The violins made by the famous Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari are known as Stradivarius violins. The Stradivarius violins are worldwide popular for their supposedly superior sound. These expensive violins are not only extremely expensive but also well known for their special charisma in the classical music world. The best-preserved Stradivarius which is popularly called by its nickname “Messiah” is prudently saved in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford in England. The second best-preserved of Stradivari’s creations was bought by an anonymous buyer in 2011. This violin was sold for a record sum of $15.9 million at that time.
Master craftsman Stradivari built more than 1100 instruments in his 60 years instrument making career. It is thought that about 500 instruments are still in circulation at present. However, all of these are not violins. He also built some cellos, guitars, harps, mandolins, and violas. All of his precious work always received a special kind of curatorial attention and care from violin lovers. His innovative design was very helpful to establish the modern form of today’s violin.
Why does Stradivarius Violins Sound So Good?
Stradivari is considered a master craftsman for his excellence and refinements. His reputation as a violin maker was well known since the 16th century. But people can solidify his actual talent in the early 19th century. At this time, the violins were getting popular in the orchestra. This type of orchestra is generally organized in large concert halls. Stradivari’s instruments could create not only bigger sound but also better projection in these music presentations. Stradivari’s creations were highly appreciated by the music experts and they undoubtedly considered Stradivari as the best of the best violin makers.
Stradivarius violins indeed have great historical value. These are also famous for their visual beauty. But the most important point is the violins created by Stradivari are considered superior to any new type of violins. Many violin players and the people of the classical music world admit that Stradivari violins have brilliant depth and excellent character, unlike any violins. It is considerably surprising that despite having many advanced technologies we are still unable to craft violins that sound better than the violins built in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Stradivarius violin is considered a musical legend and praised by violin lovers for its super clarity, richness, and acoustic sound. Any specific reason cannot be found behind the uniqueness of a Stradivarius violin. Many musicians and scientists are trying to identify the actual reason why a Stradivarius violin is more special than other violins. Here are some scientific explanations behind the specialty of a Stradivarius violin.
The size of “f” holes
Many music experts believe that the secret behind the beautiful sound of a Stradivarius violin is the size of the “f” holes. These holes are usually found on the front side of these violins. These holes were created to produce more sound. More sound can be produced with more elongated holes. The ‘f’ holes of a Stradivarius violin are longer and narrower. It is thought that Stradivari made the “f” holes in such a way that it can produce a bigger sound.
The elegant shape and design
Sometimes it is thought that the excellent shape of a Stradivarius violin helped it to produce superior quality sound and ultimately helped it to stand out from other violins. Master violin maker Stradivari experimented a lot with the shapes of his violins. Some of his violins are longer in size while others are shorter. But it must be noted that his beautifully designed violins are still considered a precious piece of art.
Composition of varnish
Earlier it was thought that the varnish of the Stradivarius violin makes it stand out from other instruments. Some people believe that Stradivari might include some sort of special ingredients to make his instrument special. To verify this statement a chemical analysis was conducted with a Stradivari violin. But this chemical analysis could not reveal any unusual composition in the Stradivarius violin.
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The Little Ice Age effect
After that, many scientists hypothesized that the wood that was used for making the Stradivarius violin might play the main factor behind its superiority. The alpine spruce trees that were used for preparing the upward-facing surface of this violin could be the actual cause of making superior quality Stradivarius violin. As these types of a tree grow more slowly, these could produce very dense wood. So, the cooler climate from 1300 to 1850 which is also known as the Little Ice Age might be the major factor for producing superior quality Stradivarius violin. Many manufacturers are trying to produce similar kinds of violins by using those types of wood that Stradivari used during his time. They are treating the woods with many chemicals like aluminium, copper, and calcium to alter the similar kind of acoustic properties of the Stradivarius violin.
However, some scientists and violin makers hypothesized that the superiority of Stradivarius instruments might be an illusion among violin lovers. Violin players and listeners both might have a preset expectation to hear great sound from a Stradivarius violin. It might be just a result of a preconditional mindset that ultimately yields a Stradivarius mystique. Many scientists assume that this high expectation from a violin with a premium price tag influenced the listeners as well as the violin players to enjoy the great sound from a Stradivarius violin.
To examine this human psychology the researchers conducted a blind test. In this series of experiments, blindfolded violin players were allowed to test some old violins along with some top-quality new instruments. Some Stradivarius violins were also among those. The expert violin players were asked to rate their preferences. The result was shocking and controversial for decades. Because few of the new instruments got a higher rate than Stradivarius violins. When a person is biased with some predetermined perception, he or she will rate specific elements higher than the other one. This is a well-known bias situation in psychology that is called a “halo effect”. In this experiment, scientists found that the secret of the Stradivarius violin’s greater sound might be a result of this halo effect. When you know that you are holding a famed instrument that was created by a great master luthier of the world it may influence the way it sounds to you.
No doubt the exact dimensions, ingredients, and design made a Stradivarius violin one of the best violins in the world. The person who created this unique violin was certainly a genius. However, one recent study claimed that Stradivarius violins are not perfect. The principal investigator Dr Franco Zanini found some imperfections among these violins. Dr Zanini argued that there were a lot of asymmetries in the Stradivarius violin. However, he also mentioned that these imperfections might be a reason to remove the unpleasant harmonics that we experience in some symmetrical instruments and make it a unique super quality violin in the world. Finally, we must agree that Stradivarius violins sound amazing because they are played by the best musicians in the world. This should be considered one of the main reasons why Stradivari violins sound so good.
How many Stradivarius are left in the world?
The famous violin maker Antonio Stradivari made more than 1100 instruments in his famous workshop until he died in 1737. His conceptual model of making violins influenced the violin makers for the next 250 years. His interpretation and design of violin was the pioneer of the modern violin. So many violins were made in tribute to Stradivari. Thousands of violins were prepared by copying his model that bore the label “Stradivarius”. So, now it is almost impossible to check in the naked eye whether a particular violin is a genuine work of Stradivari himself or not. It is assumed that among 1100 musical instruments 600 are in existence that Stradivari made. However, it is thought that 244 violins are currently in existence.
How old is a Stradivarius violin?
Violins built by the famous Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari are known as Stradivarius violins. Stradivari was born in 1644. He established his instrument-making workshop in Cremona, Italy. He made more than 1100 musical instruments until he died in 1737. So, all the genuine Stradivarius violins were made during his lifespan from 1644 to 1737.
How much is an original Stradivarius violin worth?
Stradivari’s violins are still considered the most exclusive violins in the world that can generate the most beautiful sound. Many violists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, and Joshua Bell like to play Stradivarius violins. As original Stradivarius violins are very rare in the current world, so it is also very expensive. The renowned Stradivarius violin is well known as “Messiah Stradivarius”. It is currently in a collection at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England which approximate value is $200 million.
What wood is a Stradivarius made of?
The woods used for making Stradivarius violins mainly came from spruce, maple, and willow trees. Usually, spruce wood was used to build the top of the violin while maple wood was used to build the back, neck, and ribs. The internal blocks of the violins are generally made of willow wood.
How can you tell if a violin is a genuine Stradivarius?
Identifying a genuine Stradivarius violin is truly difficult for a new violin player. Because many copies of Stradivarius violins have already been produced over the next few centuries. However, an experienced violin maker or restorer may easily identify the difference between an original Stradivarius and an average copy. Some scientific assessments like ingredients of varnishes and the chemical composition of the wood need to be examined before taking the final decision about the originality of a Stradivarius violin. Selecting an original Stradivarius violin with any naked eye is almost impossible. Because many companies or manufacturers labelled their violins as “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis”. Cremonensis is the Latinized word that indicates the town called Cremona in Italy where Stradivari established his workshop and worked until his death.
Stradivari usually never wrote a date on his violins. Rather he mentioned his age such as, “89th year”. He only printed the first digit “1” and wrote the last three digits by hand. This information might be helpful to identify the real Stradivarius violin. But we need to remember that an expert examination is very crucial before drawing any conclusion.