What Is So Special About the Stradivarius Violin?
Stradivari’s instruments are believed to be the best in the world; but no one can agree on exactly why.
American concert violinist James Ehnes told Times Magazine that after performing on a variety of Stradivarius violins he got the feeling that there were a thousand reasons why they were so great. He added, “There will never be one secret.”
It can be argued that a Stradivarius violin is superior to all other violins in design, craftsmanship, sound and appearance. In his book “Stradivari’s Genius: Five Violins, One Cello, and Three Centuries of Enduring Perfection” Toby Faber writes “On song and in the right hands they (Strads) are magnificent, projecting a glorious tone to the back of the largest concert hall. A violinist who is attuned to his Strad, and knows that it will do everything required of it, can relax into playing, confident that he will not have to force to be heard.”
Although he followed traditional Cremonese violin-making techniques, Stradivari experimented with his own designs in nearly every aspect of the violin-making process. He was a genius designer and craftsman using only quality materials and tools.
According to the “Cambridge Companion to the Violin” Stradivari’s most important contributions were the flatter and more powerful arching, and his new system of thickening. The biggest difference between a Stradivarius violin and the traditional Amati form is the straighter and stronger “C” bout. In addition, the f-holes are longer and straighter, with a larger scroll.
Another major innovation is Stradivari’s unique choice of varnish: a strong red pigment. While it offers his violins a beautiful depth of color, there is more to the varnish than what meets the eye. Violin makers agree that the wrong varnish can ruin a violin, silencing the vibrational quality of its wood. Some even believe that it is the varnish that made his instruments so special.
Finally, Stradivari’s instruments are beautiful works of art. Each violin has been skillfully decorated with intricate purfling and tracery around their sides and on their scrolls.
A Stradivarius violin is the handiwork of a genius luthier who not only broke free from the common design of the violin during his time, but pressed on to perfect it into masterpieces of sound and beauty.
And perhaps the greatest reason why Stradivarius instruments are the best in the world is because his techniques have not been maintained by successors, even to this day.
BBC Documentary – Stradivarius and Me
The name of 17th-century violin maker Antonio Stradivari – or Stradivarius as he is usually known – is one that sends shivers down the spine of music lovers the world over. During his lifetime Stradivari made over 1,000 instruments, about 650 of which still survive. Their sound is legendary and for any violinist the opportunity to play one is a great privilege.
Clemency Burton-Hill indulges in her lifelong passion for the instrument as she explores the mysterious life and lasting influence of Stradivari – through four special violins on display at this summer’s Stradivarius exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. She is joined by 2002 Young Musician of the Year winner Jennifer Pike to put some of the violins in the exhibition through their paces.