Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Separating antique value and value as a musical tool


Brumcello
 Share

Recommended Posts

We now know that the idea that old string instruments are intrinsically better than new ones is untrue, and that some modern instruments are as good as the finest old instruments. So why do string players still obsess over antique instruments? Obviously some people love playing a 300 year old antique made by a master craftsman, which is fine, but many younger professionals are playing on instruments made by the best modern makers. Nevertheless there is still pressure from recording studios, agents, even conservatoire professors, for performers to play on antique instruments. This is, as far as I am aware, unique to string instruments. Woodwind and brass players are happy to play on modern instruments as are pianists. The cover notes  on Alison Balsom's recordings don't mention who made her instrument.

It is said that the value of a string instrument is based on provenance and condition, which is appropriate for an antique but less so as a tool of the trade. Surely performers need an instrument that does the job, or are they victims of commerce and marketing?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 55
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

32 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

We now know that the idea that old string instruments are intrinsically better than new ones is untrue, and that some modern instruments are as good as the finest old instruments. So why do string players still obsess over antique instruments? Obviously some people love playing a 300 year old antique made by a master craftsman, which is fine, but many younger professionals are playing on instruments made by the best modern makers. Nevertheless there is still pressure from recording studios, agents, even conservatoire professors, for performers to play on antique instruments. This is, as far as I am aware, unique to string instruments. Woodwind and brass players are happy to play on modern instruments as are pianists. The cover notes  on Alison Balsom's recordings don't mention who made her instrument.

It is said that the value of a string instrument is based on provenance and condition, which is appropriate for an antique but less so as a tool of the trade. Surely performers need an instrument that does the job, or are they victims of commerce and marketing?

The answer to your question can be found within the question itself.

A violin (cello) is two things simultaneously. On the one hand, equipment for a musician (Turngerät, as I flippantly put it). On the other hand a collectible antique. The market price is for the collectible antique and not the gymnastic apparatus since people can’t agree on “sound” anyway. Musicians are often outraged when one points this out, and argue that that misses the point. One could just as well argue that you should go away with your Bohemian box, and leave us to enjoy our collectible antique.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good sound can come in all sorts of different packages - some more attractive or desirable than others.

History, rarity, provenance, all can be very important, and ultimately the player's confidence in their instrument contributes as much to their expressiveness as any physical properties.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Good sound can come in all sorts of different packages - some more attractive or desirable than others.

History, rarity, provenance, all can be very important, and ultimately the player's confidence in their instrument contributes as much to their expressiveness as any physical properties.

 

While I agree that confidence in one's instrument (and pride as well) is important, it is noticable that flute or clarinet soloists don't hanker after antiques for their performances

Link to comment
Share on other sites

29 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

While I agree that confidence in one's instrument (and pride as well) is important, it is noticable that flute or clarinet soloists don't hanker after antiques for their performances

The instruments they play operate with much simpler physics ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Brumcello said:

it is noticable that flute or clarinet soloists don't hanker after antiques for their performances

Flautists and clarinettists are a suspicious bunch. In many orchestras they get paid better than string players, because they are “soloists”, but then proceed to spend much of the orchestra rehearsal sitting there doing nothing, whilst the violinists and cellists have to scrub away almost non stop:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Brumcello said:

While I agree that confidence in one's instrument (and pride as well) is important, it is noticable that flute or clarinet soloists don't hanker after antiques for their performances

There is a commonly accepted - but still controversial - idea amongst woodwind and brass players that their instruments "blow out" over time and that even a full restoration won't get the same sound as a new instrument would. 

Some people swear that it is just a matter of needing restoration, while others claim that the moisture in the air from the player's lungs permanently changes and damages the instrument.

 

This idea, coupled with the fact that there are some very real practical differences in the design of older instruments and the affordable cost of new instruments seem to dampen demand for old instruments amongst professionals.

I'd be curious if anyone here with better knowledge can expand on the topic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

19 minutes ago, Violinjon said:

the fact that there are some very real practical differences in the design of older instruments and the affordable cost of new instruments seem to dampen demand for old instruments amongst professionals.

Of course there's a big difference in the mechanics of flute traverse and a continuing development in their construction since centuries; others types like recorders got out of use and were rediscovered in the 20th century, so that the Renaissance and baroque originals were either destroyed or in an unusable condition, except some luxury examples kept in treasure collections.

One could argue that the big advantage of violin family instruments might be  that their construction isn't so complicated that they could be easily adapted to any new development in technical requirements.:ph34r:

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Why does an original working Apple I computer sell for $905,000? People like connections with the past. People like to own, see, and play rare authentic original antiques in virtually all fields. 

Look at the current insanity around prices for nonfungible tokens, known as NFTs. Fine old violins are a bargain by comparison.

I think I may not have made myself clear. I am not objecting to the prices that fine antique instruments command. They are worth what people are willing to pay and, as you say, that connection with the past adds value. My concern is that there is pressure on young talented soloists to play on fine old Italian instruments. I question whether this serves a musical purpose. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

My concern is that there is pressure on young talented soloists to play on fine old Italian instruments. I question whether this serves a musical purpose. 

The instrument is part of the musical performance. People like to see and hear soloists perform on million-dollar old Italian instruments in person, fine or otherwise. It is part of the cachet.

By the way, I am not judging whether this is right or wrong. It just is. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

52 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

My concern is that there is pressure on young talented soloists to play on fine old Italian instruments. I question whether this serves a musical purpose. 

I think it's very unfortunate - young classical players are indoctrinated from an early age and rarely get an opportunity to examine their own prejudices.

However, I don't see that changing, given that classical music is in itself an act of preserving history and tradition, centred around the hero-worship of individual genius. You can see how the same mindset applies to the repertoire and to the instruments.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 minutes ago, martin swan said:

I think it's very unfortunate - young classical players are indoctrinated from an early age are rarely get an opportunity to examine their own prejudices.

However, I don't see that changing, given that classical music is in itself an act of preserving history and tradition, centred around the hero-worship of individual genius. You can see how the same mindset applies to the repertoire and to the instruments.

For what it's worth, I think things are definitely changing.  I mean, it's obvious...

My teacher, daughter of a luthier, was adamant that older instruments were better and that you could trust them.  I grew up believing that as an article of faith.  I was able to move on.

Having the opportunity to play a mediocre Strad helped form my opinions.  All the blind and attempted double-blind tests of the past decades have also helped me to see the truth.

20th Century Italian instruments (to say nothing of 19th and 18th and 17th century) are too expensive even for almost everyone.  Teachers have had to adjust their prejudices in order to get good instruments into their students' hands.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

23 minutes ago, Stephen Fine said:

For what it's worth, I think things are definitely changing.  I mean, it's obvious...

My teacher, daughter of a luthier, was adamant that older instruments were better and that you could trust them.  I grew up believing that as an article of faith.  I was able to move on.

Having the opportunity to play a mediocre Strad helped form my opinions.  All the blind and attempted double-blind tests of the past decades have also helped me to see the truth.

20th Century Italian instruments (to say nothing of 19th and 18th and 17th century) are too expensive even for almost everyone.  Teachers have had to adjust their prejudices in order to get good instruments into their students' hands.

Isn't this progress helped by the fact that market forces increase the value of the antique, whilst making the modern highly skilled luthier market more competitive forcing prices down? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

56 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Isn't this progress helped by the fact that market forces increase the value of the antique, whilst making the modern highly skilled luthier market more competitive forcing prices down? 

I’m not sure where you get that impression. I think, far more, that they are two separate “markets”, if market is the right word.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

38 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

I’m not sure where you get that impression. I think, far more, that they are two separate “markets”, if market is the right word.

Prices at the higher end going up, due to corporate investment. Prices at the lower end going down because of Chinese ingenuity. Prices of the best luthiers going down because there is a huge wealth of information on the internet increasing competition.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Brumcello said:

While I agree that confidence in one's instrument (and pride as well) is important, it is noticable that flute or clarinet soloists don't hanker after antiques for their performances

They wear out. After a few years you need another one.

String instruments are unique in the emotional attachment they creat in their owners.

The book “Galileo’s Daughter” contains some correspondence from Galileo who is impatiently waiting for his new Italian violin and will not settle for a local one. 
whatever violin he got, if it still exists, it is worthwhile as an Antiquity AND as a tool. Cant say that about any flute or clarinet ever made.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, jacobsaunders said:

I’m not sure where you get that impression. I think, far more, that they are two separate “markets”, if market is the right word.

 

29 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Prices at the higher end going up, due to corporate investment. Prices at the lower end going down because of Chinese ingenuity. Prices of the best luthiers going down because there is a huge wealth of information on the internet increasing competition.

 

Analyzed logically, "the violin market" (being an emergent entity) disassembles into different sectors following rules specific to each sector.  One very important concept to grasp is that each sector has its own curve of price to quality.  Trying to treat the violin business as if it has a single pricing relation, by superposing all the curves, doesn't lead anywhere useful to puzzled consumers who are looking for tools rather than symbols or investments. It's of no use to  people (not already part of the violin culture) who come here wanting to know what they can sell a found violin for, either.  :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

12 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

 

Analyzed logically, "the violin market" (being an emergent entity) disassembles into different sectors following rules specific to each sector.  One very important concept to grasp is that each sector has its own curve of price to quality.  Trying to treat the violin business as if it has a single pricing relation, by superposing all the curves, doesn't lead anywhere useful to puzzled consumers who are looking for tools rather than symbols or investments. It's of no use to  people (not already part of the violin culture) who come here wanting to know what they can sell a found violin for, either.  :)

Analyzed logically? I see fads and fetishes portrayed as facts. I'm trying to make sense of other people's beliefs to help me figure out some kind of logical pathway through it all without stepping on too many toes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Analyzed logically? I see fads and fetishes portrayed as facts. I'm trying to make sense of other people's beliefs to help me figure out some kind of logical pathway through it all without stepping on too many toes.

Ignore the toes, apply basic psychology and economics, then follow the money.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, Brumcello said:

So why do string players still obsess over antique instruments?

Just had today a professional violinist in my shop who purchased one of my instruments not so long ago for 4 reasons.

  1. Sounds as good as a Guadagnini the same player used in the past
  2. good old instruments are overpriced and therefore in monetary terms out of reach for almost any violinist.
  3. new instruments are in better shape
  4. The user can be more relaxed for paying insurance for it.

Seems the violin world is changing.

(I wish that banks drive the price for high end instruments into a price region where sponsors will worry about loaning them out to musicians. :D)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

34 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

 

Analyzed logically, "the violin market" (being an emergent entity) disassembles into different sectors following rules specific to each sector.  One very important concept to grasp is that each sector has its own curve of price to quality.  Trying to treat the violin business as if it has a single pricing relation, by superposing all the curves, doesn't lead anywhere useful to puzzled consumers who are looking for tools rather than symbols or investments. It's of no use to  people (not already part of the violin culture) who come here wanting to know what they can sell a found violin for, either.  :)

Just imagine, I agree with VdA this time (pinching myself):)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.




×
×
  • Create New...