Julian Cossmann Cooke

The current "Golden Age" of making

Recommended Posts

Well, the title alone would provide plenty of grist for the MN mill.  But lest people be distracted from the purpose of this post, let's just assume we are in the middle of it -- a Golden Age.  Or just omit the term "Golden" and focus on "current Age".

My last introductory comment and then I promise to unveil my question/instigation of a conversation.  Those here who know me know my mind goes back and forth like a slo-mo pinball between the finer points of our trade and "big questions".  There are no right or wrong (serious) answers to this question so I am not anticipating that we will arrive at any kind of majority opinion much less a consensus.  It's just an interesting stimulus to thought and discussion.

A. What are the most important contributing factors in the quality of today's instrument making?  (We could do a whole thread on restoration or bow making.  I just thought I would simplify without any intent to suggest a hierarchy of some sort.)

B. Now that you have listed those, how would you prioritize them and why?  This will be the toughest and probably the most controversial part.  Yes, there is no knowable answer.  But that doesn't mean the question is not worth asking.

My entry:

A. Contributing factors:

1. Historical knowledge

2. Open sharing of information on methods and materials

3. Applied science and technology

4. Broad availability of quality publications (e.g. Biddulph and Thoene/Roehrmann books, The Strad posters, graduation maps, CT scans) and online collaborations

5. Openness to innovation (within broader parameters than in the past)

B. Reserving the right to make modifications, here are my ranking and its rationale.  None of this is to suggest that we can do without any factor regardless of where it shows up:

1. Open sharing of information on methods and materials: I view quality in terms of both depth and breadth.  The great and the not-yet-great have gotten better thanks to this sharing.  Without the sharing, the impact of information itself is not as great on either front.

2. Historical knowledge: In my view (at this moment), historical knowledge forms the framework to which the rest of the factors are applied and on the basis of which they assist forward movement.

3. Broad availability of quality publications: These give large numbers of us access to certain areas of historical knowledge which are "news we can use" -- data points we can apply directly in our making.

4. Openness to innovation: Without this factor, applied science and technology would have a much smaller audience and fewer willing to experiment further.

5. Applied science and technology: The main reason I am placing this last is that these factors may have led to improvement in quality for a relatively few, but their insights have yet to be adopted and applied more widely, limiting their impact on the breadth of quality.  And it's important to note that within this category, some advances have had greater impact than others -- on both depth and breadth of improvements in quality.

 

Let the constructive critiques begin!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't have a whole

list but I would think that high quality formal education in violin making at well established schools is a major factor.

 

DLB

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Two things here, one- if we are not in a present day golden age of violin making we should be ashamed. We have all the technology and open communication in the world. Nothing has ever existed like we have now. Strad, the Amati's, and DG had just their apprenticeships and their brains. I'd say we have a considerable advantage.

Second thing is Dwight, I'm nor so sure about the formal training thing. If a person is of average intelligence I think they could teach themself to make high quality violins.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My guess is that all of the schools would like students to leave with the message "We teach you to sharpen and use tools, as well as the fundamental processes of making.  But that is just the foundation for the continued effort, dedication, pursuit of continued learning opportunities, and just plain productivity to reach a high level of quality."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
36 minutes ago, Berl Mendenhall said:

 

Second thing is Dwight, I'm nor so sure about the formal training thing. If a person is of average intelligence I think they could teach themself to make high quality violins.

I've been pondering the value of schooling for myself. I have so many resources available to me and a knack for working with my hands. 

School may have been more worthwhile before the age of the internet and information exchange. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Will L   

I've got a lot more to say, but for now let me just point out that it is rather self-serving of our generation to label ourselves as being the "golden age."  We can hope we are right, but only history will sort out the truth.  30 years ago two very fine makers told me how lucky we were to live in such an age of information and science; then I played 30 + of their instruments and all were crap.  So, IMO, we can get too caught up in thinking the way to the Grail is through science.  Certainly it IS through logic and experiment, but only time will tell if "science" has done us any favors.

And if there is any one single thing that hinders us it is "applied science" and our too-easy ability to pass on information which is as often as not baloney.  Only my opinion, of course, but I offer it with great sincerity and sadness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 minutes ago, Will L said:

 

And if there is any one single thing that hinders us it is "applied science" 

Only because it is too frequently proffered by charlatans.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To me it would be like most fields, the internet -

1. Provides the opportunity to learn to people that would otherwise not be able to.
2. Provides instant access to some of the best makers in the world to consult on problems or items.
3. Provides access to photographs and CT scans of a wide variety of instrument to inspire and copy.
4. Provides access to quality tone wood from around the world almost instantly.
5. Provides a place to hang out, waste time and relax when you need a break.

Edit:

6. Instant peer review for both masters and noobs. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
47 minutes ago, Will L said:

I've got a lot more to say, but for now let me just point out that it is rather self-serving of our generation to label ourselves as being the "golden age."  

But if we don't do it. who's going to ??? Haven't we seen how every ten years or so there is another generation of smart bottoms who know it all ? :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We're in a Golden Age? I heard that idea a few years back from none other than Claudia Fritz, who in the end is neither a violinist nor a violin maker and wouldn't know the difference between a Hargrave and a Heberlein. There are some fantastic makers today who's violins are wonderful. Back in the 1980's, Bellini and Peresson were soaking up the orders and excellent younger makers like Richard Oppelt were winning VSA medals.  Many players, illustrious masters like David Nadien or young hopefulls like myself were convinced that our new violins served us better in our work than the old masters to which we had access. Going back a generation there were makers like A.E.Smith who's violins were being used by top flight players. Are today's makers better than Sacconi or Capicchioni? The makers who worked for the Hills or the Bisiachs? Vuillaume? Lupot? Guadagnini? Buchstetter? Contreras? The Gaglianos? With this list I'm just working my way back to the Golden Age of Cremona by gradual increments and geographical zigzags. I do believe that certain makers, starting with Sacconi then continuing with others like Dilworth and especially Roger Hargrave, have disseminated more important knowledge about violin making to the widest audience ever, sharing things with provincial and amateur makers that once were only the guarded knowledge of those who worked in the biggest shops and handled the best violins in person. Calling it a "Golden Age," though, strikes me as a bit presumptuous, and lacking in humility in front of some pretty amazing work that has been done by some fine luthiers over the years. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Michael Appleman said:

We're in a Golden Age? I heard that idea a few years back from none other than Claudia Fritz, who in the end is neither a violinist nor a violin maker

Could being neither a violinist or violinmaker lend a better level of objectivity?

I'd been thinking that incorporating both violinist and violinmakers into her tests, and being neither herself, might be a good thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From a player's perspective this seems like a golden age to me, not because there are a few exceptional makers,  as pointed out there have great makers in every generation,  but the sheer number of extraordinary makers working now and the general very high level of violinmaking overall make our time seem like something special.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
25 minutes ago, Kat Dunham said:

From a player's perspective this seems like a golden age to me, not because there are a few exceptional makers,  as pointed out there have great makers in every generation,  but the sheer number of extraordinary makers working now and the general very high level of violinmaking overall make our time seem like something special.

I deliberately placed the term "Golden Age" in quotes in the OP.  If it makes it easier to think about this, let's use Kat's formulation.  Maybe that will entice more takers for the invitation to identify the factors.  Then again, maybe this horse has been thoroughly beaten in previous threads.  [Listens for final, pitiful whinny]  (I seem to be channeling my inner VdA.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
MANFIO   

I agree with Michael Appleman.

Vuillaume, for instance, sold his violins for one tenth of the price of a Strad, according to the Hill's book. Who can do that today?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Berl Mendenhall said:

[...]    Nothing has ever existed like we have now. Strad, the Amati's, and DG had just their apprenticeships and their brains. I'd say we have a considerable advantage.

[ ...]

They received an immersive indoctrination into a community and approach to making that had been successful at the highest level for generations.   No noise.

 

We receive a cacophony of conflicting and incoherent ideas, amid a general indoctrination into a system that has been aimed at economic expedience, and has not been succeeding at their level for several centuries.

True, there is a hint of potential and change brewing in the new more open world culture, but it isn't a simple clean advantage.  And, 'better tools' only leads down the road of more precise making.  Which over two centuries of efforts have demonstrated is NOT a better road with violins, despite its many successes in other fields.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Don Noon   

Although the original questions asked us to  "just assume we are in the middle of it -- a Golden Age", it seems to me that the focus of all the recent high-visibility testing has been to compare the very old instruments with the very modern, from living makers.  So we don't get much input about the makers from all the periods inbetween, to see if there is really a recent uptick in quality, or if it is just going along as usual.

But anyway... assuming today's makers are indeed better, then I would have to attribute it to shared knowledge:  more of it, accumulated over a longer period, and more easily shared by posters, meetings, email, phones, and of course the internet.  It is also easier to find and buy wood from all over the world now, and perhaps there is a larger supply of private, well-aged stashes of wood that could make a difference.  It may be the start of the Platinum Age when makers start churning out instruments from Hargrave's stockpile.  Or not.

I don't currently  see that modern technology is behind the assumed high quality modern instruments.  Perhaps the response plots and similar tools can diagnose basic problems that inexperienced makers might encounter, but I think it loses effectiveness at doing much for stepping up from very good to great.  If you can't tell from the plots or mode shapes what the difference is, then how can it help?  

The one area that modern technology might help is in wood properties, which is why I'm putting so much time into that area of identifying good wood, and developing artificial aging processing to push it even further.  It might not be a huge factor, but even a small one is something.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Addie   

A. In many ways, competitions shape the nature of the product.

B. Every generation myopically thinks it is either in a dark age or a golden age.

Sorry for the long post. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I see Kat Dunham's point that there does seem to be more high quality making going on in more places than even 30-40 years ago, but that could also be a result of a shifting demand in the market. When I was finishing my studies and starting to work ca1980, the violin sections in the BSO were were filled with Guadagninis, Amatis, Andrea and Joseph filius Guarneris, a gaggle of Gaglianos and one Strad, all owned by the players themselves bought with their own salaries and savings. As I hit the free-lance world to finance my international competition-losing career, the violins around me in the Boston Pops Esplanade orchestra and the Boston Ballet orchestra included a Camilli, a Grancino, a fine Lupot, Gaglianos, a Balestrieri, etc. also all bought with the salaries and savings of the players themselves. For many decades, I think the availability of good old violins, and their relative affordability for professional musicians meant that for many talented professionally trained luthiers who could have been making high quality new violins, it just didn't make economic sense to do so. I still have auction catalogues from the 1970's and the prices can be astonishing, even taking inflation into account. As those prices began to explode in the 1980's, players kept buying "down the food chain" until what had been "affordable" fiddles in the '70's were becoming $100k violins by y2k. (I had been playing a Scarampella until I "went contemporary" in 1986)

Today, I don't think there are many high quality older violins that can be had for less than the price of a good new violin, (with perhaps the exception of some French and German early 20th century violins whose prices are depressed by association with the thousands of trade violins from those countries) so there is a constant demand for high quality new violins. When I go to play with or in orchestras these days, I do see lots of Robins, Zyg's, Greiners etc. so maybe we are in a new "Golden Age," but I have to wonder, when I see how many violins were made by relatively forgotten luthiers in the past, if I could visit a French orchestra ca. 1910, how many violins I'd see by, say, Caressa & Français, Jombar, Lorange, Sylvestre, Bailly, Blanchard, Mermillot, Poirson etc...   

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Could being neither a violinist or violinmaker lend a better level of objectivity?

I'd been thinking that incorporating both violinist and violinmakers into her tests, and being neither herself, might be a good thing.

While I do think Claudia's tests brought something new in the way they isolated players from being able to guess what they were playing on, I believe that "Golden Age" line was "inspired" by some of the contemporary makers with whom she was working. I did try to make the point that there have always been exceptional makers in almost every generation, and suggested that her testing could be even more interesting if she included some select violins from different periods and different cities, but she was adamant the test had to be new vs. Strad. Bringing in Lupots, Vuillaumes or Beckers would just confuse the general public.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, David Beard said:

They received an immersive indoctrination into a community and approach to making that had been successful at the highest level for generations.   No noise.

 

We receive a cacophony of conflicting and incoherent ideas, amid a general indoctrination into a system that has been aimed at economic expedience, and has not been succeeding at their level for several centuries.

True, there is a hint of potential and change brewing in the new more open world culture, but it isn't a simple clean advantage.  And, 'better tools' only leads down the road of more precise making.  Which over two centuries of efforts have demonstrated is NOT a better road with violins, despite its many successes in other fields.

Agreed! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
34 minutes ago, Michael Appleman said:

 Today, I don't think there are many high quality older violins that can be had for less than the price of a good new violin, (with perhaps the exception of some French and German early 20th century violins whose prices are depressed by association with the thousands of trade violins from those countries) so there is a constant demand for high quality new violins. When I go to play with or in orchestras these days, I do see lots of Robins, Zyg's, Greiners etc. so maybe we are in a new "Golden Age," but I have to wonder, when I see how many violins were made by relatively forgotten luthiers in the past, if I could visit a French orchestra ca. 1910, how many violins I'd see by, say, Caressa & Français, Jombar, Lorange, Sylvestre, Bailly, Blanchard, Mermillot, Poirson etc...   

There seems to have been a huge demand fur violins around the turn of the last century, starting from around 1875 or so. Lots of orchestras, lots of chamber ensembles and only one way to make noise. A friend of mine now long dead studied with Sevcik in Prague around that time and on a Sunday, while strolling through town one would hear a quartet from about every second house. A pretty common and taken very seriously occupation was to be a grade school teacher. They were prepared in what was known as Normal School. Violin was compulsory. Around the same time, renting a piano in Hamburg was easier and quicker than renting a tuxedo. Present at the debut of some later very famous piano player, a young student at the Hamburg Cons quickly estimated that around half the audience could've played the concert at that very moment and half could've made a passable job of conducting it. 

Very different times. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
HoGo   

Let's not forget pretty much unlimited access to best quality woods from all places of this world.

Stradivari used all kinds of wood that many current violinist/ luthiers would not touch with 10 foot pole....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, carl stross said:

There seems to have been a huge demand fur violins around the turn of the last century, starting from around 1875 or so. Lots of orchestras, lots of chamber ensembles and only one way to make noise. A friend of mine now long dead studied with Sevcik in Prague around that time and on a Sunday, while strolling through town one would hear a quartet from about every second house. A pretty common and taken very seriously occupation was to be a grade school teacher. They were prepared in what was known as Normal School. Violin was compulsory. Around the same time, renting a piano in Hamburg was easier and quicker than renting a tuxedo. Present at the debut of some later very famous piano player, a young student at the Hamburg Cons quickly estimated that around half the audience could've played the concert at that very moment and half could've made a passable job of conducting it. 

Very different times. 

Making home music was much more popular, prior to the days of broadcast media, and then the internet and social media. If you wanted much music around, you pretty much had to make it yourself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.