Check out Art and Seek – Emmanual Borok talks about and plays a violin made by Heironimus Amati – one of Andreas Amati’s two sons – in 1608. The violin shows a great patina of age, but more importantly, it has a wonderfully even sound – not as harsh as a Stradivarius, and not as deep as a Guernarius. This Amati violin has seen a lot of history – Shakespeare was alive when this instrument had been made.

Enjoy the video and the sound of that amazing instrument

Cheers
Jerry

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The International violin making school has a great website with a large gallery of images from every stage of making a violin.

There is a long course and a shorter course depending on prior education and experience. Studies include Italian, English and history, as well as history of art and technical studies of the instrument, violin making, acoustic physics, varnishing and much more. Foreign students must demonstrate a good command of Italian language, sound workshop practice and violin playing skills.

Well worth checking out!

Cheers
Jerry

Pinkas Zukerman talks about what makes the instruments of Antonio Stradivari so great. He visits Cremona where they were made, and interviews expert luthiers. And he plays an exquisite Strad.

Cheers
Jerry

Swiss researcher Francis Schwarze (Francis Black) reckons he has the secret of the Stradivarius sound – by treating his maple copy of a 1698 strad with mushrooms. Schwarze, who works for the Federal Materials, Science and Technology Institute (EMPA) in Zurich grew a bark-eating fungus called Xylaria longpipes in the hopes it would reduce the wood’s density and intensify the sound to achieve a sound comparable to the Cremonese master luthier.

The fungus extends tendrils into the timber – usually sycamore – reaching only certain parts of the cell structure, leaving other parts intact, resulting in a strong flexible and low density timber. After the mushrooms were grown on the maple, the treated timber was made into a violin to test the sound qualities. The fungus also ages the wood, so it resembles the antique instrument aesthetically.

All that remains now is for a blind test to be performed with a genuine strad.

Cheers
Jerry

The Fleming cello, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1717, quickly attracted a record bid of $1.35 million at auction in New York, but fell short of the undisclosed reserve price. The instrument is named for Amaryllis Fleming, the cellist daughter of painter Augustus John and the half-sister of author Ian Fleming.

The cello is one of only 60 or so Stradivari cellos in existence. It is patterned on the B-form like the Davidoff, formerly owned by Jacqueline du Pre and now played by Yo-Yo Ma. The cello’s top and head were replaced in the mid-18th Century by the Spanish luthier Jose Contreras, which perhaps had some influence on the price, but it is more likely that the current economic uncertainty has made investors more cautious.

The cello was being auctioned online by Tarisio – a company that specialises in the sale of fine instruments. The cello was expected to reach a price of between US$1.48m and US$1.97m. But bidding stopped at US$1.35m – US$600,000 more than the previous record price for a cello, sold by Sotheby’s in 1988 – but still below the reserve.

On Friday 26 Sept violinist Eugene Fodor played a record five historic violins, including Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu instruments. This is something of a record – last year it was four! The instruments are collectively worth in excess of US$20m, with one being considered one of the top four or five Stradivarius violins in the world – it is in pristine condition. You can read the full story here.

Thanks to the Strad online for the story.

Cheers
Jerry

Many have tried over the centuries to explain the amazing responsiveness of Stradivarius violins, some saying it is the wood from a particular era grown in a cold period in Europe’s history, while others say it’s the varnish, or the chemicals used by Cremona makers to treat the wood used in violins against insect attack. Joseph Nagvary is one of the latter. A Hungarian-born biochemist and luthier, Nagvary analysed both the varnish and the insect treatment techniques of the old masters, and is convinced that he can reproduce the Strad sound qualities in his own instruments through the right treatment of the timber and the right varnish.

Personally, I’m skeptical. Far more tonality comes from the way the wood is shaped and thicknessed, and if you look at most strads and Guarnerius instruments – most have either had much of the original varnish worn away, or have been re-varnished – and that doesn’t seem to have affected their tone greatly. Moreover, other scientific research into the Stradivarius varnish shows it to have been little or no different from the standard furniture varnishes used in his time. So I’m still on the side of those who believe a mini ice-age in Europe in the years preceding the making of the Cremona instruments gave rise to the unique tonal stability of those instruments – along with the particular craftsmanship of the top makers of that time.