Los Angeles-based fine violin collector Dr. William Sloan doesn't really think there is a "secret" to the exceptional sound of old Italian instruments such as the two he owns, the 1714 "Jackson" Stradivari and the 1742 "Sloan" Guarneri del Gesù.
Certain makers in the 18th century were simply great craftsmen, he told violinist Cristian Fatu in the video interview below.
"They understood the wood, they understood the vibrations," Sloan said, "....and they made something that is durable."
Indeed, these fiddles have endured -- some 300 years later, both violins sing with voices that have rung through them for centuries. They sing again in the hands of Fatu, who at the end of the video performs the Sarabande from Bach's Partita No. 1 in B minor, alternating between the "Jackson" Strad and "Sloan" del Gesù. On Saturday Fatu plans to launch a series of paid streams, performing on both of Sloan's instruments, with solo violin works by Bach, Paganini, Ysaÿe, Kreisler, Enescu and Piazzola. (See Fatu's video announcement and his website for more information on that.)
Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù - arguably the two finest violin makers who ever lived, are known for the particular kinds of sound that each of their violins generally makes -- the clear and ringing tone of a Strad, or the "woody," rough-edged sound of a del Gesù. Generalizations, to be sure, but the experiences and stated views of many fine violinists bear out those observations. Sloan, a surgeon who learned the craft of violin-making late in life and has completed four violins himself, said that the difference that we can hear all comes down to the arching in the instrument, as well as the graduation in the wood.
A tree produces enough wood to make more than one violin, and Sloan talks about the "sister" instruments that were carved from the "same wood" as his own famous instruments. Sloan's "Jackson" Strad is made in the same year and from the same wood as Itzhak Perlman's 1714 "Soil" Strad. And Sloan's del Gesù has its sibling in Pinchas Zukerman's 1742 "Dushkin" del Gesù.
Yet the violins are incredibly rare. "Most violin makers today who are copying Guarneri del Gesùs -- have never seen one," Sloan said. There are, at most, 150 del Gesù violins left in the world, and about 500 Stradivari violins. Sloan has owned both violins for more than 30 years. "I've never made a copy of my Guarneri completely," he said, "but I've used it as a reference."
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