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reivew of 'Gone' by Min Kym, book about stolen Strad


John_London
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I read the book and really enjoyed it. I thought the sections on her progression of teachers, her family life, her relationships, was all very interesting. Tarisio comes off looking very poorly, but they also probably deserve it. She was definitely used as a vehicle to resell the violin and the role of her boyfriend in the deal seems to have made things more painful. To me it is a bit unseemly to make money off of the tragedy. Part of the book's appeal to me is how she tries to make sense of several struggles (violin loss, boyfriend, struggles of performing life). I don't know how much of a "celebrity" player she was, but part of the challenge seems to be the people in her orbit who were using her or dependent on her success for their own sense of worth. I also thought it was funny how she trash-talked the buyer, who indeed seems to be a kind of popular player whose main claim to fame now is that he has a very old violin.

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20 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

...I felt sorry for her all her pain.  I should just give her one of my violins so she can finally forget about her lost Strad and forget about needing lots of money to find true love.

Is she still single?

That is the puzzling part. She gives the impression she just assumed you need an old Italian, and never mentions anything else, as if she had been taught that and believed it, without checking. You cannot blame the dealer for not offering a customer looking for a Strad something much cheaper. Would any of her teachers have had a financial interest in guiding her towards an expensive instrument?

Nah, not single. She had a fling with a worn out Strad, then found a beloved Amati. Don't go there.

 

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9 hours ago, John_London said:

That is the puzzling part. She gives the impression she just assumed you need an old Italian, and never mentions anything else, as if she had been taught that and believed it, without checking.

Perhaps she simply felt that this particular controversy was beyond the scope of her book.

I hope that as a well-known violinist, she has at least heard of people like Sam Zygmuntowicz.

Also, saying that a Stradivarius isn't all that special anyways would kind of have detracted from the point of her book.

However: had she wound up with a Bergonzi or a Guadagnini, that would be one thing. Since it was instead an Amati she ended up with, then indeed, as I understand things, that is an instrument which does lack some of the essential attributes of a top-flight soloist violin, and an instrument from a good modern maker, while (from the Stradivari-centric perspective) it might involve compromises, those compromises could well be less than those involved with an Amati.

Edited by Quadibloc
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10 hours ago, John_London said:

That is the puzzling part. She gives the impression she just assumed you need an old Italian, and never mentions anything else, as if she had been taught that and believed it, without checking. You cannot blame the dealer for not offering a customer looking for a Strad something much cheaper. Would any of her teachers have had a financial interest in guiding her towards an expensive instrument?

Nah, not single. She had a fling with a worn out Strad, then found a beloved Amati. Don't go there.

 

This is a very pertinent observation which invalidates the claim by so many (you might call it the "Stross position") that top because soloists always choose Strads and del Gesus, ergo these violins are necessarily the best.

Top soloists simply don't get to try anything else unless they are of a very adventurous and open disposition. They are indoctrinated from a very early age.

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On 6/13/2018 at 4:16 AM, Cincitaipei said:

 Tarisio comes off looking very poorly, but they also probably deserve it. She was definitely used as a vehicle to resell the violin and the role of her boyfriend in the deal seems to have made things more painful. To me it is a bit unseemly to make money off of the tragedy. 

I for one will never know if it was an inside job of sorts to get the instrument from her but one question is why after all these years of having the best since childhood all of a sudden she looses one, a big one.

Alcohol - drug usage on her part, maybe.  A need for for money/insurance scam or an over manipulitive boyfriend just trying to see if he can succeed in real time using the devious thoughts he had before hand - probably. 

Hmm, it is post spawn for most species and eco systems should be in full swing in most places.  This shouldn't take long to figure out. 

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4 hours ago, martin swan said:

This is a very pertinent observation which invalidates the claim by so many (you might call it the "Stross position") that top because soloists always choose Strads and del Gesus, ergo these violins are necessarily the best.

Top soloists simply don't get to try anything else unless they are of a very adventurous and open disposition. They are indoctrinated from a very early age.

I noticed that the Tarisio site mentioned that she "subsequently acquired another Stradivarius", so I guess that's the worn-out one referred to which she tried before settling on an Amati. (EDIT: I now see that it is one of several Stadivarius violins called "Castelbarco"; this one, however, was not "worn out" from excessive age or playing, but instead had its belly severely damaged in an accident, and not properly restored.)

However, there aren't enough Stradivarius violins around for top soloists to have been playing nothing else "from a very early age". Of course, like everyone else, they would most likely have started out playing horrible cheap "student" violins.

As they progress, though, I would presume they would move up to better ones; thus, even though the prevailing position among musicians may be that Stradivari and Guarneri were the best, I would find it surprising to hear that it was likely that a top soloist would have no experience of violins made by top contemporary makers.

That, of course, does not mean they've been encouraged to invest the kind of time and effort into getting used to a modern instrument that they would for an Old Italian.

Edited by Quadibloc
Noted identity of violin
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Thinking of a couple of "top soloists" I know, really the least expensive violin they played from the age of about 10 onwards would be a Vuillaume. The kid who just won the Menuhin competition was playing a loaned 1/2 size Balestrieri ...

Second rate violins to people with the full Strad mindset would be a Peter of Venice or a Guadagnini. There is just no situation in which someone would put a £20k violin in front of them and say "look, you could make a career on this".

I suppose when they are fully formed and are taking students then they have to cast an eye over cheaper violins, but there's always an incentive towards the more expensive instruments.

 

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I don't disagree with any of the preceding comments about prodigies and soloists sometimes perhaps having a limited view of the potential of new instruments. However, it is not invariably like this. A quite well-known violin soloist and international competition winner has played with my orchestra quite a few times over the years. The first couple of times he came to us he was playing on a Greiner, and sounded great. A few years later he came back and was playing on a Strad. He sounded great. A few years later he returned, playing on a Szygmuntovich. He sounded great. In fact, although memory can be a tricky thing, I think the Szygmuntovich was my favorite... so far. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure this individual is in a position to have the loan of something very expensive if he wanted to and found something to his liking. 

I can also think of two well-known cellists who have played with us in recent years on modern cellos, by Moes and Moes, and Filippo Fasser. Just an observation.

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

 There is just no situation in which someone would put a £20k violin in front of them and say "look, you could make a career on this".

I wonder what the retiring pro players selling or having to give back their loaner would choose for a violin after the career is through.

   I can't image any Strad or DG being a finer player than the bone God threw me some time back.    

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6 hours ago, martin swan said:

 The kid who just won the Menuhin competition was playing a loaned 1/2 size Balestrieri ...

I do remember reading about another violinist who, in an autobiographical piece, noted that he played, when young, with a reduced-size violin by one of the Old Italians loaned from a Soviet state collection - at first, he was not impressed, but after being reminded that it would take effort to make it sing, he persevered, and succeeded.

Not all top soloists, though, were child prodigies; they may have started learning to play violin at an early age, but only achieved recognition later on.

Some top soloists who do totally buy into the Stradivarius hype - Joseph Silverstein, I'm looking at you - have devoted time and energy, and often the loan of violins, to efforts to try to help science find out what makes those violins so special. If such efforts could succeed, they would prevent another tragedy like that which Kym Min-Jin experienced.

Obviously, such efforts can't succeed if all there is to it is hype. The Dünnwald graphs seem to indicate otherwise.

That is: while fine violins by accomplished modern makers may equal or surpass even the finest violins of Stradivarius in overall quality - science can't really do much to settle that question one way or another, because there is no accepted definition of quality in a violin that's precise enough for objective measurement (the best one can do is double-blind tests, and modern makers have been coming off of those rather well of late) - Old Italian violins do have at least one sonic characteristic, reasonably considered to be associated postively with sound quality, that quality modern violins tend not to have.

I don't know (either) if modern luthiers need a magic ground coat or really old wood, to put the bulk of the resonances in the apparently desirable 1700 to 2300 Hz (or whatever) region, or if their present techniques are adequate to the task, but they just need to take that seriously as a goal.

But I do think it quite reasonable that... shall we call them "Dünnwald-compliant violins by fine modern luthiers"... were to be subjected to an extensive playtesting by a number of master violinists who have a Stradivari preference, but are open to the possibility of modern makers at least approaching more closely to that ideal than heretofore - we would stand a chance of getting some very useful information.

First, of course, and most useful, would be how to make a violin "Dünnwald-compliant". But because that likely wouldn't automatically guarantee even a good violin, how to adapt one's techniques of making a good or great violin to the additional constraint of Dünnwald-compliance is also needed. That, though, master luthiers could figure out for themselves, at least for the most part.

Where the master violinists come in is to find out two things: whether it is all hype, and they will never be satisfied, and, if not, given Dünnwald-compliance, what direction is it necessary to go in order to capture what may be the more subtle virtues of a Stradivarius - since presence in the concert hall, today's fine luthiers have already achieved, but relative ease of obtaining a fine tone appears more elusive.

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1 hour ago, Quadibloc said:

I do remember reading about another violinist who, in an autobiographical piece, noted that he played, when young, with a reduced-size violin by one of the Old Italians loaned from a Soviet state collection - at first, he was not impressed, but after being reminded that it would take effort to make it sing, he persevered, and succeeded.

Not all top soloists, though, were child prodigies; they may have started learning to play violin at an early age, but only achieved recognition later on.

Some top soloists who do totally buy into the Stradivarius hype - Joseph Silverstein, I'm looking at you - have devoted time and energy, and often the loan of violins, to efforts to try to help science find out what makes those violins so special. If such efforts could succeed, they would prevent another tragedy like that which Kym Min-Jin experienced.

Obviously, such efforts can't succeed if all there is to it is hype. The Dünnwald graphs seem to indicate otherwise.

That is: while fine violins by accomplished modern makers may equal or surpass even the finest violins of Stradivarius in overall quality - science can't really do much to settle that question one way or another, because there is no accepted definition of quality in a violin that's precise enough for objective measurement (the best one can do is double-blind tests, and modern makers have been coming off of those rather well of late) - Old Italian violins do have at least one sonic characteristic, reasonably considered to be associated postively with sound quality, that quality modern violins tend not to have.

I don't know (either) if modern luthiers need a magic ground coat or really old wood, to put the bulk of the resonances in the apparently desirable 1700 to 2300 Hz (or whatever) region, or if their present techniques are adequate to the task, but they just need to take that seriously as a goal.

But I do think it quite reasonable that... shall we call them "Dünnwald-compliant violins by fine modern luthiers"... were to be subjected to an extensive playtesting by a number of master violinists who have a Stradivari preference, but are open to the possibility of modern makers at least approaching more closely to that ideal than heretofore - we would stand a chance of getting some very useful information.

First, of course, and most useful, would be how to make a violin "Dünnwald-compliant". But because that likely wouldn't automatically guarantee even a good violin, how to adapt one's techniques of making a good or great violin to the additional constraint of Dünnwald-compliance is also needed. That, though, master luthiers could figure out for themselves, at least for the most part.

Where the master violinists come in is to find out two things: whether it is all hype, and they will never be satisfied, and, if not, given Dünnwald-compliance, what direction is it necessary to go in order to capture what may be the more subtle virtues of a Stradivarius - since presence in the concert hall, today's fine luthiers have already achieved, but relative ease of obtaining a fine tone appears more elusive.

Whilst this conversation, carried on other threads, is interesting, the book is more interesting for the light it throws on the cultural and psychological issues. Charles Beare showed the author a golden period Strad and a somewhat problematic long pattern at the same time. She did not immediately like the former, and instantly fell in love with the latter, which was the violin which was later stolen. Had he offered her a the same golden period Strad and an excellent modern copy of the long pattern, letting her think they were both Strads, the chance of her having picked the real golden period Stad--presumably the 'Dunnwald compliant' violin--is probably not strong. Just a guess of course.

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6 minutes ago, John_London said:

Just a guess of course.

While I could quibble, because what I mean by the term Dünnwald-compliant embraces not only all Strads and Guarneris, but even Guadagninis, Amatis and likely Balestrieris... your point is still well-taken that she doesn't rank violins strictly by the conventional ordering of preference.

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I've mentioned before on MN that I thought Dunnwald's research was poorly done--he apparently started with his conclusions and then cherry picked his data to support his conclusion--that modern makers weren't duplicating Old Italian violin's frequency response curves.  

Hence Old Italian violins sound different than modern ones and are therefore are liked better by top players. So everybody is off doing wild goose chases trying to find the reasons why (wood age, origin, properties, treatments, finishes, .....).

One more thing that Dunnwald did which I find dishonest, deceitful, (or at best to be more charitable) lazy was his failure to cite previous earlier research by Fredric Saunders in his references which showed the opposite conclusions.  Saunders had found that some modern violins had indeed matched the frequency response curves of famous old instruments and had similar playing qualities. These were highly rated by two good players (one was Heifetz who had his own Strad and DG) in blind tests.

 

I've attached one of Saunders' papers that I've previously posted on MN.

 

 

Saunders The Mechanical Action of Instruments of the Violin Family JASA 1946.pdf

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3 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I've attached one of Saunders' papers that I've previously posted on MN.

 

 

Saunders The Mechanical Action of Instruments of the Violin Family JASA 1946.pdf

With regard to the single Markie they tested:

"Violin X is one of the cheapest type, made in Czechoslovakia, it could be bought. with
case, bow, and a set of directions for playing it, for less than $15.00. It had, however, been somewhat "doctored" by a new bridge arranged to filter out some of the excessive high frequencies, and by new strings to give more strength in the low ranges. It sounded well when Mr. Heifetz played it, but not otherwise".

I'd expect similar comments could be made on some of the Strads they tested. :lol:

A case for wood treatment:

"Our measurements indicate that old violins weigh less on the average than new ones. Seven Strads varied from 373 to 394 grams (with chin rests removed); average 383 grams. Six other old violins varied from 354 (Stainer) to 389 grams; average 374. Thirteen new violins varied from 381 to 435 grams; average 410 grams. The three violins in the Heifetz test weighed from 391 to 413 grams; average 410 grams. The new violins are 7 percent heavier than the Strads. Naturally, the lighter a violin is, the easier it is to shake. It ought to be as light as is safe, considering the strong forces which the tension of the strings imposes on the instrument. Modern makers have said that one cannot safely make a violin top as thin as those of Stradivarius without danger of collapse  This can hardly be due to any change in 200 years in the nature of the wood available from the tree whose wood is almost universally preferred, the Norway spruce, Picea excelsa. It is true that the tension of violin strings is now greater than it was 200 years ago, because of the rise of musical pitch; but the Strads, fitted  with stronger bass-bars are capable of withstanding this.  So we conclude that the wood has gained strength with age, or that it was treated by the early makers in such a way as to increase the strength at the time, or at least to make an increase in strength more likely through age"

BTW, Page 183 is duplicated, and Page 184 is missing.  I figure that was the page on which they revealed major clues to Strad's secret,  and decided that the Markie was a remarkable bargain compared to the other violins.  It's all a cover-up.  Where the heck is Jezzupe? :ph34r::lol::)

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8 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

354 (Stainer)

 

8 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Naturally, the lighter a violin is, the easier it is to shake. It ought to be as light as is safe, considering the strong forces which the tension of the strings imposes on the instrument.

Another victory for Stainer! B)

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3 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Saunders had found that some modern violins had indeed matched the frequency response curves of famous old instruments and had similar playing qualities.

Why, thank you. I won't have to go to Joseph Nagyvary, then, nor will I have to wait forever; it will be possible for me to have goose for supper after all!

Initially, on reviewing the document, it seemed his frequency bands were too broad. But I see that Band IV corresponds reasonably well to the area that, according to Dunnwald's graphs, was accentuated in old Italian violins compared to others. However, given the differences in frequency responses found in Saunders' "new" and "old" methods, I am worried that there may be limits in accuracy.

Still, I don't think it impossible that Dunnwald may have removed outliers from his results to make the distinctions he wished to highlight as general trends clear.

Edited by Quadibloc
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8 minutes ago, martin swan said:

A great deal of "scientific research" can be invalidated by a very small amount of practical experience.

It certainly is true that a beautiful theory can be killed by an ugly fact.

When it comes to scientific studies of violin sound, one thing should be kept in mind.

Physical scientists have their problems with cranks and crackpots who claim they've discovered antigravity, or that Einstein was wrong, and so on and so forth.

From their experience, therefore, they dismiss contradictory notions which issue from outside the halls of academe; people who haven't taken first-year calculus are unlikely to be able to make useful contributions to atomic physics.

Through... professional courtesy, one might say... they assume the same applies to other disciplines. So if a physicist were, for some reason, to be involved in a matter concerning the history of Shakespeare, presumably he would do so on the basis of accepting, without question, that the plays commonly attributed to Shakespeare were indeed written by William Shakespeare and none other.

And when it comes to most of the alternative theories of authorship that have been advanced, that would be on sound grounds: thus, the well-known theory that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays was often advanced by claims that coded messages were found in the plays: and those claims were proven false by mathematical methods related to information theory which would be highly intelligible to a physicist.

On the other hand, the less well-known theory that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays, while hardly proven, is at least more plausible than the others that have been advanced.

Among musicians - and music is an academic discipline that is taught at colleges and universities - the reputation of Stradivarius violins is the prevailing belief. Those who have said that modern violins can be as good have been the outsiders.

Which is why they start from the assumption that Stradivarius was doing something special that is as yet unknown. And, of course, if the case is that of "The Emperor's New Clothes", when they think they have found the secret, the fate that will await them is not to be believed, and to themselves become esteemed as cranks!

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Having played a few Strads, and having spent most of my working life twiddling with frequencies, I would stake my life on the assertion that any special quality of Stradivari violins is NOT to do with the particular frequency-related properties of his violins around 2-3kHz.

So whatever Dunnwald says, I don't believe it. 

I have been amazed over the years at how scientific papers consistently miss the point or come up with conclusions that are patently wrong, just because the line of enquiry is so divorced from any holistic understanding of the violin, music, acoustics, human psychology etc.

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8 hours ago, Violadamore said:

A case for wood treatment:

"Our measurements indicate that old violins weigh less on the average than new ones. Seven Strads varied from 373 to 394 grams (with chin rests removed); average 383 grams. Six other old violins varied from 354 (Stainer) to 389 grams; average 374. Thirteen new violins varied from 381 to 435 grams; average 410 grams. The three violins in the Heifetz test weighed from 391 to 413 grams; average 410 grams. The new violins are 7 percent heavier than the Strads. Naturally, the lighter a violin is, the easier it is to shake. It ought to be as light as is safe, considering the strong forces which the tension of the strings imposes on the instrument. Modern makers have said that one cannot safely make a violin top as thin as those of Stradivarius without danger of collapse  This can hardly be due to any change in 200 years in the nature of the wood available from the tree whose wood is almost universally preferred, the Norway spruce, Picea excelsa. It is true that the tension of violin strings is now greater than it was 200 years ago, because of the rise of musical pitch; but the Strads, fitted  with stronger bass-bars are capable of withstanding this.  So we conclude that the wood has gained strength with age, or that it was treated by the early makers in such a way as to increase the strength at the time, or at least to make an increase in strength more likely through age"

Taken with the ridiculousness and humor in which it was offered (I hope). ;):)

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6 hours ago, martin swan said:

just because the line of enquiry is so divorced from any holistic understanding of the violin, music, acoustics, human psychology etc.

On this specific point, I part company. You may be right about a lot of things, but if a physicist who was an expert in acoustics tried to study violins from a "holistic" point of view, with music and psychology thrown in, then he would be more likely, not less, to come up with nonsense, because he would be straying far outside of his depth.

Dunnwald may have been wrong - there may have been modern violins with Old Italian-like characteristics that he overlooked or neglected - but I was inclined to accept his findings as valid because they were something within the competence of a scientist. Take a bunch of violins, and measure their frequency response. A scientist who has no particular expertise in music or human psychology is at least competent to do that properly.

What do those findings mean? That's a whole other question, where people with expertise in other fields can contribute.

  • Could the difference be irrelevant to violin quality?
  • Could it be a minor factor, but overrated because of the Stradivari mystique?
  • Could it explain why modern makers can make violins that excel in some respects, but fall short of Stradivarius in others?

I had felt that the answer was a mix of the last two, but what mix wouldn't be found out until we could make violins with that sonic attribute ourselves. If modern makers are already making such violins, then we need to... what? Expose and debunk Dunnwald? Sort of: we need to know who these modern makers are, and which of those have the frequency response attributes assigned by Dunnwald to the old Italians, and then do some more careful comparison and study between these violins and the old Italians.

I have noticed that the answers to some of the most basic questions are hard to find. Stradivarius pitched the backs of his violins a whole tone higher than the bellies. Some other makers only had a semitone between them - I think it was the Brescians, and Amati also used a whole tone, but it could be the other way around. I asked myself, had anyone ever tried more than a whole tone difference?

Just recently, I happened to stumble upon a mention that, yes, indeed, someone did: Giussepe Guarneri del Gesu. It was such an obscure reference, that I'm currently asking myself if most luthiers who make violins according to the Guarneri pattern have even had the opportunity to know this? Probably they do, and I'm unduly pessimistic.

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3 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

On this specific point, I part company. You may be right about a lot of things, but if a physicist who was an expert in acoustics tried to study violins from a "holistic" point of view, with music and psychology thrown in, then he would be more likely, not less, to come up with nonsense, because he would be straying far outside of his depth.

Dunnwald may have been wrong - there may have been modern violins with Old Italian-like characteristics that he overlooked or neglected - but I was inclined to accept his findings as valid because they were something within the competence of a scientist. Take a bunch of violins, and measure their frequency response. A scientist who has no particular expertise in music or human psychology is at least competent to do that properly.

 

Is it your assertion that scientists are immune to lore, and other psychological influences?

Hasn't it already been suggested, by more than one rather well-informed person, that you might be over-valuing Dunnwald's conclusions? Are you sure that science and psychology are entirely separable, when humans are performing the experiments? If science and psychology were indistinct in your own mind, would you recognize it?

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