinion is that there is a distinct Strad and DG sound and that they still are on an other level (The best ones!) than modern violins. I also believe that a very small group of people can recognize this. Not necessarily modern solists.

 

I also think that todays music world is moving away from the Cremonse sound, which is pure and clean, switching to Power and more heavy bowing.

 

 

 

 

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Personally I think we have several absurdities in modern (classical) music. When you play a soloist violin in a hall filled with say 1500, 2000, 5000 ... listeners you will get problems. The only real requirement on the violin is pure power because the whole set up is absurd. On the other hand the 'pure power' of a violin is a joke ... we are talking of Watts or tens of Watts of power. What was the situation in say 1720 how large were the largest halls used for music performances?

We have the same absurdity regarding classical opera. Due to economics you have extremely large opera halls which again leads to a situation that the only really important aspect of the sound of the singer is pure power.

How much bigger can we make concert halls before it is deemed natural to use electronic amplification for the soloist? In modern musicals it seems to be the norm to have singers use microphones which means that the voice can be used in a more varible ways and producing, to my ears, a more enjoyable performance.

Have we actually reached the end of the road regarding more power output from violins?

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I don't think there's a Cremonese sound, rather a selection of great sounds that we may associate with Cremonese instruments,  but that can crop up in good fiddles from anywhere, and from any time. So many young soloists still play Cremonese violins, and make their own sounds on them. Surely they too make  'Cremonese sounds', just as generations before them did. 

 

As a maker, I value the old Cremonese work not just for their sound - Cremona is the cradle of our culture. The violin was born and brought to perfection there. When I see a great Cremonese fiddle I feel a bit like one of those Americans who have come to Ireland to visit the place where their great great grandfathers were born. I feel a sense of belonging and ownership.  I see something worthwhile and beautiful made by a man, just like me, sitting at a bench. I'm sure players feel about them in other ways, but I think it's their cultural history that really sets them apart for us all.

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"We have the same absurdity regarding classical opera. Due to economics you have extremely large opera halls which again leads to a situation that the only really important aspect of the sound of the singer is pure power."

That is an interesting analogy, there are schools of thought in classical singing that see modern technique as a way of creating a bigger sound, but older styles of training emphasize creating a more focused sound which projects.  The bigger sound is not always the sound with the most quality. When I listen to singers I prefer many older recordings to to seeing a modern singer in person, unless they happen to sing and been trained the in the older style. 

 

For example I'd rather listen to Bidu Sayao on vinyl on a good hifi than many modern sopranos who force a bigger sound in person. It's difficult to explain why unless you hear the two. Even in recordings the older singers often sound better. But that's just me weird quirk I suppose. 

 

At some point acoustic instruments just can't be loud enough to fill a hall large enough to pay the bills. Why do we keep chasing this dragon? I'm painfully aware of this because I make guitars and I have been saying for years we sacrifice voice for loudness. If you search to make instruments loud, at some point there are diminishing returns on voice and pleasure listening to that voice. Many of the instruments we make were formatted for a bygone era where intimate settings were the venues and todays large halls are not what these tools were designed to fill. Yet some makers chase after volume. 

 

Interesting post and observation, I can relate. 

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. When I see a great Cremonese fiddle I feel a bit like one of those Americans who have come to Ireland to visit the place where their great great grandfathers were born. I feel a sense of belonging and ownership.  I see something worthwhile and beautiful made by a man, just like me, sitting at a bench. I'm sure players feel about them in other ways, but I think it's their cultural history that really sets them apart for us all.

 

Friend I think that was a beautiful sentiment and well said. I love to hear that Americans add value to the world in some small way and that it moves you. But I think they just want the freshest Guinness possible. I know I do.  :D  :D  :D

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Personally I think we have several absurdities in modern (classical) music. When you play a soloist violin in a hall filled with say 1500, 2000, 5000 ... listeners you will get problems. The only real requirement on the violin is pure power because the whole set up is absurd. On the other hand the 'pure power' of a violin is a joke ... we are talking of Watts or tens of Watts of power. What was the situation in say 1720 how large were the largest halls used for music performances?

We have the same absurdity regarding classical opera. Due to economics you have extremely large opera halls which again leads to a situation that the only really important aspect of the sound of the singer is pure power.

How much bigger can we make concert halls before it is deemed natural to use electronic amplification for the soloist? In modern musicals it seems to be the norm to have singers use microphones which means that the voice can be used in a more varible ways and producing, to my ears, a more enjoyable performance.

Have we actually reached the end of the road regarding more power output from violins?

All these great Cremonese instruments were originally set up in Baroque manner and certainly did not have the volume or power of contemporary instruments.  As we know, the modifications done in the 19th century were for the purpose of making instruments louder and more powerful.  Strad, del Desu, and all the 17th and 18th century makers made instruments differently than contemporary makers do.  I wonder whether it is possible that some of the Strads that are considered now to be of lesser quality simply didn't survive the 19th century modifications well?  And also, Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu never conceived of the sonic expectations of contemporary instruments and really didn't completely make the instruments we revere so much.  The sound of those instruments is at least somewhat the result of the modifications done 150 years ago and subsequent adjustments and restorations. 

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I am a believer. 

 

 

Me too.  My own objective measurements appear similar to what Anders and Bruce show in their papers, and I look forward to Curtin's paper to see if it confirms what I think I see. 

 

It was interesting to see in Bruce's paper that there were separate descriptions of "aged" sound and "brilliance", which might not go together all the time.  To me, the "aged" sound = relatively modest amplitude in the middle frequencies (~600-1200Hz) and "briliance" = strength in the range above that. 

 

I definitely do not think that all Cremonese (or Strads) necessarily have those characteristics, nor that all moderns always lack them, due to the large range of variables in play.  However, I do believe there are identifiable trends.

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I know that this is off topic, but I feel it's very important. I'm a very light drinker, but when I do have a pint it's Guinness, or Murphy's if I'm in Cork.

 

A few years ago Guinness brought out a new chilling system for the stout. I don't know did it catch on, but I tried a pint, and promptly got  that awful feeling that my front teeth had cracked lengthwise followed by an ice cream headache that lasted for ages.

 

Guinness is best drunk cold, but not so cold that you can't taste it. It's a bit like red wine only a few degrees lower.

 

I have strong opinions on the best temperatures for strawberries, tomatoes, and various other foodstuffs by the way, if anyone is interested.

 

Happy Easter

 

Conor 

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For example I'd rather listen to Bidu Sayao on vinyl on a good hifi than many modern sopranos who force a bigger sound in person. It's difficult to explain why unless you hear the two. Even in recordings the older singers often sound better. But that's just me weird quirk I suppose. 

 

At some point acoustic instruments just can't be loud enough to fill a hall large enough to pay the bills. Why do we keep chasing this dragon? I'm painfully aware of this because I make guitars and I have been saying for years we sacrifice voice for loudness. If you search to make instruments loud, at some point there are diminishing returns on voice and pleasure listening to that voice. Many of the instruments we make were formatted for a bygone era where intimate settings were the venues and todays large halls are not what these tools were designed to fill. Yet some makers chase after volume. 

 

Interesting post and observation, I can relate.

Ahh, a thread which demands answers and opinions, that will surely call for many different more and varied answers.

Yes, makers chase after many different things. But the point that you make about listening for what you're used to, has some interesting ramifications in this discussion, I do believe.

Being loud is one thing, being sweet-toned is another thing, being loud and sweet, is yet another , perhaps a bit more rare thing, that different makers will accomplish these things and strive for different combinations - usually is a sort of, or partially made and partially an accidental result.

Good and/or bad sounding violins - well, they happen to all makers, of all experience levels. Louder or softer violins, is a thing that can be built for, to one degree or another or, or engineered in - as sweetness can be built for, specifically, as a feature of, or in, the finished product...

But many other things creep in also. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why even Strads, all Strads, are not known for having the same voice, even though the "magic" associated with them, or with that name, often overlooks facts like that.

Listening to established violins, many of which either are or were, old Italian violins, well, one does arrive at a place where they are listening to, or listening for, a specific tonal presence. (...only in my opinion)

That such a presence is either there, or it is not there, or even almost there, can be a fact that many listeners then use to judge the tonal output of every violin they hear against old and new..

So, are we talking better tonal presence, or worse, or just different? Perhaps we're simply just wanting what we've become used to - to be the hallmark of tone in any and every violin?

To me, that's part of the question we need to recognize. And, perhaps discuss, if it hasn't already been hacked to death one to many times.

Is there a tonal output for newer violins, that is different than the typical tonal output of desirable old Italian violins, but which is as desirable and as quality ridden, as that thing, that particular sound from the past, that has been accepted by many listeners as the only desirable tonal response or output?

After all we're not talking about any solid type of result, like a particular temperature, or a particular color or shade, (as the article presents) - we're talking about emotional response to a very specific tonal presence or lack thereof. Much of what we are basing our typical current present day response to, in my opinion, is past indoctrination because of the fact that most (or should I say many?) of the great musicians of the past were also, in one sense, made to desire as a specific tonal output.

Oh well, it gets complex - just talking about such things. Their presence in our daily modern life takes on a whole philosophy of it's own. Some posters have an opinion that brooks no argument. Are those type of opinions going the way of the albatross?

Perhaps, and perhaps not. Anymore, I don't have a solid opinion either way.

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A Guinness is best drunk cold, but not so cold that you can't taste it. It's a bit like red wine only a few degrees lower.

 

I have strong opinions on the best temperatures for strawberries, tomatoes, and various other foodstuffs by the way, if anyone is interested.

 

Happy Easter

 

Conor

Thanks Conor,

My Easter is going to be really happy, as my son and one of my daughters, are coming by for a roasted ham and all of the trimmings as usual...

Though both of them called earlier in the week, and said "No, Easter is going to be at our house this year"... well, they did not prepare, as we had guessed. (as our kids virtually always do not)

Mary, as usual, got up (and got me up also) early, and started the normal family Easter dinner, I had to clean out the back yard, clear off all of the tables for the grandkids, and rince out and fill the stock tank.(kid pool)

I understand completely about temperatures for various foods, (and etc.) as I am the "quality freak" here in this household, and I really do demand (in a civil way, mind you) that things (including whichever Cabernet and/or beer I choose) are served properly.

What more could an individual ask from life than that every food based item is at it's best?

Nothing, am I right?

Here's wishing everyone here a happy day. It is Easter after all, but so what? Have a happy day any way.

Craig T

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Being loud is one thing, being sweet-toned is another thing, being loud and sweet, is yet another , perhaps a bit more rare thing...

There are physical limitations that creep in when aiming for loudness, such as bow and string input power.  So, generally, to get loud, you'd need to be near that limit across the widest frequency range possible.

 

Sweetness is getting rid of the sound spectrum that isn't sweet, necessarily reducing total power and loudness, IMHO.  The sound is clear, and well-defined... just not loud.

 

Sweet AND loud are conflicting, I think, thus the rarity.  In new construction, getting power on the low end is easy, power in the midrange is too easy, power in the high end is the most difficult, but not terribly so.  The problem in my experience has been getting good power in the high and low range while keeping the midrange from getting too loud and crude-sounding.

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I assume that when you play a sweet sounding violin that you get a lot of sweet sounding notes and that when you play a not so sweet sounding violin you get only a few or no sweet sounding notes.

 

Does anybody have a physical definition of what a single sweet sounding note is?  Are there some combinations of harmonics that are present and their individual loudness that are especially pleasing for everybody.  Are there harmonic combinations that are especially disliked?

 

Are these liked and disliked harmonic combinations different for low and high pitched notes?

 

It would be kinda nice to know what I'm supposed to be making.

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My personal opinion is that there is a distinct Strad and DG sound and that they still are on an other level (The best ones!) than modern violins. I also believe that a very small group of people can recognize this. Not necessarily modern solists.

I think that being strtictly scientific, a violin or group of violins (i.e. from the same maker or school) can be identified by many charasteristics but not sound, is it?
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Like most others I have followed recent inflated threads about the extended blind test.

 

Bruce Tai brought up an interesting view from a more measurable perspective: 

http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/330446-claudia-joseph-fan-paris-test-what-i-liked/page-6#entry628476

 

Anders Buen has also modernised Dünnwald's research and gives some visual summary

http://www.akutek.info/Papers/AB_Old_Italian.pdf

 

Because this is the root to why we make violins in the first place I'll give it a shot. I think there should be more measurable tests before all great Strads and DGs are behind glass.

 

My personal opinion is that there is a distinct Strad and DG sound and that they still are on an other level (The best ones!) than modern violins. I also believe that a very small group of people can recognize this. Not necessarily modern solists.

 

I also think that todays music world is moving away from the Cremonse sound, which is pure and clean, switching to Power and more heavy bowing.

Id like to comment that since I wrote that article I think some new information has emerged from some experiments I did using f-hole wing masses and repairwork where mass and stiffness has been added to the "vincinity of" or at the upper f-hole wings. The mid frequency region becomes weaker with repairwork there, a trait any violin will show no matter the country of origin. I do have support for this idea now from at least one well known maker which I am not going to name here. 

 

The "thick body sound" of having a weak air resonance is true, as found in Dünnwalds work I think. Also the midrange tends to be peakier than in the finer instruments (courtecy Don Noon) so the midrange became strongest in his spectra of factory fiddles and also the thicker built modern violins of that study, I suppose. Some of the fine violins included in his study happens to be italian, so he called it "Old italian sound". He probaly did not have a clue what caused these traits, so he just used the Black box idea of calling it Old italians or violins sounding like them. (They are not old italians all of them, of course).  

But it relly is "thin light plate- highish arch sound and not something related to country of origin. I also have support for this idea, I think, from at least one great maker, whom I also are not going to name here.

 

To emulate repairwork and build thin, light and possibly highish arched is not impossible, of course. So it is nothing magic about this. If it is preferable to build with high arch - no. and maybe a more focussed sound is produced with a stronger region just above the transition hill region, I guess. Don Noon may have ideas here. :-)

Edited by Anders Buen
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IMHO, results like Anders', Bruce's, and Don's (alphabetical order to avoid arguments  :)  ) cannot be effectively argued with.  Some violins have what I have come to call the "Cremonese Quirk" which improves performance beyond the ordinary, and you can see it in spectra.  I would stop short of calling what produced it a "secret" (at the time it was common it must have been being done in the shop in front of everybody, and it's probably been stumbled onto more than once).  Neither is it going to be a "silver bullet" in the sense of something that automatically makes hackwork sound glorious as implied by "magic varnish" and "sheep dip" theories.  I believe that when identified, the process will be a final finishing step requiring an already superb violin to have maximum effect.  I also believe that once it is unquestionably identified, a lot of us are going to have a major, whack-the-forehead "D'oh" moment :lol:

 

Happy Easter!

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I do believe there is a general old violin sound.

I would have some trouble relating it in part to repair work around the upper eyes of the f holes. I know plenty of great sounding violins without repair work in this area.

Personally, I would relate some of this profile to lower cross grain stiffness in both the top and back. This cross grain/along grain stiffness discrepancy is more "normal" in higher arched instruments where the plates tend to be thinned more overall to reduce the longitudinal stiffness of the plate and mass. This thinning has a greater effect on the cross grain stiffness than the longitudinal stiffness.

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I do believe there is a general old violin sound.

I would have some trouble relating it in part to repair work around the upper eyes of the f holes. I know plenty of great sounding violins without repair work in this area.

Personally, I would relate some of this profile to lower cross grain stiffness in both the top and back. This cross grain/along grain stiffness discrepancy is more "normal" in higher arched instruments where the plates tend to be thinned more overall to reduce the longitudinal stiffness of the plate and mass. This thinning has a greater effect on the cross grain stiffness than the longitudinal stiffness.

This is important. I think you need to explain all this more fully.

 

Maybe two paragraphs and a few more sentences.

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I do believe there is a general old violin sound.

I agree.

And I agree from having worked on, and played many, many, old violins - ones that have come through the shop, these last twenty plus years.

Even some cheap old violins, can have that (wonderful) "old sound".

I liken it to a smooth, melodic sound. Usually not very powerful.

That new violins can also have a smooth, melodic sound, well they can, but it is most often a different timber or something about it is most often different, in a 'hard to exactly describe' way.

Weird, huh? I wonder sometimes if I'm mistaken about this quality, but I don't think so.

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I think there is an old sound. It sounds more open and free in a way that I can't figure out to articulate in words. 

 

You know when a tree get cut it dries out. Then the wood begins to deteriorate naturally over time. If you cut a tree and sliced some thin boards out of it, and left them to sit in a room for three hundred years, they would gradually deteriorate. If you left them there 600 years the same process would be continuing. What is happening when it deteriorates? What ever that process it is where the old sound comes from. We think the wood stops deteriorating when it gets made into a instrument, but it keeps on changing and eventually given enough time it would fall apart, right? Well what ever is going on to make the wood itself fall apart naturally is deterioration that gives old instruments the qualities they have. 

 

At least that is my theory. So old wood plus good maker to begin with = great old instrument. 

 

Old things sound old. And Guinness is best chilled, but not too much. 

 

And if ( when) I make a violin  I want to make them sound like her voice: 

 

 

Speaking formants vowel sounds and the violin voice resembling the female human voice. 

 

When I make flamenco guitars I listen to singers not guitarists. I try to make them sound like flamenco singers. You can't really go wrong if you get close to human voice and the vowel sounds resonate well.

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IMHO, results like Anders', Bruce's, and Don's (alphabetical order to avoid arguments  :)  ) cannot be effectively argued with.  Some violins have what I have come to call the "Cremonese Quirk" which improves performance beyond the ordinary, and you can see it in spectra.  I would stop short of calling what produced it a "secret" (at the time it was common it must have been being done in the shop in front of everybody, and it's probably been stumbled onto more than once).  Neither is it going to be a "silver bullet" in the sense of something that automatically makes hackwork sound glorious as implied by "magic varnish" and "sheep dip" theories.  I believe that when identified, the process will be a final finishing step requiring an already superb violin to have maximum effect.  I also believe that once it is unquestionably identified, a lot of us are going to have a major, whack-the-forehead "D'oh" moment :lol:

 

Happy Easter!

 I simply don't believe that there's a 'Cremonese Quirk' waiting to be discovered. 

 

I've seen too many violins that break all the rules, and work wonderfully well, to believe in a formula that was followed and then lost.

 

I'd ask - are violins with this Cremonese Quirk all made in Cremona, or is it something that any especially good sounding violin can have? 

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