French vs Italian, Is one "better" than the other?
Looking at older violins, let's say around the start of the 1900's. Other than being made in or by an Italian or French luthier, what characteristics do you traditionally see in a French or Italian violin (tonally for instance)? Do you find that you prefer French instruments from this time? Or are you more of a fan of Italian instruments from this era? Why?
In general, do you find that Italian instruments are better than French instruments from this time period? Or vice versa? Why?
I'd love to get some opinions on this one!
Since noone is joining, let me set the point of view to a different angle.
If you have a maker's name check out the historic auction prices at Tarisio.com . Some really good maker's prices never get very high. But some maker's prices are ridiculously high just because of their name fame. But occasionally a maker's work will have risen above and elicited a real jump in price.
To put it crudely?
There are some characteristics of French violins that MIGHT push them toward one bucket over another. Mostly post-Cremona, when people were trying to figure out why the Italians had done well. Probably a different general preference for varnish. And maybe there are some aspects of their market that encouraged stylistic traits of one sort or another. But I shall leave that to the specialists.
I’m going to go back a little further before 1900 and reference good French instruments I’ve tried by Vuillaume, Derazay and Lupot. They can be extremely powerful and have a very clean pleasant sound (think Hilary Hahn). My Vuillaume is extremely powerful and as loud as any del Gesu or Stradivari I’ve tried. It might not necessarily have all of the different nuances, overtones, and colors that the great Italian violins have. If you find a really great Stradivarius or Guadagnini, they can project to the back of a hall even when you’re playing very soft and have so many different voice like nuances that are hard to describe. Also I’ve noticed a lot of the French instruments I’ve played on tend to be on the larger side (my Vuillaume is 360mm). Have any of you noticed that?
@Nate: Funny you say that! My Vuillaume-adjacent violin is 361mm, which was apparently one of the main reasons it didn't sell as quickly as some other instruments in the atelier, because it was too big for most Asian tourists, to pull the direct quote.
That is interesting to note that there were more workshops or factories in France and none of note in Italy, especially during that time. Does that make the French instruments better due to increased collaboration and sharing of techniques and ideas or does that make the Italian overall better because of the trade secrets that were not widely shared and overproduced?
Determining factors for value: maker, country of origin, age, condition, positive attribution, provenance, quality of construction and material
Nate-- I don't know if an authority or shop-owner told me this, but the longer model appears to be a 19c French preference. Perhaps following the 'more is better' logic that gets designers in trouble when it is no longer true.
Melanie, the factory topic is more about mass production than "collaboration and sharing expertise". There were workshops with a very pleasant output though, so one shouldn't talk in pejorative generalisations about these instruments. Even on the lower end, it's something completely different than the "Dutzendware" fiddles from Saxony and Schoenbach from this time. (And also in the same region from where the Dutzendware flooded the world, there were exceptionally fine instruments being made...)
Nuusaka, I am definitely not ruling out any origin. I honestly don't care where it's made as I'm looking at the tonal characteristics of it primarily. Surprisingly enough, out of the 4 I'm trialing right now, 2 are Italian (one newer from 1985) and 2 are French. There were a couple I looked at previously that were Polish that I really liked as well. I simply find it curious that we as violinists tend to have distaste towards instruments based upon where it was made versus the actual sound/quality of the violin itself.
Melanie, I didn't mean to act instructive. Sorry if I came over that way.
There is brand snobbery in almost everything. For example, here in the US the Japanese and Koreans are making superior automobiles yet the Germans still command higher prices. In the violin world one must pay a premium for an excellent example from a top-name maker. It’s not a bad thing from a collectibility point if you can afford it. But from a pure, practical, musical standpoint I think the best value is in used, bench-made instruments by reputable modern makers.
John, used bench-made instruments by reputable modern *living* makers seem to be scarce. As I heard, many of these makers seem offer buying their instruments back for something near the price they were purchased at first (ideally their prices went up in the meantime) rather than risking damage to their reputation by dumping prices on an open market.
Yes Nuuska, I agree they are not easy to find. But they are out there. I have purchased excellent examples of modern American violins from highly-respected living makers (my personal preference) for less than you might think. I’ve had great luck with Tarisio although it’s a bit risky if you cannot get there in person. Also I’ve occasionally found bargains with my local maker/dealer.
Benjamin: Very interesting to hear about your experience with your Vuillaume! I’ve tried enough of them to notice some similarities and fundamental aspects of sound produced when playing his instruments - many of which you described when addressing the focus and extremely strong lower register which was one of the first things that blew me away when I tried my violin at the auction gallery. I also had a similar theory as to why my violin was sitting in a corner all alone and not immediately sold when I first visited it. Many petite violinists probably prefer the smaller Guarneri model instruments and shy away from the long pattern Stradivari models like mine. I would imagine the dimensions could impact certain tonal aspects like with violas. I’ve also tried a J.B. Vuillaume Maggini model which is 370MM and it has a sound very much like a viola in the lower register. Extremely powerful and resonant. I think the rather high arching on this instrument also has an impact on the tone as well.
Still waiting to get an appraisal on the Dawid Burgess violin I bought on ebay for $500
You mean you don't think it is real, you never called yourself Dawid, say it isn't true!
@Nate: I'm afraid there was a misunderstanding - I do not have a Vuillaume, no matter how much I'd be intrigued to play one! But I do have a Buthod (one of his own; not a factory instrument) that seems to be very strongly inspired by Vuillaume's work, judging by how you mistook my description of its sound for one of his teacher's violins. It really is a beautiful instrument and the more I play it the more I think to have gotten a steal. Some time ago I compared its photos to those of a 1823 Vuillaume that I saw somewhere on the internet - must've been on Brobst's website - and I wouldn't even be surprised if Buthod took that violin as a reference. I'd be very interested in travelling the land and trying out all the Vuillaumes out there, and the 370mm monster sounds especially intriguing!
Can't answer. To me its like saying which is better, a yellow flower or a red one? The other features of the flower (and the violin of course) are so much more important. Not only that, 'better' with an instrument means so many things - even if we limit it to say tone 'better' is too simple, variable and personal a criterion to differentiate between them.
Lyndon, most probably it's a fake label inside a real violin. Whether Mr. Burgess is the maker or not can only be judged by learning more about it's provenience (attic finding?) and a dendrochronological evaluation of Mr. Burgess' left arm done via social media.
Oh my goodness, I hope we don't need to cut my left arm in half to examine the grain lines.
That's how we check for age-- slice off the head to count the rings.
But don't be afraid. What you'll feel is only the pain. As long as it is done via WhatsApp, it's considered a procedure of minor invasivity. Have it done directly via Facebook, and it might turn out as a brain transplantation. But that's another story...
"But don't be afraid. What you'll feel is only the pain."