The masterpieces of the Cremonese stringed
The masterpieces of the Cremonese stringed
The historical city of Cremona hides a secular know-how, the stringed-instrument manufacture. The today's violin makers are the rigorous heirs of the talented Andrea Amati, inventor of the violin, or of the famous Antonio Stradivari, the artists who made prestigious violins. Their prices reach astronomical sums. April 22, 2005 in New York, a Stradivarius of 1699 was sold for I,6 million Euros. One year later, an other one was sold for 2,7 million Euros. Thanks to science, the acoustics experts can measure the frequency of the strings vibrations, the resonance so as the power intensity. Are they higher than all those since manufactured? The masterpieces of the Cremonese stringed-instrument facing science. Photos and text ©Patrick Landmann/Lightmediation Contact- Thierry Tinacci Lightmediation Agency +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 [email protected] 526-01: The workshop of the violin maker Konia. Most picturesque of Cremona which has practically not changed since 400 years. 526-01: The workshop of the violin maker Konia. Most picturesque of Cremona which has practically not changed since 400 years. 526-02: Konia, one of the Cremonese master, roughs down the back with the help of a scraper. 526-03: The Japanese trainee of Konia. More and more from abroad come to be formed by the Masters of Cremona. In parallel they follow a 3 years course in the Violin Making International School of Cremona. 526-04: Close up on the work with the gouge which makes it possible to cut down to size of the back. The back is made with maple in one or two parts. 526-04: Close up on the work with the gouge which makes it possible to cut down to size of the back. The back is made with maple in one or two parts. 526-05: Close up of a magnificent plate of wavy maple. This wood is used for the back, the ribs and the scroll. 526-06: The back is glued on the ribs and maintained the time of drying. 526-07: A Japanese trainee applies several varnish layers to obtain the desired hue. Front of Konia's workshop. 526-09: one of the two sons of the violin maker Francesco Bissolotti work on ribs. 526-09: one of the two sons of the violin maker Francesco Bissolotti work on ribs. 526-10: one of the two sons of the violin maker Francesco Bissolotti work on ribs. 526-11: The sons of the violin maker Francesco Bissolotti work on ribs. 526-12: The violin workshop of Francesco Bissolotti is adapted to the requirements of a manufacture of quality. He disputes the rank of leader of the Cremonese violin maker to another famous Master Giobatta Morassi. 526-22: Tests of vibrations and sonority are carried out in the anechoic room at the Violin Making International School of Cremona. 526-13: A Chinese trainee at Bissolotti works on a scroll of a violoncello. 526-14: Giovanni Battista Morassi, the Master of the violin makers of Cremona. 526-15: By tapping wood with its finger Giovanni Morassi knows if the violin will have a good sonority. 526-16: Giovanni Battista Morassi walk across Piazza del Comune. In the background the Cremonese cathedral of Romanesque and Lombardic architecture. 526-23: Stuart Wyatt, an English soloist tests an electric violin in an auditorium of the IRCAM (Institute of Search and Coordination of Acoustic and Music), Paris. 526-17: Giovanni Battista Morassi walk across Piazza del Comune. In the background the Cremonese cathedral of Romanesque and Lombardic architecture. 526-18: A tourist requests an autograph from Giovanni Battista Morassi. 526-19: The "Cremonese", a famous violin to date back to 1715, which is the period known as "golden age" (1700 to 1720) of Antonio Stradivari. It is visible in the Room of the Violins of the Town hall of Cremona which lends it to be played by famous soloists. 526-20: A workshop of restoration of Cremone 526-15: By tapping wood with its finger Giovanni Morassi knows if the violin will have a good sonority. 526-21: The violins "in white" without varnish of the student from the Violin Making International School of Cremona. 526-22: Tests of vibrations and sonority are carried out in the anechoic room at the Violin Making International School of Cremona. 526-23: Stuart Wyatt, an English soloist tests an electric violin in an auditorium of the IRCAM (Institute of Search and Coordination of Acoustic and Music), Paris. 526-24: Mr Rene Caussé, person in charge for the Instrumental Acoustic department at the IRCAM (Institute of Search and Coordination of Acoustic and Music), measures ranges of vibrations of violin's back. 526-26: Very early of the researchers tried to penetrate the mystery of the sonority of the violins. Here a strange construction dating from the years 1960. 526-25: Illustration showing the zones of strong and weak vibrations of a violin's belly. 526-27: In the Room of the Violins of the Town hall of Cremona, a painting from 19th century of Antonio Stradivari in his workshop. 526-26: Very early of the researchers tried to penetrate the mystery of the sonority of the violins. Here a strange construction dating from the years 1960. 526-27: In the Room of the Violins of the Town hall of Cremona, a painting from 19th century of Antonio Stradivari in his workshop. The masterpieces of the Cremonese stringed-instrument facing science. The historical city of Cremona hides a secular know-how, the stringed-instrument manufacture. The today's violin makers are the rigorous heirs of the talented Andrea Amati, inventor of the violin, his son Nicolo who was the most notorious member of the family, of Andrea Guarneri, father of the eponymous dynasty but also of the famous Antonio Stradivari, student of Nicolo Amati. They were the creators, the artists who made prestigious violins, violoncellos and violas which a great number arrived to us. Their prices reach astronomical sums. April 22, 2005 in New York, a Stradivarius of 1699 was sold for I,6 million Euros. One year later, an other one was sold for 2,7 million Euros. Thanks to science, the acoustics experts can measure the frequency of the strings vibrations, the resonance so as the power intensity. Are they higher than all those since manufactured? Is the price difference of the yesteryear instruments in comparison of the contemporaries ones justified? Small jealously kept secrets The chaotic history of Cremona left in legacy a historical center with rich and varied buildings and as much sacred than civil. Splendid arcades of Palazzo Comunale (13th century) which face the cathedral of Romanesque and Lombardic architecture partly encircle the Piazza del Comune, the artistic heart of the city. From there, runs a maze of lanes where the few 120 workshops of stringed-instrument makers are hidden. While strolling in these small alleys where hangs a perpetual haze of varnish, rosewood, maple and spruce, one lets catch by his imagination for better visualize the violin manufacture such as it was in the past. A delightful charm overcomes us when one penetrates in the backyard, where the violin maker Konia has his shop, the most picturesque of Cremona. At first, it should be discovered from a small distance during a few minutes, then to let attract oneself since it remains unchanged for centuries. A magic occurs when the last lights of the day yields the place to the twilight. The warm glow streaming out of two large windows, surmounted each one of a Roman arch, skims the paving stones of the court and contrasts with the blue of the moon rise. Inside, the walls are covered with tools, gouges, scrapers, molds and models similar to those once. With a slow and precise move, many times repeated, inherited from his peers, Konia roughs down the back with the means of a scraper in order to perfect the back of the violin constantly evolving. On the bench, in front of the picture windows, rest anyhow pieces of raw wood, violin bellies and scrolls, besides ribs and backs waiting for gluing. The atmosphere of wood and warm hue is enjoyable. Konia is a silent person, sparing of words, but generous. From time to time, it leans its imposing silhouette over the Japanese trainee who carries out a first violin under the benevolent shade of his Master. Many tourists who space up and down Cremona during every season approach the fronts stealthily in the hope practically always fulfilled to see the worthy heirs of the Masters of yesteryear. It is the case of the famous Giovanni Battista Morassi's workshop. Behind his store, suspended like motionless puppets, many violins "in white" (unvarnished) are exposed to soft daylight to eliminate a maximum of humidity remaining in the wood. Like the tools, the techniques of manufacture of the violin case did not change since the Masters of 16th century. Morassi wants to be the guarantor of the know-how transmitted by the Ancient. Morassi is a keen defender of the manufacture traditions, however that doesn't mean that he's just the simple copyist of the instruments of the time. In spite of a half-century spent to work wood, to produce instruments of very great making, this man with a perpetual smile and blue sparkling eyes so as gray and thick hair, remains passionate. Eminent expert of the wood he keeps jealously secret his sources of supplying, he has an ear to listen to their sonority by tapping with his finger the belly or the back before their assembly. By doing this he can anticipate if the future violin will give voice under the attacks of the bow. The construction of a violin answers extremely rigorous requirements: the choice of wood, the precision of manufacture, the thickness of the belly and the back. If dimensions of the body, the neck and the fingerboard often changed, since the end of 18th century a certain standardization took place. But an element, the varnish, would seem to be essential. In addition to its protective and aesthetic role, for some specialists, it would be him which would make it possible a violin to become a famous instrument whereas for others it has only very little influence on sonority. At Francesco Bissolotti, who with Giobatta Morassi disputes the rank of first "luthier" of Cremona, the room where varnish is applied is furnished with tens of bottles and flasks filled of resins, gums, oils, pigments and solvents. For him, the varnish has an acoustic function; it rounds up the sounds and each violin maker has his small formula jealously kept within his family. More questions than answers It was so with Antonio Stradivari. Those things known and put down in writing about his mysterious varnish that would be the cause of the sonority ever equalized of his violins. A varnish which one does not know the exact composition or the order in which the various components go into and which wouldn't any more be manufactured in the same way. If it's right of saying that his instruments have perfect acoustics, how did he make to manufacture them? What is the reason of such a pure sound? In practice, it is very difficult to specify the sound quality of a period authentic instrument compared to a modern one. Acousticians can measure the exact size of the body, the belly, the back or the frequency of the strings vibrations, the resonance so as the power intensity to try to understand the parameters which determine the quality of the sound of those violins. But the ear and the brain are organs much more sophisticated than are the equipments of the acoustic experts. Moreover, it remains a necessarily subjective factor. The place that a listener occupies in a room is dominating. The sound reverberation is not necessarily the same according to whether one seats in front, at the back or on the sides. The tension in the strings is adjust at the frequencies of 200 (G), 300 (D), 440 (A) and 660 (E) Hertz which correspond to the zone of maximum sensitivity of the human ear. But the organ of hearing which allows the transmission and the perception of the sounds brings into play highly complex devices at the neurophysiological level, which are not equal to all human beings. Only rare experts or the sharp ears of some soloists can make the difference between such or such instrument, it is not the case of general public for whom the music was finally created. Then, why the Stradivarius did become at such a point mythical, just like Guarneri or the violins of their contemporaries? Many assumptions were build up and more or manufactured his best violins. The wood that he used those years, in fact exceptional spruce, necessarily grew during the Minimum of Maunder. less serious studies carried out. Joseph Nagyvary, an American native of Hungary, Professor in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Texas, itself violin maker at his lost hours, he has no doubt; it's thanks to the varnish that the Stradivarius are unequalled. After decades of search and as many affronts and offences undergone by his detractors, he worked out a theory which is far out of the ordinary. The use of rock salt, a common practice in the past, made wood harder and stiffer to protect it from the wood-boring insects. In the same way, the early Cremonese violin makers used it to preserve their stock of wood at a time when its trade and its supplying were severely controlled by the authorities. The rock salt and the borax were also mixed into the composition of varnish to arrive at the desired brightness. According to Nagyvary, the use of salt associated with varnish fossilized wood at a such point that would make it possible the violin to vibrate at frequencies never reached since. That's the mystery of the Stradivarius sound. Although Stradivari was an exceptional violin maker, it would be a chemical reaction which he couldn't know at his time that made a legend of him. But this theory doesn't stand up anymore. Ultraviolet photographs revealed that most of those Cremonese instruments had already lost their original varnish and were recoated with new layers where salt was not used. A recent study of 2 researchers also of the University of Texas in close collaboration with a climatologist of the University of Columbia tends to show that the astonishing sonority of the Stradivarius would come exclusively from wood. According to this triumvirate it would be the climate which would have made it possible wood to develop such acoustic properties. Indeed, a Little Ice Age occurred since the 16th century (for some people earlier) with longer and much colder winters and fresher summers. A known negative peak called the "Minimum of Maunder" happened between 1645 and 1715. Explanation: the cold slows down the growing of the trees which rings narrowed and became closer the ones to the others; wood is thus denser and harder creating superior tonal qualities. As we know, the 20 years, from 1700 to 1720, correspond to the third period of Stradivari, that known as "the golden age". He has reached his full maturity and Heavy prices These parameters, an exceptional violin maker, a remarkable wood and a treatment with rock salt and borax would be the reason of such a success? Yet science did not succeed in putting a term at the controversy. The arguments brought are not convincing. Then, objective or subjective perception: blind tests organized in front of an informed audience did not make it possible in a convincing way to decide between the soloists playing with good manufactured nowadays violins and those built by the great Masters of 17th and 18th century. The legend of these instruments would it silently be maintained by the auction houses and a few auctioneers who yield appreciable profits. One would be tempted to believe it. The assumption is not persuasive in spite of the fact that the value of those Italian instruments soars incessantly. Among the Stradivarius which came until to us, the sale in 1998, of the "Kreutzer" at Christies in London reached 1,5 million euros, then that of the " Lady Tennant " in April 2005 for close 1,6 million euros and finally the sale of the "Hammer" in May 2006 which realized the world record at Christies in New York for 2,7 million euros. Giulio Caccini, well known singer and instrumentalist of the court of Medicis said that the human voice can't suffer from any mediocrity. It is the same for the violins. As for Claudio Monteverdi, composer singer and violonist born in Cremona, he specified, "Al servitio de la bona arte", to the service of the great art. Though it is, let us leave the discord and the controversy to those who want and delight us by the magnificence of the oeuvres by listening the instruments that express their sounds for our greatest pleasure.
Galicio_Final RSNA10 - Terry Borman, Violin Maker
In the 16th century nearly all of the region’s luthiers died of the Bubonic Plague. The sole known survivor to carry on the tradition of violin making was Nicolò Amati (1596 – 1684), the grandson o...More information