Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cremonese Violins

Is there really a lost secret that sets Stradivarius violins apart from the best instruments made today? After more than a hundred years, this question remains highly contentious, provoking strongly held but divergent views among players, violin makers and scientists alike. All of the greatest violinists of our time, certainly believe it to be true, and invariably perform on violins by Stradivari or Guarneri in preference to modern instruments.

Violins by the great Italian makers are, of course, beautiful works of art in their own right, and are coveted by collectors as well as players. Particularly outstanding violins have reputedly changed hands for over a million dollars. In contrast, fine modern instruments typically cost about $10000, while factory-made violins for beginners can be bought for under $100. Do such prices really reflect such large differences in quality? Is it not a fact that one of the reasons that the great Cremonese violins sound so wonderful is because we have always heard them played by the world greatest players?!

The violin is the most highly developed and most sophisticated of all stringed instruments. It emerged in Northern Italy in about 1550, in a form that has remained essentially unchanged ever since. The famous Cremonese violin-making families of Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri formed a continuous line of succession that flourished from about 1600 to 1750, with skills being handed down from father to son and from master to apprentice. The popular belief is that their unsurpassed skills, together with the magical Stradivarius secret, were lost by the start of the 19th century.

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