Nicholas Wade, The New York Times
What gives a violin made by Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu its remarkable sound? Researchers have examined the wood preservatives, varnish, even the density of wood for anything that might explain the instruments’ almost magical properties.
Claudia Fritz, an expert on the acoustics of violins at the University of Paris, has arrived at a different explanation for the secret. Despite a widespread belief in the old violins’ superiority and the millions of dollars it now costs to buy a Stradivarius, the fiddles made by the old masters do not in fact sound better than high-quality modern instruments, according to a blindfolded playoff she and colleagues have conducted.
“I don’t think there is any secret, except in people’s minds,” she said.
Many tests have been conducted in which an audience tries, usually unsuccessfully, to guess whether a violinist behind a screen is playing a new instrument or an old master. But Fritz said that to her knowledge, no one had conducted a well-controlled study putting the same question to the real experts: violinists.
She corralled violinists attending an international competition in Indianapolis and had them compare three high-quality modern violins with a Guarneri and two Stradivari instruments.
In one test, the violinists were allowed to play all six violins and asked to choose which they would most like to take home. The musicians wore goggles so they couldn’t identify the violins. In another test, they were required to compare a pair of violins, without being told that one was a classic and the other a new instrument.
Despite a general belief among violinists that Stradivari and Guarneri violins are tonally superior, the participants in Fritz’s test could not reliably distinguish such instruments from modern violins. Only eight of the 21subjects chose an old violin as the one they’d like to take home. In the old-to-new comparison, a Stradivari-us came in last and a new violin as the most preferred.
Found this in the Dallas Paper this morning
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