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Scientific investigations of Stradivarius violins--an updated review article


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16 hours ago, Peter K-G said:

People won't agree here on her violin being great...

You're dead right there. I applaud her conviction that a Strad or a GdG isn't de rigeur for today's soloists, but I think she sounds (and plays) much better in some of her old recordings, e.g.

 

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17 hours ago, Don Noon said:

I don't know if it's "great" or not.  But I know I don't like it very much.

For a long time I had an idea that a passage from Mozart's 5th C/to is not quite right and I extracted that particular passage from many recordings and made sort of a lengthy collage I sent to various acquaintances asking for opinions on it's "logic". The shocking thing is that almost everybody complained about her violin which stuck out like a sore thumb. She's not the most expressive player around - that doesn't help either.  And here is another story ( out of many ... ) : in 2014 or so, a good American player played a couple of concerts in some of the former Soviet Republics. And he played well. Better than well. Two of the critiques, in different cities were on the line of " excellent player, hope next time he'll get a good violin, too". He plays on a modern violin by some Japanese maker. 
The reality is that people can tell , only not all people. 

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2 hours ago, matesic said:

You're dead right there. I applaud her conviction that a Strad or a GdG isn't de rigeur for today's soloists, but I think she sounds (and plays) much better in some of her old recordings, e.g.

You're not the only one who thinks that. The reason is pretty obvious.

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Vengerov once made this very interesting post on an internet forum, as people were discussing the 2017 Fritz et al. paper showing that Strads are not superior.  

https://slippedisc.com/2017/05/ARE-STRAD-TESTS-RIGGED/

I am not saying that Vengerov is a greater authority on this issue than the experts we have on this forum. But his personal story makes an interesting read. 

 

--------------Maxim Vengerov-------------------

My dear Friends! if I may add anything:)

My first Strad I ever touched, I was 10 years old. It was 1984 and I was preparing myself for the Junior Wieniawski Competition. My teacher at that time professor Bron, helped me to get the Stradivari from the Soviet Union’s State rare instrument collection. It was Strad’s half size unique instrument. When I took this instrument for the first time, I thought that like with a wave of magic stick, I would start making miraculous sounds. Next minute, I could not believe my ears when the violin sounded so terrible to compare to my modern instrument that I “mastered” playing at that time. I compared the two instruments playing the same piece over and over again to my father, seeking his approval that the whole Stradivari thing is a total myth!!!
My dad was at that time working as an oboist of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra and at the same time he was also a professional piano tuner. I shared with him my first shocking Strad experience. He smiled and said to me that I should not be disappointed. “Just learn how to play it, close your eyes, open your ears and listen to the overtones. Find that sound, find your own voice in Music, this instrument will teach you everything you need to know”
From that moment on my life in Music began…

Today, I am lucky to say that I played perhaps over 40 Strad’s and other precious instruments like Guarneri Del Jesu.
All Stradivari’s violins I have had fortune to touch, all his instruments with almost no exception are also a treasure. There is however quite a bit of work involved. First you need a player that is willing to be flexible to go as far as to change his or her own violin technic for the violin that he or she is playing. Then, you need a superb violin maker to perform a fine tuning – an adjustment of the instrument for a player’s taste. In other words, it’s a partnership, like a trio: violin, violinist and a violinmaker. But then, the most interesting happens when you go to the concert hall! Not even during rehearsal, the ultimate test of the instrument and your ability to play it, is awaiting you together with thousands of spectators when you enter the concert stage. Only then, real work begins.
The first time I played my own “Kreutzer” Strad was playing in Chicago with Rostropovich conducting me in Schostakovitch’s violin concerto.
After the concert my beloved Slava asked me: Maxim, what instrument are you playing?
I proudly declared: Strad, 1727, used to be owned by the legendary Kreutzer!
With no hesitation Rostropovich threw at me: Change it!!

It took me, and two of my violin makers Florian Leonhard and Nahum Tuch about half a year to “lift this unique violin up” to the absolute Everest.
The process was a truly unbelievable rollercoaster that is hard to describe!

When you play phenomenal Guarneri “Del Gesu ” violins, you can play it as you wish. The instrument will realize all your dreams and expectations about the sound, providing you are a skillful player.
All those magic violins made by Antonio Stradivari I got to know, made me into a more flexible player I am today. Flexible, because when you hold Strad, you do not play it – it teaches you how to sing it, with his violins you are able to discover the magical palette of colors and more over, every day it’s a bit of another instrument. It is alive, truly mystical, like a person. Strad is my daily life changing experience!

I hope it helps:) For more, do come to my concerts or get my new cd’s. They will soon be available. I will keep you posted. Best wishes to All Music lovers at Slipped Disc and not only:) Yours with love, Maxim Vengerov

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10 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

Vengerov once made this very interesting post on an internet forum, as people were discussing the 2017 Fritz et al. paper showing that Strads are not superior.  

https://slippedisc.com/2017/05/ARE-STRAD-TESTS-RIGGED/

I am not saying that Vengerov is a greater authority on this issue than the experts we have on this forum. But his personal story makes an interesting read. 

Are you kidding ? Of course he is !

Vengerov is a superb musician with an illustrious career while the "experts" on this forum are basically nobodies from left of nowhere, full of .... opinions. 

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A good player once told me he played his Strad violin seven years before he began to like its sound.  I asked him why he stuck with it so long and he said it was very difficult to play so it forced him to become a much better player.

I replied: "If your goal is to become a better player you should use one of my violins."

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17 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

I am not saying that Vengerov is a greater authority on this issue than the experts we have on this forum.  

 

I'd say that though.

It appears to me that he has a lot more experience with quite a few of the golden oldies.

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20 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

Vengerov is a superb musician with an illustrious career while the "experts" on this forum are basically nobodies from left of nowhere, full of .... opinions. 

You know, Carl, I think you could use some manners. Why go out of the way to be insulting?

I don't argue that Vengerov is a superb musician, and has more experience with fine classic instruments than most here, but this is a forum which does not require a resume for participation, but there are some very prominent experts, makers and restorers who visit here... sometimes using a screen name differing from their own name... and I have seen few be even close to insulting to the other participants.

 

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19 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

Vengerov once made this very interesting post on an internet forum, as people were discussing the 2017 Fritz et al. paper showing that Strads are not superior.  

https://slippedisc.com/2017/05/ARE-STRAD-TESTS-RIGGED/

I am not saying that Vengerov is a greater authority on this issue than the experts we have on this forum. But his personal story makes an interesting read. 

 

--------------Maxim Vengerov-------------------

My dear Friends! if I may add anything:)

My first Strad I ever touched, I was 10 years old. It was 1984 and I was preparing myself for the Junior Wieniawski Competition. My teacher at that time professor Bron, helped me to get the Stradivari from the Soviet Union’s State rare instrument collection. It was Strad’s half size unique instrument. When I took this instrument for the first time, I thought that like with a wave of magic stick, I would start making miraculous sounds. Next minute, I could not believe my ears when the violin sounded so terrible to compare to my modern instrument that I “mastered” playing at that time. I compared the two instruments playing the same piece over and over again to my father, seeking his approval that the whole Stradivari thing is a total myth!!!
My dad was at that time working as an oboist of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra and at the same time he was also a professional piano tuner. I shared with him my first shocking Strad experience. He smiled and said to me that I should not be disappointed. “Just learn how to play it, close your eyes, open your ears and listen to the overtones. Find that sound, find your own voice in Music, this instrument will teach you everything you need to know” Vengerov

 

What might be revealed if people put that much time and effort into learning to get the most out of any violin?

I think it's also fair to question whether or not Vengerov had an interest in the investment value of the violins he owned.

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To prove the best Strads are significantly better than the best modern violins in the world is an impossible task. Most of the top Strads are not accessible for research. And who knows how to define the best modern violins in the world, too many good ones. 

Would it be less controversial to say that Guarneri del Gesus are on average darker than the Strads? 

But why? Robert Mores from Germany has found a plausible explanation.

Please look at the attached figures,  taken from this book chapter: 

Vowel Quality in Violin Sounds—A Timbre Analysis of Italian Masterpieces
December 2017
DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-47292-8_8
In book: Studies in Musical Acoustics and Psychoacoustics (pp.223-245)

1570205406_Snap2021-04-30at01_31_40.thumb.png.be235de7ba7aa22f0502109af51512a8.png

477937885_Snap2021-04-30at01_32_15.png.ee5cef8196090a6e92b339a215996cbd.png

The five DGs on the left tend to have more notes on the right half of the IPA vowel chart. Four out of the five Strads in the right column are restricted to the left half of the vowel chart. The left are front vowels that sound brighter. The right are back vowels that sound darker. This analysis was done with automated linear predictive coding (LPC) to find F1 and F2 formants. F1 and F2 formants determine the vowel identity in speech. Nagyvary was the first to map violin F1 and F2 onto IPA vowel charts https://www.savartjournal.org/index.php/sj/article/download/18/pdf. Mores applied the same method and so did I in the 2018 PNAS paper (we did LPC manually). 

This graph may partly explain why we often perceive DG violins as being darker than Strads. This could be one of the reasons, although it is not the whole answer. But it is a good sign that we are making some progress here. 

Neighbor competitors. Same teacher, similar recipes, but different flavors. 

 

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26 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

Vengerov is a superb musician with an illustrious career while the "experts" on this forum are basically nobodies from left of nowhere, full of .... opinions. 

In my mind, David Burgess is the Maxim Vengerov of violin makers (I am not sure if David would be offended here :P). I have not met either of them. But I have total respect for their individual expertise. Of course they both know the violin much more than I  can ever hope to do. So I try to use their opinions to guide my research.  

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16 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

You know, Carl, I think you could use some manners. Why go out of the way to be insulting?

I don't argue that Vengerov is a superb musician, and has more experience with fine classic instruments than most here, but this is a forum which does not require a resume for participation, but there are some very prominent experts, makers and restorers who visit here... sometimes using a screen name differing from their own name... and I have seen few be even close to insulting to the other participants.

 

You know Jeff, I don't think you follow David's posts close enough.... 

As to the "very prominent experts" yes, I know one or two ( or three ) are indeed very competent but competent in the direction of Vengerov's competency, I'd say not a chance. That's simply a different league altogether. It's a completely different skill set, anyway.  

And by the way, this constant bashing of prestigious artists for their usage of Strads/DGs is getting long in the tooth and shows crass lack of manners.

Please check PM.

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21 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

What might be revealed if people put that much time and effort into learning to get the most out of any violin?

I think it's also fair to question whether or not Vengerov had an interest in the investment value of the violins he owned.

You keep beating the "investment value donkey". It's DEAD. We all know they represent an investment and it has value. And the reason they don't put "that much time and effort into learning to get the most out of any violin" is because "any violin" does not show the required amount of promise. 

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3 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

1. You know Jeff, I don't think you follow David's posts close enough.... 

2. And by the way, this constant bashing of prestigious artists for their usage of Strads/DGs is getting long in the tooth and shows crass lack of manners.

1. Carl, if you had been following closely, you would have realized that Jeffrey has removed some my posts from time to time. :P

2. Since your post was in response to Jeffrey's, can you quote even a single instance where he has done that? I bet you can't!

 

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28 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

What might be revealed if people put that much time and effort into learning to get the most out of any violin?

I think it's also fair to question whether or not Vengerov had an interest in the investment value of the violins he owned.

Very valid points.

The only time I have noticed extraordinary carrying power from any violin in a concert hall came from the Lady Tennant Strad around 2015. The violinist (you can easily google who he is) said privately that he really struggled with this instrument for a couple of years and wanted to return it. Such a famous and expensive being loaned to a young musician, so he tried really hard and finally found his way. The end result is, to my wooden ears, miraculous. As I sit in the 12th row seat and close my eyes, I feel that I am in the 4th row--something like that. As this is the only time I have ever felt this kind of proximity effect in a concert, I thought it was mesmerizing. That experience motivated me to investigate the carrying power of Strads. But I could be a fool. 

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12 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

And the reason they don't put "that much time and effort into learning to get the most out of any violin" is because "any violin" does not show the required amount of promise. 

Oh, is that why so many famous players have sold one or another of their Strads? :P

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14 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Oh, is that why so many famous players have sold one or another of their Strads? :P

We have to admit that only a small proportion of Strads are soloist instruments these days. Is it 20%? I don't know. The number goes down with each passing decade. 

Perhaps some were mediocre to begin with. Even Homer sometimes nods, Stradivari maybe more. But damages, wear and tear, repairs, patches, etc. over the years have caused many to decline. There is no good way to objectively determine which are the better Strads in the world. And we don't want to offend anyone by saying that their Strad does not belong to the top echelon. I think this kind of polite behavior has certainly contributed in some way to the hype of Stradivarius violins. 

Some insiders have told me what they think about the authenticity issue but I don't think I am qualified to discuss it here. I have zero expertise in this area. 

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Well, we all have a need to be full of something! ^_^

Anyway...I'm still always wondering how much is real and how much is imagined.

Keeping the conversation going with only upper level instruments as examples, I would think that they all should play well and sound great. That's the point of them, right?

So...if all top players can make any violin sound good...then all top players should easily be able to make any top violin sound great.

If a violin is difficult to play, no one wants to play it, unless the instrument is a celebrity in and of itself. Then, conversely, the top players will "stick it out" (for years) until they figure out all the sweet spots and exactly how to play it to get the best out of it. After all that effort they certainly are not going to conclude "I was an idiot for wasting all that time" but instead they will wax poetic.

So they've either convinced themselves or are lying.

 

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1 minute ago, Don Noon said:

One wonders why Vengerov bought a new violin from Sam Z.  I don't know if he still has it, or when he bought it.

Indeed one does. I heard a number of new violins in concert, large hall, full orch much better than that one. I heard nothing special in that one. There is a Tch recording on YT with an excellent player on a Hargrave violin which sounds pretty much up there. A bit quieter and if I could put it this way , in need of some minor attention. But a decent chunk of the good stuff is there. 

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I'm not going to quote anyone in particular... but healthy skepticism concerning motives (money or passion), perception, or judgement isn't a "bad" thing.  It's just a thing. To suggest that a person (player, dealer, collector) doesn't have a vested interest in maintaining the perception that a fine old expensive instrument is superior seems silly.  Ignoring that many-if-not-most of the blind tests that have occurred were sponsored or arranged, at least in part, by contemporary makers (and that they have some vested interests) would be just as silly... but that doesn't mean either party is wrong... or for that matter right... it makes them human... and the debate has, in my opinion, had more positive than negative effect on all segments of the string instrument market.

First, I'll say this debate has been going on for generations.... and may go on for many more. 

That said, this generation of contemporary makers has benefited not only from the intense research of the old classic fiddles, but the market and relative value and quality of the work of these makers (in comparison to the older fiddles) has allowed many to enjoy a pretty decent living. I don't think anyone in their right mind goes into violin making to get rich, but providing for one's family, sending the kiddies to collage and enjoying a nice lifestyle are plusses in my book.

The value of the old classic fiddles allows them to be maintained with little concern of cost, and by the best hands in the business. It's been mentioned before that spending a 100K or more keeping a Strad sounding really good is nothing compared to it's value. I doubt that will change.

The present bunch of serious contemporary makers are, in my opinion, pretty awesome taken as a group. I admit to liking some more than others, but the choices for musicians are incredible... and that they are used by some rather prominent soloists, not surprising. BTW: that's not new either.

I would again like to thank Bruce for his paper, presence, and comments.

Now back to our previously scheduled program.

 

 

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37 minutes ago, Rue said:

1. Well, we all have a need to be full of something! ^_^

2. Anyway...I'm still always wondering how much is real and how much is imagined.

3. Keeping the conversation going with only upper level instruments as examples, I would think that they all should play well and sound great. That's the point of them, right?

4. So...if all top players can make any violin sound good...then all top players should easily be able to make any top violin sound great.

5. If a violin is difficult to play, no one wants to play it, unless the instrument is a celebrity in and of itself. Then, conversely, the top players will "stick it out" (for years) until they figure out all the sweet spots and exactly how to play it to get the best out of it.

6. After all that effort they certainly are not going to conclude "I was an idiot for wasting all that time" but instead they will wax poetic.

7. So they've either convinced themselves or are lying.

 

Let me help as you seem to be speculating a lot :

1. No.

2. Impossible to draw a conclusion from where you stand. You need to be in the middle of things day in day out for a decade or two. Or three. 

3. What is "sound great" ? Great players have a specific intent note to note and the violin must be capable of achieving that. It may take effort. The violin may be irritating to play etc. 

4. No top player can make any violin sound good. That's a complete nonsense. In general they can make music sound musical and the two should not be confused. Even then, not all. 

5. Not true. Some great 20 Century players played difficult to play violins. The violins had qualities which compensated for the effort.

6. How do you know that ?? You must've spoken to David. Surely, not to Menuhin.

7. Or you are speculating....

Top players tend to use violins previously used by other top players. It's how they know they are good and worth the time, trouble and expense. Simple, isn't it ? It is incredibly difficult to start and then sustain a solo career and those people will not take absurd chances by playing "unsuitable" violins. And they do play new violins from time to time. They're not allergic to new violins. I have a nice letter where Erica Morini ( considered by some the best female violin player ) thanks a maker with the words : " the violin copy you made for me is better than my Strad and I find myself using it ever more".  All the great players used new violins from time to time.

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