Discussion:
Stradivarius
(too old to reply)
Zach
2007-05-26 21:28:29 UTC
Permalink
Cremona violins thrill virtuosos
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6688821.stm

Row over Stradivarius 'secrets'
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6200980.stm

Stradivarius' sound 'due to Sun'
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3323259.stm

I wonder if we'll ever be able to make such fine violins again.

Zach
John Briggs
2007-05-26 23:37:06 UTC
Permalink
Post by Zach
I wonder if we'll ever be able to make such fine violins again.
Do remember that *all* of Stradivarius' surviving violins (including "The
Messiah" which has never been played...) have been converted to modern form.
A violin maker told me that it was likely that they perform better in modern
form than in baroque set-up: the chunkier models (Amati, Maggini, etc) were
probably better in their own day...
--
John Briggs
Zach
2007-05-27 08:20:08 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Briggs
Do remember that *all* of Stradivarius' surviving violins (including "The
Messiah" which has never been played...) have been converted to modern form.
Hi John,

Why hasn't it been played?
Post by John Briggs
A violin maker told me that it was likely that they perform better in modern
form than in baroque set-up: the chunkier models (Amati, Maggini, etc) were
probably better in their own day...
What precisely is done to convert it and in what ways is the sound
"better"? I guess this is highly subjective depending on the timbre,
tonal color, pitch, etc. which one prefers.

Zach
John Briggs
2007-05-27 14:12:58 UTC
Permalink
Post by Zach
Post by John Briggs
Do remember that *all* of Stradivarius' surviving violins (including
"The Messiah" which has never been played...) have been converted to
modern form.
Why hasn't it been played?
It was one of the last violins that Stradivarius made, and it was
(allegedly) still in his shop when his youngest son died - it was snapped up
by a collector, and passed from collection to collection until it was
finally given to the Ashmolean Museum (probably with a restriction on it
being played). It was called "The Messiah" because it was always talked
about, but never seen... Of course, there are those who think it is a fake.
Post by Zach
Post by John Briggs
A violin maker told me that it was likely that they perform better
in modern form than in baroque set-up: the chunkier models (Amati,
Maggini, etc) were probably better in their own day...
What precisely is done to convert it and in what ways is the sound
"better"? I guess this is highly subjective depending on the timbre,
tonal color, pitch, etc. which one prefers.
Neck slightly longer and at a different angle ("The Messiah" preserves the
original neck, with an extra piece of wood to change the angle), new longer
fingerboard, higher bridge, heavier bass bar, strings (probably) at higher
tension. All this gives greater volume of sound, and nowadays steel strings
rather than gut are used (for the same reason). The Stradivarius would have
been much quieter in the baroque setup, and the chunkier models could well
have had a richer tone.
--
John Briggs
John Howell
2007-05-27 19:10:34 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Briggs
Post by Zach
What precisely is done to convert it and in what ways is the sound
"better"? I guess this is highly subjective depending on the timbre,
tonal color, pitch, etc. which one prefers.
Neck slightly longer and at a different angle ("The Messiah" preserves the
original neck, with an extra piece of wood to change the angle), new longer
fingerboard, higher bridge, heavier bass bar, strings (probably) at higher
tension. All this gives greater volume of sound, and nowadays steel strings
rather than gut are used (for the same reason). The Stradivarius would have
been much quieter in the baroque setup, and the chunkier models could well
have had a richer tone.
That was not the original reason for developing steel strings, and
may not be the main reason even today. My father grew up with pure
gut A and E strings, and felt that the steel E was a great step
forward because there was much less chance of its breaking during a
performance. He later adopted steel strings for the violins he used
in his school classes, for the simple reason that they held pitch
better and made the process of tuning up the class quicker and more
efficient. But these were all 20th century innovations. The fact
that they were NOT adopted at the same time that the instruments were
being modified to give more projection suggests that this was NOT the
reason for steel strings. And in any case, any string--gut, steel,
or synthetic--can be made in light, medium or heavy weights, which
affects the projection much more than the string material.

My own theory is that the Strads and Guarneris that are the most
sought after today were so made that they not only survived the
rebuilding but became better than ever, while other makers'
instruments did not, or did not to the same extent. I have no proof
whatsoever! But I have played on a Strad, and what I discovered is
that it doesn't immediately make you a better player, but has a depth
of possibilities that can only be brought out by a refined bow stroke
and by learning to draw the potential tone out of the instrument.
That, I think, and not just loudness, is what fascinates the finest
players and draws them to the instruments.

John
--
John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:***@vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html
John Briggs
2007-05-27 19:31:15 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Howell
Post by John Briggs
Post by Zach
What precisely is done to convert it and in what ways is the sound
"better"? I guess this is highly subjective depending on the
timbre, tonal color, pitch, etc. which one prefers.
Neck slightly longer and at a different angle ("The Messiah"
preserves the original neck, with an extra piece of wood to change
the angle), new longer fingerboard, higher bridge, heavier bass bar,
strings (probably) at higher tension. All this gives greater volume
of sound, and nowadays steel strings rather than gut are used (for
the same reason). The Stradivarius would have been much quieter in
the baroque setup, and the chunkier models could well have had a
richer tone.
That was not the original reason for developing steel strings, and
may not be the main reason even today. My father grew up with pure
gut A and E strings, and felt that the steel E was a great step
forward because there was much less chance of its breaking during a
performance. He later adopted steel strings for the violins he used
in his school classes, for the simple reason that they held pitch
better and made the process of tuning up the class quicker and more
efficient. But these were all 20th century innovations. The fact
that they were NOT adopted at the same time that the instruments were
being modified to give more projection suggests that this was NOT the
reason for steel strings. And in any case, any string--gut, steel,
or synthetic--can be made in light, medium or heavy weights, which
affects the projection much more than the string material.
Voulume increased during the 20th century - the bore of brass instruments
increased as well (it is moot who was chasing who). The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length) - so couldn't be
adopted until the steel-string guitar was invented (c.1930?)
Post by John Howell
My own theory is that the Strads and Guarneris that are the most
sought after today were so made that they not only survived the
rebuilding but became better than ever, while other makers'
instruments did not, or did not to the same extent.
They are better able to play louder - that is definite.
--
John Briggs
Roland Hutchinson
2007-05-28 01:08:39 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Briggs
The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length) - so couldn't be
adopted until the steel-string guitar was invented (c.1930?)
Tomastik-Infeld made the first steel strings starting in 1919, according to
their web site. (This means the first steel strings designed to replace
gut strings for violin and guitar, I think.)

Their "Dominant" strings, still very popular, were the first synthetic core
strings for bowed instruments -- early 1970s if memory serves.
--
Roland Hutchinson Will play viola da gamba for food.

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rec.woodworking
2007-05-28 13:20:48 UTC
Permalink
The reference mentioned above comparing the tone of the Stainer and
Cremona violins is in the last chapter of Hill-Antonio Stradivari,His
life and times. The Hills also mention the much more subdued and
mellower tone of the Maginni instruments. They were writing around
1905-long after most of the modern conversions.
My understanding is that the "modern" conversion of violins
started around 1800. By the time Beethoven wrote his quartets Europe
had largely adopted A 438 as standard pitch and an earlier violin
configuration would have suffered damage at this higher tuning-about
1/2 step higher than the baroque pitch. (Baroque configured violins
had nails holding the neck root to the top block and this often
fails).
I find it very difficult to find recordings comparing the various
famous violins, especially Stainers. I am aware of a very expensive
recording/book set comparing various Guarneri violins but I know of no
other attempts to present listeners with comparisons of famous
violins. I would be interested in learning form others here of
baroque recordings performed on Stainers. I think that Andrew
Manze's recordings of Biber, playing his Gagliano, presents a very
good idea of the baroque sound-my understaning is that the instrument
is in original form and I have heard it live.
Concerning John's comments on gut strings, I was trained on these
in the 1960's. It was my teacher's feelings that gut had better
"grip" and was easier for a beginner to learn on. I have a few of my
"trade" violins strung with "soft" strings by Zyex and I find them to
have a very similar feel and response as gut, without the attendant
durability problems, however the sound is not the same.

Regards,
Fritz
John Howell
2007-06-07 16:48:10 UTC
Permalink
Post by Roland Hutchinson
Post by John Briggs
The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length) - so couldn't be
adopted until the steel-string guitar was invented (c.1930?)
Tomastik-Infeld made the first steel strings starting in 1919, according to
their web site. (This means the first steel strings designed to replace
gut strings for violin and guitar, I think.)
My father was born in 1907 and played pure gut E strings until steel
E's became available. He thought they were a great improvement since
they were much less likely to break during a performance. So that
time frame sounds about right, although I've never heard that
Tomastik was the ONLY maker of steel Es. He was a violin teacher
before, during, and after WW II, and did not adopt Tomastik string
sets (and tailpieces) for his school violins until after the war. At
that time no serious violinists used them for concert instruments.

However, wire strings for guitar-like instruments go back at least to
the renaissance. Morley's "Consort Lessons" use both gut-strung lute
and wire-strung pandora and orpharion, if I recall correctly.

John
--
John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:***@vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html
Roland Hutchinson
2007-06-07 21:00:56 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Howell
Post by Roland Hutchinson
Post by John Briggs
The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length) - so couldn't
be adopted until the steel-string guitar was invented (c.1930?)
Tomastik-Infeld made the first steel strings starting in 1919, according to
their web site. (This means the first steel strings designed to replace
gut strings for violin and guitar, I think.)
My father was born in 1907 and played pure gut E strings until steel
E's became available. He thought they were a great improvement since
they were much less likely to break during a performance. So that
time frame sounds about right, although I've never heard that
Tomastik was the ONLY maker of steel Es.
I think the remark on their web site must refer only to complete sets of
strings, including wound-on-steel-core A, D, and G. The steel E, being
usually just a single steel wire, could well have come from multiple
sources.
Post by John Howell
He was a violin teacher
before, during, and after WW II, and did not adopt Tomastik string
sets (and tailpieces) for his school violins until after the war. At
that time no serious violinists used them for concert instruments.
However, wire strings for guitar-like instruments go back at least to
the renaissance. Morley's "Consort Lessons" use both gut-strung lute
and wire-strung pandora and orpharion, if I recall correctly.
Also for bowed instruments. The early viola d'amore (at the same era or
just a little bit later: let's call it early Baroque rather than
late-Renaissance) had bowed wire strings.
--
Roland Hutchinson Will play viola da gamba for food.

NB mail to my.spamtrap [at] verizon.net is heavily filtered to
remove spam. If your message looks like spam I may not see it.
Jeff DeMarco
2007-06-08 01:19:58 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Howell
However, wire strings for guitar-like instruments go back at least to
the renaissance. Morley's "Consort Lessons" use both gut-strung lute
and wire-strung pandora and orpharion, if I recall correctly.
That would be cittern rather than orpharion.

Jeff D
Arthur Ness
2007-06-08 19:39:41 UTC
Permalink
The most popular instrument in colonial Boston was called the "cittern."
I've always thought (without any evidence) that this would be the "English
Guiittar," a kind of cittern. The colonialist in their anti-English fervor
may have dropped the "English" from its name. It was by far the most
popular instrument in Boston. More popular than harpsichord, flute or even
violin. We have statistics of musical instruments from household (tax??)
surveys and estate inventories. For some reason (softness?) citterns seem
usually to have been stored with the linens. Or was it an instrument
favored by women?

There was even a shop in Boston that drew wire strings for the instrument.
I must find out where it was located. Along Boston's Music Row, I would
hope. That is what's left of it. I noticed recently that Steinerts is now
gone and replaced with a Vermont kitchen cabinet factory outlet.<sigh> Well,
it IS
woodworking. And how many American musical instrument makers were
principally cabinet
makers? Quite a few.

The Music Row may be disappearing, but at long last there's now a sign
opposite the Row telling passersby that William Billings is buried nearby in
an unmarked grave. The modest sign's on a Commons fence, near the corner of
Boylston and Tremont Streets, if you want to view it during the BEMF which
starts soon.

ajn.
Post by Jeff DeMarco
Post by John Howell
However, wire strings for guitar-like instruments go back at least to
the renaissance. Morley's "Consort Lessons" use both gut-strung lute
and wire-strung pandora and orpharion, if I recall correctly.
That would be cittern rather than orpharion.
Jeff D
Magicon Inc.
2007-06-28 15:01:51 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Briggs
The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length)
Then do you know why violin strings are so much more expensive than guitar
strings?

Paul Magnussen

Please reply to majjick at America Online
Alain Naigeon
2007-06-28 16:23:33 UTC
Permalink
Post by Magicon Inc.
Post by John Briggs
The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length)
Then do you know why violin strings are so much more expensive than guitar
strings?
Prices are often decided by considering not only the real cost,
but also the expected amount of money available to the buyer ;-)
--
Français *==> "Musique renaissance" <==* English
midi - facsimiles - ligatures - mensuration
http://anaigeon.free.fr | http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/anaigeon/
Alain Naigeon - ***@free.fr - Oberhoffen/Moder, France
Zach
2007-06-29 03:54:16 UTC
Permalink
Post by Alain Naigeon
Prices are often decided by considering not only the real cost,
but also the expected amount of money available to the buyer ;-)
Much like taxes ;-)

Zach

Christer Furberg
2007-06-28 15:22:42 UTC
Permalink
A guitar sounds an octave lower than notated.
Bowed strings are also constructed differently than plucked strings, so
they cost more.
/Christer
Post by Magicon Inc.
Post by John Briggs
The steel E string is
the same as the guitar top E string (but half the length)
Then do you know why violin strings are so much more expensive than guitar
strings?
Paul Magnussen
Please reply to majjick at America Online
_______________________________________________
earlym-l mailing list
http://lists.wu-wien.ac.at/mailman/listinfo/earlym-l
John Briggs
2007-06-28 16:15:01 UTC
Permalink
Post by Christer Furberg
A guitar sounds an octave lower than notated.
And the precise relevance of this is...?
Post by Christer Furberg
Bowed strings are also constructed differently than plucked strings,
so they cost more.
Especially the E string which is a single strand of wire?
--
John Briggs
Jeff DeMarco
2007-05-29 18:50:28 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Briggs
Neck slightly longer and at a different angle ("The Messiah" preserves the
original neck, with an extra piece of wood to change the angle), new longer
fingerboard, higher bridge, heavier bass bar, strings (probably) at higher
tension.
Sometimes an extra strip of wood was added to the sides to increase
the distance from the back to the front.

JMD
Howard Posner
2007-05-27 18:07:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by Zach
What precisely is done to convert it and in what ways is the sound
"better"? I guess this is highly subjective depending on the timbre,
tonal color, pitch, etc. which one prefers.
Sorry I don't have sources handy, but one 18th-century writer said the
flute-like tone of Stainer and Amati violins was preferable to the
oboe-lie tone of Stradivari instruments, and on the whole this seems to
have been the general view. Even some Italian players, like Veracini,
preferred Stainer violins. I don't think the 19th-century
modifications changed that basic mellower/sharper comparison. The
difference is that as venues got larger and everything got louder,
mellow was no longer the ideal. A soloist's violin needed to be able
to cut and project. No point in sounding sweet if they can't hear you
in the balcony.

So yes, the notion of what makes for a "good sound" is subjective, but
it's more an institutional subjectivity than an individual one.
RT
2007-05-27 19:44:06 UTC
Permalink
Post by Howard Posner
Post by Zach
What precisely is done to convert it and in what ways is the sound
"better"? I guess this is highly subjective depending on the timbre,
tonal color, pitch, etc. which one prefers.
Sorry I don't have sources handy, but one 18th-century writer said the
flute-like tone of Stainer and Amati violins was preferable to the
oboe-lie tone of Stradivari instruments, and on the whole this seems to
have been the general view.
As was indeed proven by the comparative demonstration of both by Michaela
Comberti (with NNorth) at the Met museum 15+ years ago.
RT






The
Post by Howard Posner
difference is that as venues got larger and everything got louder, mellow
was no longer the ideal. A soloist's violin needed to be able to cut and
project. No point in sounding sweet if they can't hear you in the
balcony.
So yes, the notion of what makes for a "good sound" is subjective, but
it's more an institutional subjectivity than an individual one.
Howard Posner
2007-05-28 06:02:18 UTC
Permalink
On Sunday, May 27, 2007, at 12:10 America/Los_Angeles, John Howell
Post by John Howell
My father grew up with pure
gut A and E strings, and felt that the steel E was a great step
forward because there was much less chance of its breaking during a
performance. He later adopted steel strings for the violins he used
in his school classes, for the simple reason that they held pitch
better and made the process of tuning up the class quicker and more
efficient. But these were all 20th century innovations. The fact
that they were NOT adopted at the same time that the instruments were
being modified to give more projection suggests that this was NOT the
reason for steel strings.
When you say "the same time that the instruments were being modified to
give more projection" you seem to mean that there was one discreet time
that instruments were modified to make them louder. In fact, this
process has been going on continually for a couple of centuries. The
adoption of steel violin strings in the mid-20th century was likely an
attempt to keep up in the arms race with the increased volume from
widening bores of brass instruments and increasing size of percussion
instruments. If violinists had been responding by ratcheting up the
tension on their gut strings, the adoption of steel would also have
paid dividends in reliability and stability.
Post by John Howell
And in any case, any string--gut, steel,
or synthetic--can be made in light, medium or heavy weights, which
affects the projection much more than the string material.
But if the string is too light, it breaks easily and is unstable. The
wire-strung orpharion is at the same pitch as the gut-strung lute, so
the metal strings, being much denser than gut, are much thinner to
achieve the same mass, and they are much less stable. Paul O'Dette
says that on one of his Dowland CDs the single piece played on
orpharion took as much time to record as all the pieces on lute. He's
inclined toward rhetorical exaggeration, but still...

The point is that when players go to string material with greater
density, it's typically because they want increased loudness or sustain.
John Howell
2007-05-29 21:28:52 UTC
Permalink
Post by Howard Posner
When you say "the same time that the instruments were being modified to
give more projection" you seem to mean that there was one discreet time
that instruments were modified to make them louder. In fact, this
process has been going on continually for a couple of centuries.
The modifications I'm referring to are the gross modifications,
replacing the necks with longer ones set at a higher angle, replacing
the bass bar rib with a stronger one, and probably adopting a bridge
with more solid wood than 18th century bridges (although I'm not 100%
sure that was a simultaneous adoption). I do not mean the gradual
experiments in body design like Strad adopting a slightly different
pattern than the one he learned in the Amati atelier. And yes,
although I don't have beginning and ending points to hand, I believe
that those modifications were all done during the 19th century, well
before the 20th century increase in brass instrument volume.

There was also, of course, a finite transition period during which
the baroque bow gave way to the Tourte model bow, which I would
assign to the early 19th century just on general principles.

I'm sure David Boyden has more detail, but unfortunately my copy is
buried in a packing box somewhere.
Post by Howard Posner
The point is that when players go to string material with greater
density, it's typically because they want increased loudness or sustain.
Having been monitoring the ViolaList for some time now, I would
venture to say that while these factors may have face validity to
someone not involved as a player, they are not a major concern for
players. Most of the strings discussions involve not loudness or
sustain (sustain? not sure how that applies! Do you mean
resonance?), but tone quality, balancing the high and low strings in
sound and feel, and so forth. Some players like to use matched sets,
some find their instruments require sets combining different brands
and even different core materials. And while I'm not at all sure
about the physics of it, neither am I sure that thinner strings with
a heavier core are in fact denser than thicker strings with a lighter
core. I do understand that all string tuning is a balancing act
among length, mass, and tension.

John
--
John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:***@vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html
John Briggs
2007-05-29 23:05:35 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Howell
Post by Howard Posner
When you say "the same time that the instruments were being modified
to give more projection" you seem to mean that there was one
discreet time that instruments were modified to make them louder. In
fact, this process has been going on continually for a couple of
centuries.
The modifications I'm referring to are the gross modifications,
replacing the necks with longer ones set at a higher angle, replacing
the bass bar rib with a stronger one, and probably adopting a bridge
with more solid wood than 18th century bridges (although I'm not 100%
sure that was a simultaneous adoption).
Probably not :-)

Also longer fingerboard.
--
John Briggs
Roland Hutchinson
2007-05-30 04:01:15 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Howell
There was also, of course, a finite transition period during which
the baroque bow gave way to the Tourte model bow, which I would
assign to the early 19th century just on general principles.
Who was it who first observed, "every bow is a trasitional bow"?
--
Roland Hutchinson Will play viola da gamba for food.

NB mail to my.spamtrap [at] verizon.net is heavily filtered to
remove spam. If your message looks like spam I may not see it.
Howard Posner
2007-05-29 21:52:03 UTC
Permalink
On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at 14:28 America/Los_Angeles, John Howell
And yes, although I don't have beginning and ending points to hand, I
believe that those modifications were all done during the 19th
century, well before the 20th century increase in brass instrument
volume.
If you want to assume that anything change to violins can't have
anything to do with increased volume if it came after 1850 or so, I
can't stop you. I hope at you'll at least agree that it's not
self-evident.
John Howell
2007-05-29 23:21:43 UTC
Permalink
Post by Howard Posner
On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at 14:28 America/Los_Angeles, John Howell
And yes, although I don't have beginning and ending points to hand, I
believe that those modifications were all done during the 19th
century, well before the 20th century increase in brass instrument
volume.
If you want to assume that anything change to violins can't have
anything to do with increased volume if it came after 1850 or so, I
can't stop you. I hope at you'll at least agree that it's not
self-evident.
As I said, I can't claim specific dates because I don't have that
information to hand, but it's not unreasonable to link the string
modifications to the acoustic researches of T. Boehm, among others.
I don't claim 1850 as an end point because I simply don't know.

John
--
John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:***@vt.edu)
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html
Roland Hutchinson
2007-05-30 04:07:20 UTC
Permalink
Post by John Howell
Post by Howard Posner
On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at 14:28 America/Los_Angeles, John Howell
And yes, although I don't have beginning and ending points to hand, I
believe that those modifications were all done during the 19th
century, well before the 20th century increase in brass instrument
volume.
If you want to assume that anything change to violins can't have
anything to do with increased volume if it came after 1850 or so, I
can't stop you. I hope at you'll at least agree that it's not
self-evident.
As I said, I can't claim specific dates because I don't have that
information to hand, but it's not unreasonable to link the string
modifications to the acoustic researches of T. Boehm, among others.
I don't claim 1850 as an end point because I simply don't know.
I don't know about violins, but shops have been cheerfully and routinely
increasing the neck angle of cellos during our lifetimes.
--
Roland Hutchinson Will play viola da gamba for food.

NB mail to my.spamtrap [at] verizon.net is heavily filtered to
remove spam. If your message looks like spam I may not see it.
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