Dec 29, 2020
Stradivari: discovering the best instruments in the world
The secrets of the manufacturer who revolutionized the history of music
Over the course of his life, Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737) built over 1000 violins (most of which were commissioned from wealthy clients such as Francesco d’Este). Unfortunately, only a few of them have survived the time and their incomparable value is due to the inimitable sound.
How is a Stradivarius made?
Antonio Stradivari’s golden period is believed to be between 1700 and 1725, during which time he produced his finest instruments. Stradivari devoted his entire life to studying the perfect proportions of violins, violas and cellos in search of the perfect sound, so much so that today there are about 600 Stradivari violins left in circulation, all estimated at very high prices. Among his ingenious tricks to perfect the sound of the violin are recognized the typical “f” shaped holes, made narrower and longer than the violins of the past.
How did Antonio Stradivari make the perfect instrument?
Antonio Stradivari was lucky enough to train with Niccolò Amati, a renowned luthier of the time, belonging to a generation of luthiers, to whom a good part of the process of perfecting the instrument is due.
The first violin made by Antonio Stradivari dates back to 1666 and was signed as “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Alumnus Nicolaij Amati”. Only thanks to this signature, in fact, we are aware of the fact that Niccolò Amati was the teacher of Antonio Stradivari. Francesco and Omobono, two of his six children will choose to carry on the paternal tradition of the Stradivari, designing innovative styles and details that are more and more surprisingly precious and functional to the instrument.
Why is the sound of a Stradivarius inimitable? Comparing studies
There are those who claim today that they have rediscovered a crystalline and fascinating sound in the modern violin, considered better than the infamous Stradivarius and there are those who still praise it as the best violin in the world. What is certain is that no one has ever managed to faithfully reproduce a Stradivarius, even if many have come very close to it.
Throughout history, several scientists tried to discover the secret of the sound of Stradivari’s instruments, studying all the details, from the structure to the material, to the shape and today there are numerous hypotheses about it.
According to a research conducted by scholars of the M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) the perfection of the sound of the instrument would be due precisely to the elongated shape of the “f” holes located on the front. Other scientists believe instead that the reason why the Stradivari are inimitable today, consists in the fact that at the time when the Cremonese luthier operated, the winters were colder and longer and the summers less sultry, so the wood was much denser than that of today.
Hwan-Ching Tai, a professor of chemistry at National Taiwan University, also believes that modern maple wood is very different from that used by Stradivarius. However, the professor made another equally interesting discovery: the secret of Stradivari would not be kept exclusively in the density of the wood, but also in the preparation of the material. As the researchers from Texas A&M Univeristy also confirm, the luthier from Cremona would have used to immerse the wood in a mixture of calcium, copper, aluminum, sodium, potassium and zinc. These substances allow to preserve the wood from mold and preserve the properties of the material, avoiding consequences on the sound quality. However, no one today is aware of the doses of the Stradivari recipe.
Perfection comes at a price – that’s why Stradivari are so expensive
The value of a Stradivarius lies in the reproduction of a sound of indisputable quality, both in terms of highs and lows. Many of the remaining Stradivariums have been purchased by collectors, but the musicians who own them have always praised the sound, claiming it can be heard clearly even at great distances.
What are the most expensive Stradivari in the world?
Stradivarius are the most expensive instruments in the world and are also estimated to be up to millions of dollars: here are the three most expensive.
Being one of the last ten remaining specimens, this viola is estimated to be around 45 million dollars and dates back to 1719. Its name is due to one of its first buyers, the wealthy Baron Macdonald.
The “Duport” Stradivari Cello
Its name comes from the musician Jean-Pierre Duport, who played it in 1800 and allowed Napoleon Bonaparte to try to play it. According to what has been handed down, the dent on the instrument was caused by Napoleon himself who accidentally damaged it with one of his boots. Its price is now around 20 million dollars.
It is worth 16 million dollars and is named after Lady Anne Blunt, one of its first owners, granddaughter of the poet Lord Byron. The instrument is in particularly good condition as it was handed down by several collectors, who preserved the instrument. Reportedly, this violin has been played very few times.
Stradivari destroyed in terrible accidents
In 2012 a Stradivari cello, on display at the Spanish royal palace, unfortunately fell to the ground during a photo shoot in Madrid, causing the neck to detach from the body of the instrument. Despite the accident, the piece was expertly replaced, even though the cello has now lost its original value of $ 20 million.
A more dramatic situation, on the other hand, for the Stradivari violin belonging to the virtuoso Ginette Neveu, who tragically died in a plane crash in which the instrument was also destroyed. The same tragic fate befell the French violinist Jacques Thibaut, who also died in a plane crash, taking his Stradivarius with him.
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