Your experiences with Old Cremonese violins.

June 27, 2008 at 11:09 PM · I really wonder what kind of experiences you have with these old master instruments. These are a few experiences from reading topics and posts from various forums/articles.

1. Strad - After the excite-ness of holding a well-known instruments fade away, you'll feel it's just an ordinary violin.

2. Strad - When I play it it feels like I was playing an electric violin.

3. Strad - You'll have an impression that the G string is tuned an octave above.

4. Del Gesu - I can't hear myself but everybody else is complaining that I'm playing much too loud.

5. Strad - People will dismiss the Strad because of what sound under the ear without knowing it's a Cremonese violin.

6. Strad - It's very quiet under the ear, but people across the hall can hear it clearly despite the noisy environment during breaks.

7. Strad - The first thing that the player noticed (without knowing it's a Strad) is how easy it's to play (my interpretation is, the tone isn't really sounded that excited anyway?).

With mixed opinions like examples above, make me wonder, if it's because of the name of these old masters make you think that you're hearing something extraodinary? Will Cremonese violins has really special sound that one will recognize immediately without being told what it is?

Just seems strange to me. I wonder what's your experiences with these instruments (well particulary, violins).

Replies (48)

June 27, 2008 at 11:24 PM · As a driver a 1995 Corolla is ok for me, but some (better) drivers will buy a Ferrari...

June 28, 2008 at 12:01 AM · As the current owner of a Hieronymous and Antonio Amati, 1626, I would say that this instrument changed my performing life. It made playing so much easier over the J.B.Vuillame I previously had due to its response and smaller size. The sound quality is similar to a strad, but doesn't have quite the punch. I am content, though, since I cannot afford to pay $3 million for something better. I consider myself lucky to be in possession of an instrument which will be passed on to someone else and hopefully survive another 400 years.

June 28, 2008 at 12:21 AM · i have played a 1698 Stradivarius. It was a a beatuiful violin, but the one that got me by far was the Del Gesu 1736. Just an amazing instrument. The amount of bow you have to use on a Del Gesu is much more than that of a Strad. Too much bow and you choke the sound..

June 28, 2008 at 01:51 AM · Eitan, could you explain that a little more please? Is it connected with the resonance of the violin?

June 28, 2008 at 01:54 AM · You have to find the correct amount and bow speed in order to make the violin ring consistantly. Strad's take a little getting used to. The spacing on the finger board also tends to be a little different if your not used to an older violin. You really have to start and end a lot notes individually in order to create a singing melody. It's hard to explain!

June 28, 2008 at 01:49 PM · Thanks for the responses.

Sounds weird on the bow needed for Strads/Del Gesu. My interpretation is, that old Cremonese intruments sounds quite dry?

Also, how do you (or anyone who tried) described how it sounds under the ear? The complexity? And does it sounds bright or just mellow with that mid frequency punch? To me ears, old Cremonese has that kind of human-like mid range frequencies which somehow not found on most other instruments. Also I remember hearing a Strad in a concert, the sound ain't bright but with a very special kind of woody/airy sound with creamy mids.

Gratz to Bruce as an owner of old Cremonese instrument!

June 28, 2008 at 03:05 PM · The best instrument I have had the chance to actually play, rather than just hold in my hands and drool over, was a Guadagnini. When its owner played it, it had a gorgeous big sound, but under the ear I found the sound very nasal, small and totally unappealing. The player said it sounded fine in the hall, but to be honest even with the "name" of the instrument, I'd get depressed hearing that kind of tone under my ear all the time, despite knowing it was fine from listener perspective.

While not a Cremonese instrument, when I first tried my Cuypers, the first thing I noticed was how loud it was under my ear compared to my previous violin, and the second thing, how easy it was to pull a big tone out of it - and I don't necessarily mean loud. After almost a year, I've started to fully discover the amazing resonance and overtones which I love so much. It makes it so easy to find a wide range of colours and dynamics.

I have to say that the two instruments I would most love to try out, preferably together for comparison - are the Strads of Maxim Vengerov and Gil Shaham.

June 28, 2008 at 03:43 PM · Rosalind - Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Guadagnini! Absolutely what I wanted to know. People tends to talk about how great the sound under the ear while many others said the same thing as you - the sound didn't make any impression and doesn't sound big nor interesting. Absolutely facinating and interesting things to hear about all these fine old Cremonese violins.

PS: Glad that you've found the violin that you like very much, I'm still searching for one, the big problem is I don't have too much money to spend and playing violin is not my primary job anyway ha. But I love violin, really love it. Ah well, journey continue...

June 28, 2008 at 05:45 PM · Casey Jefferson wrote:

With mixed opinions like examples above, make me wonder, if it's because of the name of these old masters make you think that you're hearing something extraodinary? Will Cremonese violins has really special sound that one will recognize immediately without being told what it is?"

---------------------

Casey, for the most part, people won't know they're listening to or playing a Strad or Guarneri unless they're told, or they look at the label.

As far as characteristics, it's impossible to generalize. Depends on the specific fiddle.

There have been many prior threads on this, including links to some tests. Maybe someone can repost these links.

In one test, Charles Beare, Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman were unable to reliably distinguish (by listening) between a Stradivari, a Guarneri, a Vuillaume and a modern.

June 29, 2008 at 09:03 AM · Good instruments were also made in Milan. My viola concerto (the solo part) was played on a 1760 Mantegazza, and that sounded pretty good to me.

When the original version of my Tango Suite was first recorded for radio broadcast, the second violinist, Eiichi Chijiiwa was playing on his Omobono Stradivari (son of A.). It's a great sounding instrument, although from my perspective I was far more excited by who was playing than what instrument was being used.

June 29, 2008 at 02:08 AM · David - Thanks for the respond! I understand that even violins between the same maker will have different character, and I'm aware of the blind test between old masters and modern instruments, even the owner couldn't even recognize their own instrument!

But that's more to listener perspective right? Anyway you've stated people most probably won't know what they have in their hands without being told or look at the label, does it apply for most Cremonese instruments (or other old master instruments) too?

Nigel - Thanks for the info! I've read about Milan, Venetia, Brescia and many more - there're certainly many fine makers out there in Italy. But my main concern just wondering what make the Cremonese so special especially when people talk about how great the sound under the ear/chin when they play, so it makes me wonder.

June 29, 2008 at 02:54 AM · Its been years since I played an old Cremonese and I have had a lot of instruction that would change my experience. The Cremonese violins scream. The Strads tended to be very bright. I played the Hellier Strad and it was very uncomfortable under the ear. But my guides through these experiences said that this is what artists really like. They want a violin that reaches the back row. The Guarneris I have played tended to be a bit darker but almost booming. These instruments make poor intonation painful.

If one didn't know better (like me ) one might be dismissive of these violins

I hope that I can play on a great violin again. I am sure I would approach the experience with new ears.

June 29, 2008 at 04:12 AM · Corwin - Wow, you played on the Hellier? It's interesting, that you found Cremonese are screaming! See this is what make me curious, there're people saying different things about them.

By the way, to be more specific, do you find the brightness of the Strads is more shimmering or more like a siren, ringing the ear?

June 29, 2008 at 08:31 AM · I am really enjoying this thread - fascinating!

Casey, I wasn't even looking for a violin when I found my new guy - so rest assured - when your perfect violin wants to find you, he will!

June 29, 2008 at 11:14 AM · In 1999 I played all the Strads in the Library of Congress, the Hellier Strad at the Smithsonian, the Tuscan viola at LoC and several other violas as well as Kreisler's Guarnerius del Gesu in the LOC. I also played a couple of Amatis. I have also played on a Stainer in Peter Prier's shop in SLC and an ex-Schneiderhan Strad in Jacques Francais's shop in NYC. These experiences were all nine or ten years ago.

June 29, 2008 at 11:49 AM · I had the honor to play a Stradivarius a while ago. When you play it, it sounds rather quiet but when you hear someone play it, it has so much volume that it sounds like it has a microphone on it.

I think great violins sounds quite soft when you play it but very powerful when you hear someone play it.

This is off topic but I think Vuillaumes are way overrated. Just because Hilary Hahn plays on it, it doesn't make it better.

Hilary would bring tears on a factory made instrument!

June 29, 2008 at 04:32 PM · I think it depends on where the violin is played? I've also read comments like even those best Strads and Del Gesus sound much quiet even in listener's perspective when comparing to other modern instruments in a practice rooms.

I wish I have a chance to try out Cremonese violins. They just sound so facinating by reading comments above.

However Sora is right about the player's sound rather than instrument's sound. However I read about the interview with Hahn, she said she indeed did a blind test and compare her violin against Strad and Del Gesu, in the end people still prefer her on the Vuillaume.

June 29, 2008 at 04:44 PM · I performed an exercise for my own amusement recently, comparing a number of players playing the same pieces on youtube. It's an interesting exercise, and I highly recommend it. Quite a few of the most important players are represented, performing many of the most famous pieces. I recommend rapid transitions between identical passages; something that can be set up with multiple tabs or windows.

In order to fend off attacks from the materialist faction here in advance, let me say I'm saying *nothing* about what I heard.

June 29, 2008 at 05:10 PM · Hi Michael! I'm not trying to attack your in any sorts, but what can I find by watching all the videos of players on YouTube?

I often find although it's live concert recording, many of the soloist's violin sounded really up front and the orchestra is really away from the soloist. Also I think it's hard to tell how it represent the actual sound when hearing in person?

June 29, 2008 at 07:01 PM · No attack taken. What you should hear are differences--any number of them in different things--sound, style, expressiveness. Certainly there should be some differences, right? :-) But don't ask me--use your own ears. The best way to learn about things isn't by observing one thing in a vacuum, but by comparing several against each other. That's why I'm suggesting short passages right against each other.

June 29, 2008 at 10:25 PM · Casey said: "I think it depends on where the violin is played? I've also read comments like even those best Strads and Del Gesus sound much quiet even in listener's perspective when comparing to other modern instruments in a practice rooms."

In my office my Amati seems to have less sound than some of my student's instruments, but in a hall there is no comparison. My violin projects. I love playing in large halls.

Interestingly enough a violin in good adjustment can sound less loud to the player than an ill adjusted instrument, Cremonese or not. In our summer orchestra camp we were able to hire a local luthier, Timothy Johnson, who is excellent at adjustments. The adjustments were made in a small hall. After having the soundpost knocked around, some of the students thought their instruments were not as loud. However, those listening in the hall had a totally opposite impression.

June 30, 2008 at 12:03 AM · I can offer up an idea in that regard; what is often considered loud under the ear is often really simply unpleasant and cacophonous. Or as a friend of mine called it "harsh and unyielding, yet inaudible beyond the second row." But a better organized, purer sound has a better chance of reaching out, even though it's not as offensive, and thus appears quieter, at short range.

June 30, 2008 at 06:01 AM · Bruce - That's interesting indeed. I think people around the world has always been wondering the same thing I guess, what's the secret of such ability for the sound to travel.

Michael - I've come across with this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09UDeE1HUk4

I'm pretty sure, it was an illegal recording? And was pretty much done on a small digicam or something, and using the built in mic. However, it sounds like the violin is playing right in front of the camera. Same goes to various other video, they all sound like the soloist has a mic stucked in front of him/her.

Is this the same sound that audiences in hall should be hearing? I've only been to concert with soloist playing the Strad, once, and that was quite a few years ago and I can't remember well. What I remember was, the sound has an impression of being sounding hugh without being sounded "loud".

June 30, 2008 at 05:15 PM · I've been watching a lot of masterclass videos on YouTube lately, one thing I find that apart from the wonderful sound of the soloist, most of them have one thing in common - the violin sounds like it's playing in front, a very up front sound (and of course fill up the room in a very different way) that literally make the participants sounded so small in comparison.

No matter who and where it's played, Vengerov, Stern, Perlman, even Cho-Liang Lin, in big or small hall, auditorium. It's just, I don't know, just sounded very very different.

July 1, 2008 at 12:58 AM · Greeings,

there is perhaps a tendency fr teacher sin matersclasses to have small mikes clipped to their jackets;)

Cheers,

Buri

July 1, 2008 at 01:13 AM · I would be fascinated to know if anyone has played an Omobono Stradivarius as well as one by old dad Antonio Strad, and how they compared sonically. Is it true that many of the later A.S. violins from his last years could well actually be by Omobono? Are there any good recommended recordings featuring an Omobono Strad?

Continuing the theme of this thread, but in a sligtly different slant. Has anyone played a Cremonese fiddle which has been restored back to its original 17/18th century existence - i.e. neck, fingerboard etc etc, and if so, what did it sound like in comparison to the "modernised" versions prevalent today.

One further hypothetical question for the luthiers: If I came to you with a nice Amati and said - "I want to have it put back to how it was when it was originally made - i.e. baroque neck, etc etc because I want to try to get back to the original instrument's sound". Would you undertake that job or not?

July 1, 2008 at 02:10 AM · "One further hypothetical question for the luthiers: If I came to you with a nice Amati and said . . . ."

Sure. Absolutely.

July 1, 2008 at 08:06 AM · Hello,

I just tried (for fun)the other day the most beautiful instrument i've ever played, love at first sight. it was an 1687 Cappa, completely out of my league price wise.

the sound under the ear was so sweet and gentle but with real power and projection.

boohoo i want it....

Marianne

July 1, 2008 at 06:35 PM · Michael, you are quite right re: "harsh and unyielding, yet inaudible beyond the second row." Building violins is my passion as it was my dad's.

A second passion for me is singing. Why do classical singers project and pop/rock stars don't? (besides not needing to project since they have a mike).

The term sound placement is a misnomer. What a classical singer does is adjust the size of the "cavity" to be in tune with the bone structure. If you understand this principle and apply it to the violin you will have a responsive, sweet sounding instrument under the ear and yet with great projection. Energy input by the player is also a key factor, as my voice teacher would say: "when singing pianissimo think of an old Lady in the back row and you want her to understand your whisper. The quieter you sing the more energy you will have to put into it"

July 2, 2008 at 04:55 PM · Hope no one minds, but I want to hijack this thread so we don't have to wait for a new thread to be posted about this interesting article:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080702/sc_nm/stradivarius_dc

Seems Terry Borman thinks he has found the secret.

What do you think?

and.....

could someone please explain/elaborate this sentence to me:

They found no significant differences between the median densities of the modern and the antique violins but did discover far less variation between wood grains of early and late growth in the old ones.

thanks

:)

July 2, 2008 at 07:36 PM · Here's a link to Terry Borman's paper:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002554#pone-0002554-g003

If someone can more clearly explain "Density Differentials" I would be much obliged.

Thanks.

July 2, 2008 at 09:54 PM · I'D APPRECIATE IT TOO! LOL

July 2, 2008 at 11:22 PM · Yes, this makes a lot more sense:

" but what differed significantly was that the two plates of the older instruments had a more uniform density compared to the more inconsistent densities of the modern plates."

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/solved-the-mystery-of-why-stradivarius-violins-are-best-858329.html

July 2, 2008 at 11:39 PM · Interesting reasearch article. Here are a few key statements.

Tracheid clusters, produced during annual growth cycles of the tree, create the prominent light/dark grain lines in wood. Early growth wood, created during spring, is primarily responsible for water transport and thus is more porous and less dense than late growth wood, which plays more of a structural support role [10], of much more closely packed tracheids.

The density differential was significantly lower in the classical Cremonese violins as compared to the modern violins both in the top and back plate (p = 0.028 and 0.008, respectively), meaning that the densities of early and late growth wood were closer together, in the classical violins.

July 3, 2008 at 07:33 PM · I've been perusing the replies to this thread and would like to add one comment that nobody seems to have mentioned.

Recently, while my violin was in the shop for an adjustment I had a different instrument on loan, one of respectable quality (and value…a gracious gesture on the part of the luthier who was working on mine). At first the instrument on loan sounded “closed in”, compared to my violin (which has a very “open” resonance …not loud under the ear, but very, very open and alive). However, after a day or two the loaner opened up and became much more alive as well. It was still a different instrument from my own, and had a character all it’s own, but it was much improved...it came to life, literally! To what extent this can be attributed to the violin, and to what extent it was a result of my taking to the violin, I cannot say. But, I can tell you that the violin changed, and along with this my opinion of the instrument changed. I should mention that the loaner was an older violin, but with largely unknown provenance.

The thing to take from this is that it can be very difficult to make a proper assessment of an instrument unless given adequate time with the instrument. I think we learn from it, and it to some extent “learns” from us. However, having said this, how much better might the instruments become that are immediately appealing, were they given even more time in our hands?

July 5, 2008 at 02:04 PM · Michael Darnton wrote: "what is often considered loud under the ear is often really simply unpleasant and cacophonous."

Would that all violin shopping violin students understood this. Encouraged by dealers who would like to make a sale, they are too often mistaking a loud violin (in the sense of a loud necktie) for a powerful one!

July 6, 2008 at 10:42 AM · I have played, briefly, two del Gesus and one "long" Strad (for a bit more time). One of the del Gesus sounded tired and hollow. What some would call "mellow" or "warm".

The other was very bright and strong, fantastic in the higher registers, but with a somewhat disappointing G string below middle C. And that is how I would describe the Strad I played as well. Super brilliance, but not so good down below.

So I would say that they vary, even within a small sample. I mean to say, that "mellow" Guarneri was still a very nice instrument, but not with the power that I would need to do some of the work I do. Great for front room playing.

But the other two would fill a theatre with no room to spare.

gc

July 6, 2008 at 01:20 PM · Bruce Berg wrote: "In my office my Amati seems to have less sound than some of my student's instruments, but in a hall there is no comparison. My violin projects. I love playing in large halls."

This brings to mind an educational experience that I had in the Meadowmount Concert Hall (100 years ago!).....Our string quartet was having the last rehearsal before the concert, and three of us were saying to Nick Birchby: "Play out some more Nick we need to hear you better." Then I went to the back of the hall,,,,,,Nick, on his 1726 Strad was obliterating the other two!

Also, the fist time I heard a Strad in a room (rather than a hall) was at my first chamber music lesson with Mr. Gingold. I was startled by the great beauty of his tone, but also surprised that the tone, as heard in the room, wasn't as loud as I had expected. I think this might be explained by describing the Stradivari (and Amati) tone, when sensitively drawn out by a fine violinist, as being free of harshness and screaming---it's all pure musical tone.

July 6, 2008 at 02:12 PM · I wonder then, after reading Mr Steiner's post above, whether we can really tell how an instrument will project from how it sounds inder the ear.

I may well be totally wrong about the first del Gesu.

gc

July 6, 2008 at 02:38 PM · Thanks for sharing the experiences! I really enjoy reading it all!

Really facinating knowing that tone/volume under the ear and within 12 feet from the instruments mean nothing at all!

July 6, 2008 at 06:12 PM · Graham, I have heard many, many instruments, Cremonese and not, that don't give any clues under the ear to what they are in the hall.

One that stands out in my mind is the Strad cello played for years in the Amadeus Quartet, which sounded like it was stuffed with towels at any distance closer than 25 feet, but was a tower of power beyond that. It was the most unrewarding cello I've ever played, with one of the best long-distance sounds. I've heard a number of other instruments like this. Another was a del Gesu that the person who tried it complained that he couldn't hear himself in orchestra, and everyone around him was telling him to quiet down.

July 6, 2008 at 07:51 PM · Michael, that is fascinating.

What we need to learn to do, then, when testing an instrument, is to listen to the reverb in the room.

Somehow, we need to focus our attention away from the direct sound from the violin, and listen mainly to the sound that is bouncing back from the walls, filling the hall.

Tricky skill.

gc

July 6, 2008 at 08:01 PM · Yes, but what we have learned, as we have tried so many instruments here, is that a small hall can also have the opposite affect: a good small hall, with very few people in it, can make weak instruments project. At that point the hall is doing the work, rather than the instrument. And that small empty hall is not a playing situation, because in reality the hall will be full, which takes in sound, and unless you are playing solo violin, you will have to get over and through a piano or other players.

A good small empty hall is not a good place to try an instrument. All decent instruments will sound good there and the dark ones with color will always win out, when in another more trying situation they may not cut through.

July 6, 2008 at 09:17 PM · Aaaaaaaaaaaaagggh!

July 6, 2008 at 09:45 PM · Jan, those are some really great observations. I noticed this early in my playing career. The old dark colorful violins sound great in a small hall, but then you fill the hall with people and add a chamber group and the big open sound does much better than the dark complex fiddle that can't be heard well.

The old saying is a good fiddle is one that reaches the back of the hall, in truth, most good fiddles will reach the back of an empty hall.

Go play the fiddles outside, and then you'll see what is what. You are right, when trying fiddles you really have to be sure that the room is not creating the accoustics.

One time I brought a really great modern to try it next to a Borman. I walked away thinking the modern I brought was better, but till this day I am not sure because every room in his house sounded huge and the person who owned the Borman would not bring it outside. I really could not tell what was what.

July 7, 2008 at 12:06 AM · Great topic, with lots of great responses.

I think I've met a few people who can successfully correlate sound under the ear with performance under concert conditions, but very few. My own performance in this area is better than random, but leaves much to be desired.

Responding more to some of the original questions:

If Strads and Guarneris can be readily identified by their quality of sound or their playing characteristics, why is it that no one has ever emerged who is accepted as an expert in authenticating these instruments, based on sound?

I've never heard any widely accepted expert mention anything other than visual clues.

----------------------------

William Wolcott wrote:

"If someone can more clearly explain "Density Differentials" I would be much obliged."

--------------------

The study examined the density of the "dark grains" versus that of the areas in between. The old instruments tested were found to have lower density in the dark grains (compared with the light grains) than most of the modern instruments sampled.

It's not clear from the report whether the dark grains were simply narrower on the old instruments, or if the dark portions were actually more dense.

Oddly, the "Density Differentials" of the old instruments may correlate better with American Engelmann spruce than with modern European Spruce.

Another possible interpretation is that there was some kind of penetrating "sizing", which was absorbed by the soft, more porous light grains more than it was by the dark (hard) grains, and made these light grains more dense than they would have been otherwise.

July 6, 2008 at 11:38 PM · From a slightly different perspective, I remember hearing a Gofriller cello which had been kept secure in a bank vault for about 6 months, the cellist was lent it for a recital and I have to say it was embarrassing how bad the instrument sounded! It screeched and howled away with wolf tones, no resonance at all, just was HORRID, like an eBay bargain plywood special strung with piano wire. You would never have believed it was by a great maker. Yet when the cellist had played it previously on a regular basis, it was as great as you'd expect any Gofriller to sound!

July 7, 2008 at 03:22 AM · I know a professional cellist who sold his cello made by the same guy, and bought a house, and a new cello by a basically unknown maker, and lived happily ever after.

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