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So...why didn't the Germans keep up with the Italians?

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Going back to the OP,  I have my own particular take on this and see several different phases to it all.

First, I think the old Italian violin making was excellent and deserving of high respect.  This is undoubtedly the root of the whole matter, in its legitimate aspects, and in its romanticized, overextended, and mythologized aspects.

 

Phase 1, why did old Italian making develop an advantage

So why were the old Italian instruments better.  I believe there are several parts to this.  One, they made for a high target royal and religious market.  Two, they made within a shared community tradition.  This meant they continually benefitted from collective learning.  I don't believe there is anything coincidental about the best of these old Italian instruments coming from the last couple of decades before the economics and structure of this centuries-long continuous development begin to break down.  Those last decades represent a culmination of literally centuries of develop.  No violin making since has been similarly positioned.

The third part of the success of old Italian and particularly Cremona making has been the subject of my research these last 9+ years now.   Their traditions involved structured geometric design of every feature, and sizing and locating thoroughly grounded in ratio relations between features.  This has many consequences that strongly benefitted old Italian making.   

Since every detail was designed with simple geometry and sized and placed with simple ratios, it was essentially repeatable.  Further, it was repeatable as a process presenting a finite number of limited traditional choices.   Repeat the same process with the same choices, you get essentially the same result.   Repeat with a few changes in the choices and you get a strongly related variation.   This provided a strong backbone to the community learning inherent in the old Italian making traditions.

The last part of this will perhaps seem the wildest to some.   Structuring work in this combination of geometry and ratios amounts to a system of encoding the design choices and variations that acted like a DNA code behind the several centuries of continuous evolution in Italian making.   Crazy and strange as the idea sounds, I believe this is exactly why Italian making developed as powerfully as it did, and why some pockets of Italian making developed a real advantage in the collection choices they were exploring.

 

 

Phase 2, why regional differences in Old making.  

So the picture I'm conjecturing has Old Italian string instruments sharing some broad principles and methods of making.  Shapes are designed within a traditionally limited range of geometric constructions and ratio relationships among features.   Old Italian bout designs for a Gamba, a Braccio, a Violetta, or a Viola all use vesici together with various joining arcs and sometimes some straight lines.  And they all use simple ratios to guide sizing and placement. Etc.  Wherever you care to look, Old Italian string instruments show broadly related elements and principles in approaching overall proportions, stops, bouts, the location of soundholes etc.   However, considerable variations in the exact combinations of using these things vary by instrument family, and region, and family, and to some extent by the individual maker.   And we see variations in the focus of production. 

Cremona shows a high focus on violin family and violins, even though other instruments are also produced.  Brescia seems to have had a greater early focus on low members of the violin family.   Venice all along seems to produce a broad range of bowed strings, including plenty of viols.

To me, it's very interesting that basically all the design principles and methods observable in Andrea Amati find precedents variously in the instruments of Zanetto of Brescia, and Giovanni Maria of Venice.   My working hypothesis is that essentially Andrea Amati created the full range violin family by redesigning the violas as seen in Zanetto's works with the sophistication and range of design choices seen in Giovanni Maria work.  I'm not saying these two makers were Amati's actual precursor sources, but that their works give us existing examples of the two things Amati brought together to make the violin family.

Perhaps this is a big part of why these regions feel like ground zero for violins, even now in today's global market.

At least three Cremona families seem to show a deep and long memory of the traditional general making traditions.  This was perhaps another reason for Cremona's ascendance.  With the Amati, Strad, and Guarneri families we can see endless examples of the makers tinkering with specifics of the geometry and ratio choices in their building.  This kind of steady variation would be very helpful to the kind of evolution of community tradition that I've posited as the main mechanism of Old Italian and Cremona eventually accumulating advantages.  

But also, these families all show examples of remembering older less common options and freely reviving these when it suited.   Two examples,  Strad's pochette of 1717 uses some long radii compound arcs in the curves rising from the bout vesici toward the corners.  This kind of compound riser geometry isn't common in Cremona violin family work, but it is precedented in Giovanni Maria work from nearly two centuries earlier.   Second example, in Cremona violin family work it is normal to relate the level of the upper soundhole eyes to a square around the upper bouts (same as UB down from neck edge of body), but in Del Gusu's 1735 very small Chardon this upper eye level is related to a square around the lower bout.   This not a standard choice for Cremona violin work, but it is common for a Zanetto viola. Once again a choice reaching backward by a couple centuries.

 

 

Phase 3, copying the other guy's success.

You don't always see the old makers working by the rules within the traditions.    What do you do if you know how to make your town's typical instrument models within the rules, but the market has moved to prefer another town's very significantly different kind of instrument?   It seems they imitated the popular model.  But that traditional system of deaign choices ends up being less supportive of somethings than others.  Slow evolutions work well. You mostly repeat known choices, varying just a few.   And creating a well structured uniquely sized or shaped inatrument works well also.  Here you make whatevery new choicea you wish, but within traditional elements and principles.   But limitating an existing well strucured model can be a challenge, especially when you don't know the basics of the choices used in that model. The tradition allows latitude, but only in structured steps. Discovering the combination of traditional choices someone used in a model you don't know, can be like breaking a code or picking a lock.  If someone from your town does something you'd like to copy, they probably can't stop you from figuring it out.  You know that their choice is only a slight variation on the traditional choices used in your town.  Most of what they did you will already  understand, and the one litle missing bit will still follow the general traditions, so you won't likely have much trouble following the last bit they did.   But if someone from another town does something you want to duplicate, it maybe much tuffer to crack.  There maybe several layers of specitic choices that are somewhat different than your norms, even though in a larger sense they the follow common principles. From the outside, deciphering the specific collection of choices in a shape isn't always trivial, even when you know the general rules.   For complex shapes like the head or sound holes the number of specific choices can be quite high, and decrypting them can be a real challenge.

I believe we witness this at various times in Old Italian making.  For example, in some early Brescian work we see a different but thoroughly self-possessed collection of choices, and heads and soundholes that look archaic to use now, but nevertheless appear confidently well determined. These were features whose component choices the Breacian makers knew.  But somewhat later we see Brescians trying to imitate the now successful Cremona model scrolls and soundholes.  These often have a less secure character.   To me these moments seem like attempts to imitate when the underlying design choices aren't fully understood.

Beyond these exceptional moments of imitation, we also see less structured more primitive making by people who simply aren't insiders to thw tradition.  Such less informed making seems to be part of the landscape pretty much in all times and places

So in making a violin, there is always both a making process and a design process.   Sometimes the physical making is on the back, sometimes on an inside mold, sometimes on an outside mold.  Similarly, sometimes designs are original, sometimes native to the local tradition, sometimes innovative.  Sometimes designs are geometric and well-structured, sometimes rationally sized and located.   Sometimes design is carried out interactively and uniquely with each build, sometimes it follows a template or model. Sometimes well structured designed reaches thoroughly into the least details versus just toching main strokes of an overall picture.  Etc.

Part of my hypothesis is that the Old Italian instruments we most favor are mostly:

* Designed uniquely and interactively with each build

* within tradition geometry and ratios

* designed thoroughly in every detail

* mostly built on inside mold

* closely linked to the collection of choices that developed in Brescia, Venice, and particularly Cremona.

 

 

Phase 4, outside Italy.

On sort of a large scale, looking from the outside, we can fairly confidently say the roots of western published instrumental music grow out of the Ars Nova and then the early Italian Baroque, and get exported.   But we can also say that diverse precursors already existed in Spanish, English, French, and Germanic regions.   But these precursors encompassed a menagerie of bowed strings.  The rising dominance of the violin family itself strongly benefited from Italian elements; the French court purchase of Amati instruments and import of Lulli, fellow Cremonan Monteverdi's use of a violin orchestra in the roots of Italian instrumental baroque, the prominence of Venice in early instrumental publishing, etc.

Regardless of any murky origin stories, the emergence of the dominance of the violin appeared as an Italian export.

This fact alone is likely still a factor today in our current bias to favor Italian in all things violin.  But it is even more significant as a factor in the early dominance of Old Italian violins.

Even the success and value of Stainer instruments is the exception that proves Italian dominance rather denies it.

By all appearances, Stainer's methods appear to be a closer insider's variation from a Brothers Amati Cremona starting point.   Moreover, general Germanic methods seem to have continued in much more loosely linked imitative methods rather than closely following from Stainer's lead.

Similarly, while English viol making seems to be much more linked to the broad Italian traditions of clear geometry and ratio choices, the violin making seems to have entered as a mixed bag of often more loosely imitative methods.

 

 

Phase 5, economic and social change

I believe the French, English, and Germans absolutely did surpass the Italians, in the commercialization of the violin.

With changing times, they were freer to completely revamp and modernize.  While the Italians tried to adapt valued traditions, other cultures were freer to entirely recast making into the commercially driven cottage industry approaches that are the roots of modern methods.  Voltaire and Napolean would be proud.

 

 

Phase 6, marketing is more important than production.

Led by French and English dealer houses, three things were realized, cultivated, and developed:  1) You could still get much more money from a single instrument my fixing and reselling good old style stuff than by trying to dress up new commercial sh*"'#t.  2) Everybody knew that plenty of respected artists strongly preferred particular makers and instruments over others.  3) Any kind of marketing, moral or immoral  -- factual or not, that made any association to preferred older making would increase saleability and price with almost all buyers.

Thus, not only did the English, French, and German maker/dealers commercially surpass the Italians commercially, but they also discovered how to capitalize on the actual real advantage of the best old instruments, Italian and otherwise, but proceeded to maximize this value by overblowing this to absurd romanticized and mythologized extremes.

And we continue to live in this marketing hyped environment today.

 

*************

Lots of hypothesis and unguarded assertions here.  I'm not going to try to defend the picture I've painted.  It's interesting to me.  And my bet says it's surprisingly close to truth.  But it's also just indefensible conjecture.

For those who might find these imagings somehow offending or unforgivable, please regard them simply as fantasy fiction.

After all, winter is coming.

 

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51 minutes ago, David Beard said:

Going back to the OP,  I have my own particular take on this and see several different phases to it all.

First, I think the old Italian violin making was excellent and deserving of high respect.  This is undoubtedly the root of the whole matter, in its legitimate aspects, and in its romanticized, overextended, and mythologized aspects.

 

Phase 1, why did old Italian making develop an advantage

So why were the old Italian instruments better.  I believe there are several parts to this.  One, they made for a high target royal and religious market.  Two, they made within a shared community tradition.  This meant they continually benefitted from collective learning.  I don't believe there is anything coincidental about the best of these old Italian instruments coming from the last couple of decades before the economics and structure of this centuries-long continuous development begin to break down.  Those last decades represent a culmination of literally centuries of develop.  No violin making since has been similarly positioned.

The third part of the success of old Italian and particularly Cremona making has been the subject of my research these last 9+ years now.   Their traditions involved structured geometric design of every feature, and sizing and locating thoroughly grounded in ratio relations between features.  This has many consequences that strongly benefitted old Italian making.   

Since every detail was designed with simple geometry and sized and placed with simple ratios, it was essentially repeatable.  Further, it was repeatable as a process presenting a finite number of limited traditional choices.   Repeat the same process with the same choices, you get essentially the same result.   Repeat with a few changes in the choices and you get a strongly related variation.   This provided a strong backbone to the community learning inherent in the old Italian making traditions.

The last part of this will perhaps seem the wildest to some.   Structuring work in this combination of geometry and ratios amounts to a system of encoding the design choices and variations that acted like a DNA code behind the several centuries of continuous evolution in Italian making.   Crazy and strange as the idea sounds, I believe this is exactly why Italian making developed as powerfully as it did, and why some pockets of Italian making developed a real advantage in the collection choices they were exploring.

 

 

Phase 2, why regional differences in Old making.  

So the picture I'm conjecturing has Old Italian string instruments sharing some broad principles and methods of making.  Shapes are designed within a traditionally limited range of geometric constructions and ratio relationships among features.   Old Italian bout designs for a Gamba, a Braccio, a Violetta, or a Viola all use vesici together with various joining arcs and sometimes some straight lines.  And they all use simple ratios to guide sizing and placement. Etc.  Wherever you care to look, Old Italian string instruments show broadly related elements and principles in approaching overall proportions, stops, bouts, the location of soundholes etc.   However, considerable variations in the exact combinations of using these things vary by instrument family, and region, and family, and to some extent by the individual maker.   And we see variations in the focus of production. 

Cremona shows a high focus on violin family and violins, even though other instruments are also produced.  Brescia seems to have had a greater early focus on low members of the violin family.   Venice all along seems to produce a broad range of bowed strings, including plenty of viols.

To me, it's very interesting that basically all the design principles and methods observable in Andrea Amati find precedents variously in the instruments of Zanetto of Brescia, and Giovanni Maria of Venice.   My working hypothesis is that essentially Andrea Amati created the full range violin family by redesigning the violas as seen in Zanetto's works with the sophistication and range of design choices seen in Giovanni Maria work.  I'm not saying these two makers were Amati's actual precursor sources, but that their works give us existing examples of the two things Amati brought together to make the violin family.

Perhaps this is a big part of why these regions feel like ground zero for violins, even now in today's global market.

At least three Cremona families seem to show a deep and long memory of the traditional general making traditions.  This was perhaps another reason for Cremona's ascendance.  With the Amati, Strad, and Guarneri families we can see endless examples of the makers tinkering with specifics of the geometry and ratio choices in their building.  This kind of steady variation would be very helpful to the kind of evolution of community tradition that I've posited as the main mechanism of Old Italian and Cremona eventually accumulating advantages.  

But also, these families all show examples of remembering older less common options and freely reviving these when it suited.   Two examples,  Strad's pochette of 1717 uses some long radii compound arcs in the curves rising from the bout vesici toward the corners.  This kind of compound riser geometry isn't common in Cremona violin family work, but it is precedented in Giovanni Maria work from nearly two centuries earlier.   Second example, in Cremona violin family work it is normal to relate the level of the upper soundhole eyes to a square around the upper bouts (same as UB down from neck edge of body), but in Del Gusu's 1735 very small Chardon this upper eye level is related to a square around the lower bout.   This not a standard choice for Cremona violin work, but it is common for a Zanetto viola. Once again a choice reaching backward by a couple centuries.

 

 

Phase 3, copying the other guy's success.

You don't always see the old makers working by the rules within the traditions.    What do you do if you know how to make your town's typical instrument models within the rules, but the market has moved to prefer another town's very significantly different kind of instrument?   It seems they imitated the popular model.  But that traditional system of deaign choices ends up being less supportive of somethings than others.  Slow evolutions work well. You mostly repeat known choices, varying just a few.   And creating a well structured uniquely sized or shaped inatrument works well also.  Here you make whatevery new choicea you wish, but within traditional elements and principles.   But limitating an existing well strucured model can be a challenge, especially when you don't know the basics of the choices used in that model. The tradition allows latitude, but only in structured steps. Discovering the combination of traditional choices someone used in a model you don't know, can be like breaking a code or picking a lock.  If someone from your town does something you'd like to copy, they probably can't stop you from figuring it out.  You know that their choice is only a slight variation on the traditional choices used in your town.  Most of what they did you will already  understand, and the one litle missing bit will still follow the general traditions, so you won't likely have much trouble following the last bit they did.   But if someone from another town does something you want to duplicate, it maybe much tuffer to crack.  There maybe several layers of specitic choices that are somewhat different than your norms, even though in a larger sense they the follow common principles. From the outside, deciphering the specific collection of choices in a shape isn't always trivial, even when you know the general rules.   For complex shapes like the head or sound holes the number of specific choices can be quite high, and decrypting them can be a real challenge.

I believe we witness this at various times in Old Italian making.  For example, in some early Brescian work we see a different but thoroughly self-possessed collection of choices, and heads and soundholes that look archaic to use now, but nevertheless appear confidently well determined. These were features whose component choices the Breacian makers knew.  But somewhat later we see Brescians trying to imitate the now successful Cremona model scrolls and soundholes.  These often have a less secure character.   To me these moments seem like attempts to imitate when the underlying design choices aren't fully understood.

Beyond these exceptional moments of imitation, we also see less structured more primitive making by people who simply aren't insiders to thw tradition.  Such less informed making seems to be part of the landscape pretty much in all times and places

So in making a violin, there is always both a making process and a design process.   Sometimes the physical making is on the back, sometimes on an inside mold, sometimes on an outside mold.  Similarly, sometimes designs are original, sometimes native to the local tradition, sometimes innovative.  Sometimes designs are geometric and well-structured, sometimes rationally sized and located.   Sometimes design is carried out interactively and uniquely with each build, sometimes it follows a template or model. Sometimes well structured designed reaches thoroughly into the least details versus just toching main strokes of an overall picture.  Etc.

Part of my hypothesis is that the Old Italian instruments we most favor are mostly:

* Designed uniquely and interactively with each build

* within tradition geometry and ratios

* designed thoroughly in every detail

* mostly built on inside mold

* closely linked to the collection of choices that developed in Brescia, Venice, and particularly Cremona.

 

 

Phase 4, outside Italy.

On sort of a large scale, looking from the outside, we can fairly confidently say the roots of western published instrumental music grow out of the Ars Nova and then the early Italian Baroque, and get exported.   But we can also say that diverse precursors already existed in Spanish, English, French, and Germanic regions.   But these precursors encompassed a menagerie of bowed strings.  The rising dominance of the violin family itself strongly benefited from Italian elements; the French court purchase of Amati instruments and import of Lulli, fellow Cremonan Monteverdi's use of a violin orchestra in the roots of Italian instrumental baroque, the prominence of Venice in early instrumental publishing, etc.

Regardless of any murky origin stories, the emergence of the dominance of the violin appeared as an Italian export.

This fact alone is likely still a factor today in our current bias to favor Italian in all things violin.  But it is even more significant as a factor in the early dominance of Old Italian violins.

Even the success and value of Stainer instruments is the exception that proves Italian dominance rather denies it.

By all appearances, Stainer's methods appear to be a closer insider's variation from a Brothers Amati Cremona starting point.   Moreover, general Germanic methods seem to have continued in much more loosely linked imitative methods rather than closely following from Stainer's lead.

Similarly, while English viol making seems to be much more linked to the broad Italian traditions of clear geometry and ratio choices, the violin making seems to have entered as a mixed bag of often more loosely imitative methods.

 

 

Phase 5, economic and social change

I believe the French, English, and Germans absolutely did surpass the Italians, in the commercialization of the violin.

With changing times, they were freer to completely revamp and modernize.  While the Italians tried to adapt valued traditions, other cultures were freer to entirely recast making into the commercially driven cottage industry approaches that are the roots of modern methods.  Voltaire and Napolean would be proud.

 

 

Phase 6, marketing is more important than production.

Led by French and English dealer houses, three things were realized, cultivated, and developed:  1) You could still get much more money from a single instrument my fixing and reselling good old style stuff than by trying to dress up new commercial sh*"'#t.  2) Everybody knew that plenty of respected artists strongly preferred particular makers and instruments over others.  3) Any kind of marketing, moral or immoral  -- factual or not, that made any association to preferred older making would increase saleability and price with almost all buyers.

Thus, not only did the English, French, and German maker/dealers commercially surpass the Italians commercially, but they also discovered how to capitalize on the actual real advantage of the best old instruments, Italian and otherwise, but proceeded to maximize this value by overblowing this to absurd romanticized and mythologized extremes.

And we continue to live in this marketing hyped environment today.

 

*************

Lots of hypothesis and unguarded assertions here.  I'm not going to try to defend the picture I've painted.  It's interesting to me.  And my bet says it's surprisingly close to truth.  But it's also just indefensible conjecture.

For those who might find these imagings somehow offending or unforgivable, please regard them simply as fantasy fiction.

After all, winter is coming.

 

YOU should write a book.

i will buy it.

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2 hours ago, David Beard said:

..Napolean.........

Is that a fat-and-sugar-free Napoleon? [Nibbles cautiously at an attractive looking pastry, makes a horrible face, pitches the pastry to one of her dogs...] ;)

A meticulously brilliant summary analysis, but somewhat heavy on Old Cremona, and light on the aftermath.  I'd suggest that an exploration of cultural differences (as in la dolce vita), reasons why the Italians began importing instruments rather than expanding their own industry, and why the native violin development traditions went extinct would be of value here.  Some light might also be shed on why, while the craftsmen of other countries certainly came to Italy to study technique, they didn't seem to preserve the original traditional design methods (which you have described elsewhere).  :)

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11 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

Very impressing statement ! Completely enriched by facts and verifiable prices.

Why don't you just phone them up and ask them what they charge? 

Since we have a lot of clients in this price range, very often these people are also considering buying a violin from Florian. Perhaps you are claiming that he makes lots of violins but doesn't actually sell any?

I once asked Christophe Landon in a kind of playful way why he charged so much for his violins. His response ... "sexy girl does not marry plumber".

ps. I was wrong about Florian's prices, currently £45k for a Strad bench copy - so a steal compared to a Christophe Landon!

I think the general point stands.

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

Why don't you just phone them up and ask them what they charge? 

It doesn´t matter, what they charge - it matters, how they sell. You are not a maker, but a dealer - we may assume, you know the difference.

 

2 hours ago, martin swan said:

Since we have a lot of clients in this price range, very often these people are also considering buying a violin from Florian. Perhaps you are claiming that he makes lots of violins but doesn't actually sell any?

I once asked Christophe Landon in a kind of playful way why he charged so much for his violins. His response ... "sexy girl does not marry plumber".

The question is not, whether any musicians consider buying a Leonhard or Landon - the question is, whether they actually buy and which prices they pay. I don´t know one single musician, playing a violin made by these dealers ( I here tell them "dealers", because they surely make their money nearly completely by trade and restoration in great instruments - and they surely can expect great respect for this work, this is not my point ). My point stands and you should know it ( otherwise you are invited to bring differing facts ) - these maker-dealers with great access to Strads and Guarneri-del-Gesús are not good examples for your "theory of nearness", at least not in their importance within new-making, displayed by prevalence of verifiable prices and actual use by fine musicians.

Basically it is also a partially misunderstanding of your own "nearness"-idea : while some of your "nearness"-ideas about actual connections in working-traditions and working - understanding in the old times and in Italy surely are essential  -  the "nearness" - idea occuring in a dealers workshop centuries later is a completely different point. Which is the benefit, to have the Strad in your hands but not to understand, how it works ( this sadly is reality - always !) - cutted off from real working-principles/ acoustical knowledge or targets of the great antique masters and basically ignoring the main - function of violins, their sound ( which is, as you claim, what the trade would regularly do, at least in the very important financial valuation ) ? 

To finally repeat : I am still waiting to meet (or only to hear of ) the first musician, owning a Landon or Leonhard at all and then additional to hear, what he actually had paid. I really don´t want to disregard the new-making of these both - they surely make fine violins, no doubt - but they absolutely don´t seem to be at the top of new-making in our days. These prices, you told ( rather more 50k than 70k), one would pay (only eventually in particularly fine instruments ) for a fine Zygmuntovicz, Curtin, Alf, Greiner or Schleske, directly aquired ( naturally after some history in the hands of Ricci and similar, the thing can be different in single instruments ). Because you are a dealer, it is not necessary to tell you, there are some extremely fine makers with equal or superior competition results than Drascoczy around, who are happy to sell a violin for 30k. Such competition - results must not be confused with actual importance and superior financial success in new - making. 

I am prepared to learn more or differing things - preferred are verifiable facts of public access. However the trend goes to an increasing amount of intransparency - e.g. many leading contemporary makers don´t give price-ranges on their homepages any longer, ten years ago many of them still did. But you know, the world of musicians is a small one......

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21 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

I don´t know, if I shall believe this story. 

1) "thinned to perfection" may work in single cases, but then you need consistantly fine "thinners" during centuries - one failure only and the instrument could be ruined

2) Eventually it was not a thing of "perfect thinning" but more a thing of higher reserves in the "too thick" old italian instruments - giving more potential of adaption at neck-resets and modern strings.

It could be a plausible story, as plates will react quite different after 50-100 years of aging. Adjusting thickness could bring out the potential once again, and this time probably more permanent. 

I guess we dont know how thick Strad made his plates, but DG made many of his quite thick. I read that only a few of DG's were not regraduated, so this means over 150 were? Was this done with changing to the modern setup?

 

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2 hours ago, Emilg said:

It could be a plausible story, as plates will react quite different after 50-100 years of aging. Adjusting thickness could bring out the potential once again, and this time probably more permanent. 

I guess we dont know how thick Strad made his plates, but DG made many of his quite thick. I read that only a few of DG's were not regraduated, so this means over 150 were? Was this done with changing to the modern setup?

 

The idea, to do the "final graduation" later, i.m.o. is a very interesting one. After decades of further drying of the usually then much thinnner wood ( in comparison to the original wedges = may be 100x or more increased drying speed )  some wood - properties can reach a nearly "final" condition - all that while playing and effects of vibrations. May be a good point of time only then to do something like the final graduations - and naturally one would need some reserves in thicknesses for doing so.

However in some or even many of the fine Strads or Guarneri-del-Gesús I believe to recognize a certain basic graduation system. Who had done this system so consistantly in so many instruments in later times, but with some typical differences between great makers like Stradivari / Guarneri / Bergonzi / Guadagnini ? I.m.o. much more probable, that these systems originally were done by the original makers.

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14 hours ago, James M. Jones said:

I wonder... did violin making ever completely ceace in Cremona? If so about when, ? And then when did the resurgent movement begin? 

Yes, the trade declined precipitously in Cremona beginning around 1750, and was effectively extinguished (except possibly for the odd fiddle carved out by carpenters and such) by 1780.  The reasons had largely to do with political and economic conditions in Austrian-dominated Northern Italy.  

It is well documented that the modern violin-making school in Cremona (Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria di Cremona) was founded on September 12, 1938, but when serious violin making actually rebooted there as an economic reality depends on which sources you trust.  IMHO, it got back on solid ground from the 1970's forward.  :)

https://www.roger-hargrave.de/PDF/Book/01_Identification_Cremona_PRN.pdf

https://www.economist.com/business/2008/01/17/con-brio

 

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6 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Yes, the trade declined precipitously in Cremona beginning around 1750, and was effectively extinguished (except possibly for the odd fiddle carved out by carpenters and such) by 1780.  The reasons had largely to do with political and economic conditions in Austrian-dominated Northern Italy.  

It is well documented that the modern violin-making school in Cremona (Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria di Cremona) was founded on September 12, 1938, but when serious violin making actually rebooted there as an economic reality depends on which sources you trust.  IMHO, it got back on solid ground from the 1970's forward.  :)

https://www.roger-hargrave.de/PDF/Book/01_Identification_Cremona_PRN.pdf

https://www.economist.com/business/2008/01/17/con-brio

 

Thank you.

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3 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

It doesn´t matter, what they charge - it matters, how they sell. You are not a maker, but a dealer - we may assume, you know the difference.

 

The question is not, whether any musicians consider buying a Leonhard or Landon - the question is, whether they actually buy and which prices they pay. I don´t know one single musician, playing a violin made by these dealers ( I here tell them "dealers", because they surely make their money nearly completely by trade and restoration in great instruments - and they surely can expect great respect for this work, this is not my point ). My point stands and you should know it ( otherwise you are invited to bring differing facts ) - these maker-dealers with great access to Strads and Guarneri-del-Gesús are not good examples for your "theory of nearness", at least not in their importance within new-making, displayed by prevalence of verifiable prices and actual use by fine musicians.

Basically it is also a partially misunderstanding of your own "nearness"-idea : while some of your "nearness"-ideas about actual connections in working-traditions and working - understanding in the old times and in Italy surely are essential  -  the "nearness" - idea occuring in a dealers workshop centuries later is a completely different point. Which is the benefit, to have the Strad in your hands but not to understand, how it works ( this sadly is reality - always !) - cutted off from real working-principles/ acoustical knowledge or targets of the great antique masters and basically ignoring the main - function of violins, their sound ( which is, as you claim, what the trade would regularly do, at least in the very important financial valuation ) ? 

To finally repeat : I am still waiting to meet (or only to hear of ) the first musician, owning a Landon or Leonhard at all and then additional to hear, what he actually had paid. I really don´t want to disregard the new-making of these both - they surely make fine violins, no doubt - but they absolutely don´t seem to be at the top of new-making in our days. These prices, you told ( rather more 50k than 70k), one would pay (only eventually in particularly fine instruments ) for a fine Zygmuntovicz, Curtin, Alf, Greiner or Schleske, directly aquired ( naturally after some history in the hands of Ricci and similar, the thing can be different in single instruments ). Because you are a dealer, it is not necessary to tell you, there are some extremely fine makers with equal or superior competition results than Drascoczy around, who are happy to sell a violin for 30k. Such competition - results must not be confused with actual importance and superior financial success in new - making. 

I am prepared to learn more or differing things - preferred are verifiable facts of public access. However the trend goes to an increasing amount of intransparency - e.g. many leading contemporary makers don´t give price-ranges on their homepages any longer, ten years ago many of them still did. But you know, the world of musicians is a small one......

IMHO, while the prices are certainly a barrier to anyone who wants one getting a fiddle by a top-ranked modern maker, the prices are immaterial as a deterrent, compared to the length of the waiting lists.  Anyway, for tone and projection, there are alternatives available [essays a shrill harmonic on her Chinavarius, and sets off some dogs a quarter-mile away].  :lol:

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39 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Yes, the trade declined precipitously in Cremona beginning around 1750, and was effectively extinguished (except possibly for the odd fiddle carved out by carpenters and such) by 1780.  The reasons had largely to do with political and economic conditions in Austrian-dominated Northern Italy.  

It is well documented that the modern violin-making school in Cremona (Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria di Cremona) was founded on September 12, 1938, but when serious violin making actually rebooted there as an economic reality depends on which sources you trust.  IMHO, it got back on solid ground from the 1970's forward.  :)

https://www.roger-hargrave.de/PDF/Book/01_Identification_Cremona_PRN.pdf

https://www.economist.com/business/2008/01/17/con-brio

 

i think that would be a more interesting topic, the "70's revival". IMO that was a great time to be alive and into this {way before my time}. The times, the mindset of the people who were getting into it like Roger and all the others, the schools, what was going on in SLC and of course the most beautiful part in it all for them, the market, no China to contend with and and the zeitgeist in the media around "strad" and the start of the ever rising prices.

Man wish I had a time machine, I'd go back to 1972 :)

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...btw...am reading all responses...and getting answers to questions I hadn't even thought of!

Awesome! :)

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15 hours ago, David Beard said:

Going back to the OP,  I have my own particular take on this and see several different phases to it all.

First, I think the old Italian violin making was excellent and deserving of high respect.  This is undoubtedly the root of the whole matter, in its legitimate aspects, and in its romanticized, overextended, and mythologized aspects.

 

Phase 1, why did old Italian making develop an advantage

So why were the old Italian instruments better.  I believe there are several parts to this.  One, they made for a high target royal and religious market.  Two, they made within a shared community tradition.  This meant they continually benefitted from collective learning.  I don't believe there is anything coincidental about the best of these old Italian instruments coming from the last couple of decades before the economics and structure of this centuries-long continuous development begin to break down.  Those last decades represent a culmination of literally centuries of develop.  No violin making since has been similarly positioned.

The third part of the success of old Italian and particularly Cremona making has been the subject of my research these last 9+ years now.   Their traditions involved structured geometric design of every feature, and sizing and locating thoroughly grounded in ratio relations between features.  This has many consequences that strongly benefitted old Italian making.   

Since every detail was designed with simple geometry and sized and placed with simple ratios, it was essentially repeatable.  Further, it was repeatable as a process presenting a finite number of limited traditional choices.   Repeat the same process with the same choices, you get essentially the same result.   Repeat with a few changes in the choices and you get a strongly related variation.   This provided a strong backbone to the community learning inherent in the old Italian making traditions.

The last part of this will perhaps seem the wildest to some.   Structuring work in this combination of geometry and ratios amounts to a system of encoding the design choices and variations that acted like a DNA code behind the several centuries of continuous evolution in Italian making.   Crazy and strange as the idea sounds, I believe this is exactly why Italian making developed as powerfully as it did, and why some pockets of Italian making developed a real advantage in the collection choices they were exploring.

 

 

Phase 2, why regional differences in Old making.  

So the picture I'm conjecturing has Old Italian string instruments sharing some broad principles and methods of making.  Shapes are designed within a traditionally limited range of geometric constructions and ratio relationships among features.   Old Italian bout designs for a Gamba, a Braccio, a Violetta, or a Viola all use vesici together with various joining arcs and sometimes some straight lines.  And they all use simple ratios to guide sizing and placement. Etc.  Wherever you care to look, Old Italian string instruments show broadly related elements and principles in approaching overall proportions, stops, bouts, the location of soundholes etc.   However, considerable variations in the exact combinations of using these things vary by instrument family, and region, and family, and to some extent by the individual maker.   And we see variations in the focus of production. 

Cremona shows a high focus on violin family and violins, even though other instruments are also produced.  Brescia seems to have had a greater early focus on low members of the violin family.   Venice all along seems to produce a broad range of bowed strings, including plenty of viols.

To me, it's very interesting that basically all the design principles and methods observable in Andrea Amati find precedents variously in the instruments of Zanetto of Brescia, and Giovanni Maria of Venice.   My working hypothesis is that essentially Andrea Amati created the full range violin family by redesigning the violas as seen in Zanetto's works with the sophistication and range of design choices seen in Giovanni Maria work.  I'm not saying these two makers were Amati's actual precursor sources, but that their works give us existing examples of the two things Amati brought together to make the violin family.

Perhaps this is a big part of why these regions feel like ground zero for violins, even now in today's global market.

At least three Cremona families seem to show a deep and long memory of the traditional general making traditions.  This was perhaps another reason for Cremona's ascendance.  With the Amati, Strad, and Guarneri families we can see endless examples of the makers tinkering with specifics of the geometry and ratio choices in their building.  This kind of steady variation would be very helpful to the kind of evolution of community tradition that I've posited as the main mechanism of Old Italian and Cremona eventually accumulating advantages.  

But also, these families all show examples of remembering older less common options and freely reviving these when it suited.   Two examples,  Strad's pochette of 1717 uses some long radii compound arcs in the curves rising from the bout vesici toward the corners.  This kind of compound riser geometry isn't common in Cremona violin family work, but it is precedented in Giovanni Maria work from nearly two centuries earlier.   Second example, in Cremona violin family work it is normal to relate the level of the upper soundhole eyes to a square around the upper bouts (same as UB down from neck edge of body), but in Del Gusu's 1735 very small Chardon this upper eye level is related to a square around the lower bout.   This not a standard choice for Cremona violin work, but it is common for a Zanetto viola. Once again a choice reaching backward by a couple centuries.

 

 

Phase 3, copying the other guy's success.

You don't always see the old makers working by the rules within the traditions.    What do you do if you know how to make your town's typical instrument models within the rules, but the market has moved to prefer another town's very significantly different kind of instrument?   It seems they imitated the popular model.  But that traditional system of deaign choices ends up being less supportive of somethings than others.  Slow evolutions work well. You mostly repeat known choices, varying just a few.   And creating a well structured uniquely sized or shaped inatrument works well also.  Here you make whatevery new choicea you wish, but within traditional elements and principles.   But limitating an existing well strucured model can be a challenge, especially when you don't know the basics of the choices used in that model. The tradition allows latitude, but only in structured steps. Discovering the combination of traditional choices someone used in a model you don't know, can be like breaking a code or picking a lock.  If someone from your town does something you'd like to copy, they probably can't stop you from figuring it out.  You know that their choice is only a slight variation on the traditional choices used in your town.  Most of what they did you will already  understand, and the one litle missing bit will still follow the general traditions, so you won't likely have much trouble following the last bit they did.   But if someone from another town does something you want to duplicate, it maybe much tuffer to crack.  There maybe several layers of specitic choices that are somewhat different than your norms, even though in a larger sense they the follow common principles. From the outside, deciphering the specific collection of choices in a shape isn't always trivial, even when you know the general rules.   For complex shapes like the head or sound holes the number of specific choices can be quite high, and decrypting them can be a real challenge.

I believe we witness this at various times in Old Italian making.  For example, in some early Brescian work we see a different but thoroughly self-possessed collection of choices, and heads and soundholes that look archaic to use now, but nevertheless appear confidently well determined. These were features whose component choices the Breacian makers knew.  But somewhat later we see Brescians trying to imitate the now successful Cremona model scrolls and soundholes.  These often have a less secure character.   To me these moments seem like attempts to imitate when the underlying design choices aren't fully understood.

Beyond these exceptional moments of imitation, we also see less structured more primitive making by people who simply aren't insiders to thw tradition.  Such less informed making seems to be part of the landscape pretty much in all times and places

So in making a violin, there is always both a making process and a design process.   Sometimes the physical making is on the back, sometimes on an inside mold, sometimes on an outside mold.  Similarly, sometimes designs are original, sometimes native to the local tradition, sometimes innovative.  Sometimes designs are geometric and well-structured, sometimes rationally sized and located.   Sometimes design is carried out interactively and uniquely with each build, sometimes it follows a template or model. Sometimes well structured designed reaches thoroughly into the least details versus just toching main strokes of an overall picture.  Etc.

Part of my hypothesis is that the Old Italian instruments we most favor are mostly:

* Designed uniquely and interactively with each build

* within tradition geometry and ratios

* designed thoroughly in every detail

* mostly built on inside mold

* closely linked to the collection of choices that developed in Brescia, Venice, and particularly Cremona.

 

 

Phase 4, outside Italy.

On sort of a large scale, looking from the outside, we can fairly confidently say the roots of western published instrumental music grow out of the Ars Nova and then the early Italian Baroque, and get exported.   But we can also say that diverse precursors already existed in Spanish, English, French, and Germanic regions.   But these precursors encompassed a menagerie of bowed strings.  The rising dominance of the violin family itself strongly benefited from Italian elements; the French court purchase of Amati instruments and import of Lulli, fellow Cremonan Monteverdi's use of a violin orchestra in the roots of Italian instrumental baroque, the prominence of Venice in early instrumental publishing, etc.

Regardless of any murky origin stories, the emergence of the dominance of the violin appeared as an Italian export.

This fact alone is likely still a factor today in our current bias to favor Italian in all things violin.  But it is even more significant as a factor in the early dominance of Old Italian violins.

Even the success and value of Stainer instruments is the exception that proves Italian dominance rather denies it.

By all appearances, Stainer's methods appear to be a closer insider's variation from a Brothers Amati Cremona starting point.   Moreover, general Germanic methods seem to have continued in much more loosely linked imitative methods rather than closely following from Stainer's lead.

Similarly, while English viol making seems to be much more linked to the broad Italian traditions of clear geometry and ratio choices, the violin making seems to have entered as a mixed bag of often more loosely imitative methods.

 

 

Phase 5, economic and social change

I believe the French, English, and Germans absolutely did surpass the Italians, in the commercialization of the violin.

With changing times, they were freer to completely revamp and modernize.  While the Italians tried to adapt valued traditions, other cultures were freer to entirely recast making into the commercially driven cottage industry approaches that are the roots of modern methods.  Voltaire and Napolean would be proud.

 

 

Phase 6, marketing is more important than production.

Led by French and English dealer houses, three things were realized, cultivated, and developed:  1) You could still get much more money from a single instrument my fixing and reselling good old style stuff than by trying to dress up new commercial sh*"'#t.  2) Everybody knew that plenty of respected artists strongly preferred particular makers and instruments over others.  3) Any kind of marketing, moral or immoral  -- factual or not, that made any association to preferred older making would increase saleability and price with almost all buyers.

Thus, not only did the English, French, and German maker/dealers commercially surpass the Italians commercially, but they also discovered how to capitalize on the actual real advantage of the best old instruments, Italian and otherwise, but proceeded to maximize this value by overblowing this to absurd romanticized and mythologized extremes.

And we continue to live in this marketing hyped environment today.

 

*************

Lots of hypothesis and unguarded assertions here.  I'm not going to try to defend the picture I've painted.  It's interesting to me.  And my bet says it's surprisingly close to truth.  But it's also just indefensible conjecture.

For those who might find these imagings somehow offending or unforgivable, please regard them simply as fantasy fiction.

After all, winter is coming.

 

Italian music was different than German, more advanced and more difficult to play. Your thesis does not contemplate that makers may have been reacting to the sounds and preferences, and perhaps the relatively deeper pockets, of Italian musicians, rather than (or as well as) finding new paths themselves. Incidentally Stainer happened to be working near a town where a monarch who was prepared to invest in the best music, was hiring Italian musicians.

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6 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

 

I am prepared to learn more or differing things - preferred are verifiable facts of public access. However the trend goes to an increasing amount of intransparency - e.g. many leading contemporary makers don´t give price-ranges on their homepages any longer, ten years ago many of them still did. But you know, the world of musicians is a small one......

This would be a laudable sentiment were it not for the fact that you remain anonymous here. Perhaps if you told us your name and allowed us to verify your identity, your level of experience etc ... I too prefer verifiable facts of public access, particularly with regard to people.

 

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On 2/1/2019 at 1:57 PM, Violadamore said:

But one would have thought that Jack Benny (who wasn't Italian in the least, but played a Strad) provided an antidote to that.............

image.png.36a0dfbfa5ed2760919b8e1965a40ade.png

He also played a Vuillaume and a Pressenda.

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22 hours ago, martin swan said:

Scepticism born of ignorance isn't impressive.

I read a hilarious Review of a terrible book. The review was titled, “Anything is possible when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Boy did that make me laugh…

 

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1 hour ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

He also played a Vuillaume and a Pressenda.

Yup, but that doesn't further my premise.  :lol:

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4 hours ago, John_London said:

Italian music was different than German, more advanced and more difficult to play. Your thesis does not contemplate that makers may have been reacting to the sounds and preferences, and perhaps the relatively deeper pockets, of Italian musicians, rather than (or as well as) finding new paths themselves. Incidentally Stainer happened to be working near a town where a monarch who was prepared to invest in the best music, was hiring Italian musicians.

I don’t agree that Italian music was more advanced across the board. While it was certainly the most fashionable music at court in the 18th century, there were several “German” composers producing works of similar complexity even earlier. Biber was writing sonatas in the mid to late 17th century that explored more territory in high positions than anything to be found among the Italians at the time or for a good while later.

I think it is far too simplistic an explanation to suggest German makers weren’t making violins that competed with the prices of Italians because the local music was less difficult. 

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6 minutes ago, The Violin Beautiful said:

I don’t agree that Italian music was more advanced across the board. While it was certainly the most fashionable music at court in the 18th century, there were several “German” composers producing works of similar complexity even earlier. Biber was writing sonatas in the mid to late 17th century that explored more territory in high positions than anything to be found among the Italians at the time or for a good while later.

I think it is far too simplistic an explanation to suggest German makers weren’t making violins that competed with the prices of Italians because the local music was less difficult. 

Thank you!

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5 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Man wish I had a time machine, I'd go back to 1972 :)

Why do I get the feeling that could lead to serious mischief?

DeLorean001.jpg.e2d20a044f9cd61e04b2feb258b2fff7.jpg

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A question that hasn’t been addressed is why the Italians did not set up their own cottage industry? It’s only natural that many makers probably weren’t top quality and would’ve been more successful in a Dutzenarbeit Situation. Yet it seems to have never happened

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