The Sau-Wing Lam Collection of Rare Italian Stringed Instruments
This weekend I had the great opportunity to travel to New York City and spend time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was especially excited about their wing dedicated to musical instruments with some incredible stringed instruments on display, including original violins by makers Stradivari, Amati, and Guarneri as well as other 16th century violins from the Cremona school in Italy.
Evolution of the Modern Violin
The Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari families actively produced instruments between 1550 and 1744 in the same region of Cremona, during which time the modern violin as we know it came to life. While string instruments have evolved over time with various body shapes and string counts, very few changes have been made to the violin that was standardized during this time as a four-stringed instrument with its signature shape and size, strung in perfect fifths (E, A, D, G).
You may notice slight differences in design between the Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivarius violins, but they are clearly instruments in same family with the same tuning, string count, and contours. These violins seem so familiar because they are; almost all violins today are made with Stradivari, Amati, or Guarneri body designs.
Preserved Historical Violin
As you may know, some instruments preserved from these hundreds of years ago are still in use. Most notably, there are 650 Stradivari violins still in existence, ranging in value from between hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. In 2010 a Stradivari violin sold at auction for $3,600,000, a record high.
Updating to a Modern Setup
Even though these 16th, 17th, and 18th century violins are in tact and in use, the ones in performance today have actually been modernized with fittings that make them playable by today’s standards.
I found the diagram below so fascinating. From it we learn that a Stradivarius violin in performance today has been OPTIMIZED to compete with modern violins to catch up with the evolution of the violin that has taken place over the centuries. These evolutionary changes in setup have made the violin more easily playable with more projection and better sound quality.
Updates from the Baroque setup to the modern setup include
What’s the Same?
What remains “untouched”? Essentially, the body of the violin (back, face, and ribs) and the scroll/pegbox. This may not sound like much, but it’s the body of the instrument that most greatly affects the sound. The quality of wood and the precise gradations in the carving and thickness of the plates make these instruments sound like they do.
In this sense, the restored Baroque instruments retain their authenticity because no one can replicate the carving of the plates done by the original masters themselves.
The Legacy Lives On
If you get a chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art or other museums throughout the world with string instruments on display, definitely take the opportunity to see these preserved treasures. Better yet, you can hear a Stradivarius performed live (or on record) by modern violinists including Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman.
To see and hear these pieces of history alive is truly a privilege as we remember the master makers who brought to life music as we know it today. Here’s to the continuation of their legacy through the practice and performance of music forever!
There are plenty of saucy articles floating around questioning classical music as a dying art, such as these treasures:
Each of these articles brings up some very good points about the past, present, and future of classical music. So is it dying? And if there is any truth to the conclusion that classical music is a dying art, is there anything we can do to stop it?
HOW TO KEEP CLASSICAL MUSIC ALIVE
I don't know what all the statistics are — ticket sales, CD and digital music sales, concert attendance, radio traffic — but I do know that the best way to
So when you apply this principle of ACTION in the quest to keep classical music alive, the trick to making a difference in the music community is to do something about it.
INSTRUMENTS IN THE HANDS OF THE PEOPLE
To use a gardening analogy, if you want to grow a garden full of produce or flowers or fruits, the first step is to plant seeds. Likewise, if you want beautiful music to be produced in your community, the first step is to get instruments into the hands of the people, especially the children.
Not to say that children are the only one who can play, but the majority of professional musicians who have found success started playing at a young age.
THE THREE ACTIONS THAT PERPETUATE MUSIC
Orchestra concert attendance, ticket sales, and symphony bankruptcies are only a portion of the picture. In the grand scheme, the continuation of music as a lasting tradition is based on three foundational elements:
With that said, there are SO many ways to promote the ongoing exercise of these three foundational elements. I would encourage everyone to take part in these exercises by learning, playing, and listening to music. It's all about INVOLVEMENT and faith in the lasting value of classical music as an important tradition worth perpetuating. May we each do all we can to support this worthwhile and enriching art.
Originally published on the Kennedy Violins Blog, February 10, 2014.
Previous entries: January 2014
Liz Lambson is from Kennedy Violins in Vancouver, Washington. Biography
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