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Scientific investigations of Stradivarius violins--an updated review article


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14 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

The other thing i would try to look at is how a bowed note ‘kicks in’. Those first milliseconds seem to be a crucial sound judgement point for high performance players. 

6 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Is this the "clicking" sound at the beginning of a note that good players like to have?

The bow/instrument interaction and transient response I agree is very critical for the player, with only one aspect (but very important one) being the sound that comes out during transitions.  There are some violins I've come across (even very good ones) that have a resounding "clunk" on startups, which I find distracting at least... while others seem to have an unobtrusive click which I find preferable.  While I'm fairly sure it is strongly related to the impact spectral response, there could be something else happening in the start-up dynamics.

This is an important but poorly studied ('cuz it's REALLY complicated) aspect of the violin.  A quote I'll always remember is when I asked a soloist if she was happy with the sound of her violin, she replied, "It does what I want it to do."  

 

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1 hour ago, Argon55 said:

You may well be right about that. But if it's so difficult, it rather undermines the idea that Strads etc are acoustically unique and generally believed by players, many in the trade and many contributors to this forum, to be acoustically superior to other violins (though they may well be superior in other ways).

I wonder whether it is similar to wine tasting, where, when using blind tasting, experts struggle to identify superior wines better than a rate equivalent to mere chance. The hypothesis being that wines are so complex in composition and therefore taste, that it is beyond the human palate to consistently recognise and identify them. As with wine tasting, perhaps with violin sound. This is an interesting article:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis

 

The general quality of commercial wine has greatly improved over the last 50 years due to careful control over the wine making process.   Unless you make your own wine it is difficult nowadays to find wine that is really bad so wine tasters are having more and more difficulty distinguishing between only good, really good, and great wines.

A good wine test is to put out a bunch of wine bottles at a party and see which one is emptied first.  I bottle special wines for party hosts.  When it's getting late and they want everybody to leave they bring out one of my bottles.

 

 A good test for violins is to see how long a good player plays a violin before going on to the next one.

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2 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

A good test for violins is to see how long a good player plays a violin before going on to the next one.

And a grimace in the first few seconds is also a clue.

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Is the high price of Stradivaris a testament to their sound or playing qualities?

A couple of year ago, a 1962 Ferrari sold for 48 million. This obviously has nothing to do with how fast it is, or its utility as a racing machine, since there are newer cars which are much faster at a 500th of that price.

A few years ago, a painting sold for 450 million. I'd say the Ferrari and the $16 million Stradivari were better deals though, because the painting just sits there, makes no sound, and has never even moved under its own power. :)

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16 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Is the high price of Stradivaris a testament to their sound or playing qualities?

A couple of year ago, a 1962 Ferrari sold for 48 million. This obviously has nothing to do with how fast it is, or its utility as a racing machine, since there are newer cars which are much faster at a 500th of that price.

Well, ALL Top Racing Drivers raced on Strads for past 200 years and still do....    

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2 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

A good wine test is to put out a bunch of wine bottles at a party and see which one is emptied first.  I bottle special wines for party hosts.  When it's getting late and they want everybody to leave they bring out one of my bottles.

Haven't I been tellin' ya to put your home-made wine into Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France bottles? Something about the label and the bottle highly improves the taste, even though chemical analysis hasn't quite figured out how that happens yet. :lol:

1 hour ago, Carl Stross said:

Well, ALL Top Racing Drivers raced on Strads for past 200 years and still do....    

How sure are you about that?

I can think of many who haven't, but based on your past posting history, am able to anticipate that you will respond with the claim that none of these were/are top players.

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30 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

 

How sure are you about that?

Well, give or take a couple of names who misguidedly played DG's :) , I'm very sure.  Not that say, Menuhin, just as ONE example did not try ( and sometimes even bought ) hundreds of new violins and did not find many of them to be excellent. Lots and lots of excellent new violins out there. 

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

 

A few years ago, a painting sold for 450 million. I'd say the Ferrari and the $16 million Stradivari were better deals though, because the painting just sits there, makes no sound, and has never even moved under its own power. :)

Hard to say. Paintings have a much longer history as reliable carriers of value. I remember a time when a lot of collectible cars lost value badly and I knew a couple of people who thought twice before getting into that market again. 

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40 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

Well, give or take a couple of names who misguidedly played DG's :) , I'm very sure.  Not that say, Menuhin, just as ONE example did not try ( and sometimes even bought ) hundreds of new violins and did not find many of them to be excellent. Lots and lots of excellent new violins out there. 

What is your evidence for Menuhin having purchased hundreds of violins?

Affirming either old or new violins can have monetary advantages and disadvantages. I've been offered around 16 thousand dollars to find a buyer for a Stradivari. I have not yet had an offer even remotely close for finding a buyer for a contemporary violin.

Dude, start to use your analytical skills a bit, rather than remaining totally overwhelmed by your particular set of emotional vulnerabilities.

 

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58 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

1. What is your evidence for Menuhin having purchased hundreds of violins?

2. Affirming either old or new violins can have monetary advantages and disadvantages. I've been offered around 16 thousand dollars to find a buyer for a Stradivari. I have not yet had an offer even remotely close for finding a buyer for a contemporary violin.

3. Dude, start to use your analytical skills a bit, rather than remaining totally overwhelmed by your particular set of emotional vulnerabilities.

 

1. Who said that ????  

2. What does that mean ??? Nothing. It was peanuts anyway. And maybe they just don't trust your selling skills. 

3. You keep worrying about me. Thank you, I appreciate it.  

 

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5 hours ago, Argon55 said:

 

I wonder whether it is similar to wine tasting, where, when using blind tasting, experts struggle to identify superior wines better than a rate equivalent to mere chance. The hypothesis being that wines are so complex in composition and therefore taste, that it is beyond the human palate to consistently recognise and identify them. As with wine tasting, perhaps with violin sound. This is an interesting article:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis

 

Good to know that blind tasting of wine is so unreliable and random as well. One possibility that could lead to random results is that the judges don't have a good memory. Even if they have very sensitive taste, they need a strong memory to be able to compare many wines at once. The reason that some judges are more consistent may be that they have better olfactory memory. A lot of people take auditory memory ability for granted. In blind test, the memory has to persist long enough and intact enough for correct judgements to be made. Has Fritz et al. proven that the judges have good enough memory to carry out the task? Not at all. No positive control in the experimental design.  

Interestingly, wine tasters are easily fooled by wine color. Violin listeners can be easily fooled by louder instrument as well. In the 2017 Fritz paper, all three modern violins are louder than all three Cremonese violins in terms of sound power per unit force applied in mechanical measurements. We don't even know how much louder these modern violins were in live playing sessions. You can argue that wine tasters may eventually tell that the white wine doped with red colorant is actually a white wine in disguise over some time. But with a very quick tasting session he may be completely fooled. So it is also possible that louder violins will sound more impressive in a quick listening session. But over longer periods, the listener may hear the tone quality more clearly. Tone quality (timbre) is an attribute of sound independent of loudness. 

Memory decay and confounding factors are so often ignored by the believers of "blind listening test." Don't take blind tests as gospels of truth. Don't let the blind lead the blind.

To me, one thing is clear from these blind tests though--the tone quality difference between the best modern violins are Strads are not very obvious. We already knew that and the blind tests confirmed it. But then again, what acoustic attributes distinguish the best modern violins from the ordinary professional violins? Blind tests do not answer this question at all. So we need to go back to acoustic analysis to find some possible answers.  

 

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

What is your evidence for Menuhin having purchased hundreds of violins?

 

 

Not exactly evidence, but I remember Sothebys having a largish jumble sale after his passing. Menuhin even had a Bert Smith of Coniston, which speaks volumes for his diicernment. Shame he never came across an American Motorbike star who also makes some fiddles:)

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33 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

Good to know that blind tasting of wine is so unreliable and random as well. One possibility that could lead to random results is that the judges don't have a good memory. Even if they have very sensitive taste, they need a strong memory to be able to compare many wines at once. The reason that some judges are more consistent may be that they have better olfactory memory. A lot of people take auditory memory ability for granted. In blind test, the memory has to persist long enough and intact enough for correct judgements to be made. Has Fritz et al. proven that the judges have good enough memory to carry out the task? Not at all. No positive control in the experimental design.  

Interestingly, wine tasters are easily fooled by wine color. Violin listeners can be easily fooled by louder instrument as well. In the 2017 Fritz paper, all three modern violins are louder than all three Cremonese violins in terms of sound power per unit force applied in mechanical measurements. We don't even know how much louder these modern violins were in live playing sessions. You can argue that wine tasters may eventually tell that the white wine doped with red colorant is actually a white wine in disguise over some time. But with a very quick tasting session he may be completely fooled. So it is also possible that louder violins will sound more impressive in a quick listening session. But over longer periods, the listener may hear the tone quality more clearly. Tone quality (timbre) is an attribute of sound independent of loudness. 

Memory decay and confounding factors are so often ignored by the believers of "blind listening test." Don't take blind tests as gospels of truth. Don't let the blind lead the blind.

To me, one thing is clear from these blind tests though--the tone quality difference between the best modern violins are Strads are not very obvious. We already knew that and the blind tests confirmed it. But then again, what acoustic attributes distinguish the best modern violins from the ordinary professional violins? Blind tests do not answer this question at all. So we need to go back to acoustic analysis to find some possible answers.  

 

So how much do the labels influence our preconceptions?

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5 minutes ago, sospiri said:

So how much do the labels influence our preconceptions?

100%.

Even if we know a label is misleading, it will still influence our opinion.

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1 hour ago, jacobsaunders said:

Not exactly evidence, but I remember Sothebys having a largish jumble sale after his passing. Menuhin even had a Bert Smith of Coniston, which speaks volumes for his diicernment. Shame he never came across an American Motorbike star who also makes some fiddles:)

Actually, Menuhin did play on one of my violins for a while. That violin is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

I did not donate, nor furnish any sort of discount to either Menuhin or the Smithsonian.

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5 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Actually, Menuhin did play on one of my violins for a while. That violin is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

I did not donate, nor furnish any sort of discount to either.

That's awesome.

Er, why?

And does it get played?

Edited by Rue
MN has some very irritating formatting issues.
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7 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Actually, Menuhin did play on one of my violins for a while. That violin is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

That is so cool!

Did Tommy Jarrell play one, too? :) He also played a Strad, but he preferred his Mittenwald violin. His violin is also now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

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18 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Actually, Menuhin did play on one of my violins for a while. That violin is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

I did not donate, nor furnish any sort of discount to either Menuhin or the Smithsonian.

Is that why he took up conducting?

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28 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

That is so cool!

Did Tommy Jarrell play one, too? :) He also played a Strad, but he preferred his Mittenwald violin. His violin is also now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

Menuhin may have also preferred a Mittenwald violin to a Strad or a Burgess. ;)

I have no idea, since I don't recall having ever spoken with him, and was not the one who furnished him with the Burgess violin.

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27 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Actually, Menuhin did play on one of my violins for a while. That violin is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

I did not donate, nor furnish any sort of discount to either Menuhin or the Smithsonian.

How long was "a while" ? :lol:

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15 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

How long was "a while" ? :lol:

I don't know. Refer back to what I have posted above. I did not own it at the time, and don't recall ever having spoken with Menuhin.

A little history on that particular violin, according to the Smithsonian website:

https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_605484

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1 hour ago, Bruce Tai said:

Good to know that blind tasting of wine is so unreliable and random as well. One possibility that could lead to random results is that the judges don't have a good memory. Even if they have very sensitive taste, they need a strong memory to be able to compare many wines at once. The reason that some judges are more consistent may be that they have better olfactory memory. A lot of people take auditory memory ability for granted. In blind test, the memory has to persist long enough and intact enough for correct judgements to be made. Has Fritz et al. proven that the judges have good enough memory to carry out the task? Not at all. No positive control in the experimental design.  

Interestingly, wine tasters are easily fooled by wine color. Violin listeners can be easily fooled by louder instrument as well. In the 2017 Fritz paper, all three modern violins are louder than all three Cremonese violins in terms of sound power per unit force applied in mechanical measurements. We don't even know how much louder these modern violins were in live playing sessions. You can argue that wine tasters may eventually tell that the white wine doped with red colorant is actually a white wine in disguise over some time. But with a very quick tasting session he may be completely fooled. So it is also possible that louder violins will sound more impressive in a quick listening session. But over longer periods, the listener may hear the tone quality more clearly. Tone quality (timbre) is an attribute of sound independent of loudness. 

Memory decay and confounding factors are so often ignored by the believers of "blind listening test." Don't take blind tests as gospels of truth. Don't let the blind lead the blind.

To me, one thing is clear from these blind tests though--the tone quality difference between the best modern violins are Strads are not very obvious. We already knew that and the blind tests confirmed it. But then again, what acoustic attributes distinguish the best modern violins from the ordinary professional violins? Blind tests do not answer this question at all. So we need to go back to acoustic analysis to find some possible answers.  

 

Anybody can go out and buy many famous and expensive wines and do blind tasting tests comparing them with not so expensive wines.  But you can't easily compare famous old violins with modern ones because of the risks involved--no owner of a famous violin worth millions wants it to compare unfavorably with an inexpensive modern one in a blind test.  

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13 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

I don't know. Refer back to what I have posted above. I did not own it at the time, and don't recall ever having spoken with Menuhin.

A little history on that particular violin, according to the Smithsonian website:

https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_605484

Well! You'd think they could at least bring it out at wine and cheese get-togethers!!! :angry:

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