To Help Digitize and Preserve the Sound of Stradivarius Violins, a City in Italy Has Gone Silent

Image by Mark Ordonez, via Flickr Com­mons

We all have respect, even awe, for the name Stradi­var­ius, even those of us who have nev­er held a vio­lin, let alone played one. The vio­lins — as well as vio­las, cel­los, and oth­er string instru­ments, includ­ing gui­tars — made by mem­bers of the Stradi­vari fam­i­ly 300 years ago have become sym­bols of pure son­ic qual­i­ty, still not quite replic­a­ble with even 21st-cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy, with rar­i­ty and prices to match. But to tru­ly under­stand the pre­cious­ness of the Stradi­var­ius, look not to the auc­tion house but to the north­ern Ital­ian city of Cre­mona, home of the Museo del Vio­li­no and its col­lec­tion of some of the best-pre­served exam­ples of the 650 sur­viv­ing Stradi­var­ius instru­ments in the world.

“Cre­mona is home to the work­shops of some of the world’s finest instru­ment mak­ers, includ­ing Anto­nio Stradi­vari, who in the 17th and 18th cen­turies pro­duced some of the finest vio­lins and cel­los ever made,” writes The New York Times’ Max Par­adiso.

“The city is get­ting behind an ambi­tious project to dig­i­tal­ly record the sounds of the Stradi­var­ius instru­ments for pos­ter­i­ty, as well as oth­ers by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two oth­er famous Cre­mona crafts­men. And that means being qui­et.” It’s all to help the ambi­tious record­ing project now cre­at­ing the Stradi­var­ius Sound Bank, “a data­base stor­ing all the pos­si­ble tones that four instru­ments select­ed from the Museo del Violino’s col­lec­tion can pro­duce.”

This requires great efforts on the part of the engi­neers and the per­form­ers, the lat­ter of whom have to play hun­dreds of scales and arpeg­gios (exam­ples of which you can hear embed­ded in The New York Times arti­cle) on these stag­ger­ing­ly valu­able instru­ments. But the peo­ple of Cre­mona have to coop­er­ate, too: in the area around the Museo del Vio­li­no’s audi­to­ri­um where the Stradi­var­ius Sound Bank is record­ing, “the sound of a car engine, or a woman walk­ing in high heels, pro­duces vibra­tions that run under­ground and rever­ber­ate in the micro­phones, mak­ing the record­ing worth­less.” And so Cre­mon­a’s may­or, also the pres­i­dent of the Stradi­var­ius Foun­da­tion, “allowed the streets around the muse­um to be closed for five weeks, and appealed to peo­ple in the city to keep it down.”

Few of us alive today have heard the sound of a Stradi­var­ius in per­son, but that num­ber will shrink fur­ther still in future gen­er­a­tions. It’s to do with the very nature of these cen­turies-old instru­ments which, no mat­ter what kind of efforts go toward mak­ing them playable, still seem to have a finite lifes­pan. “We pre­serve and restore them,” Par­adiso quotes Museo del Vio­li­no cura­tor Faus­to Cac­cia­tori as say­ing, “but after they reach a cer­tain age, they become too frag­ile to be played and they ‘go to sleep,’ so to speak.” The day will pre­sum­ably come when the last Stradi­var­ius goes to sleep, but by that time the sounds they made will still be wide awake in their dig­i­tized sec­ond life. And we can be cer­tain, at least, that future gen­er­a­tions will think of a musi­cal use for them that we can no more imag­ine now than Anto­nio Stradi­vari could have in his day.

via The New York Times

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Stradi­var­ius Vio­lins Are Worth Mil­lions

What Makes the Stradi­var­ius Spe­cial? It Was Designed to Sound Like a Female Sopra­no Voice, With Notes Sound­ing Like Vow­els, Says Researcher

Why Vio­lins Have F‑Holes: The Sci­ence & His­to­ry of a Remark­able Renais­sance Design

Musi­cian Plays the Last Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

Watch Price­less 17-Cen­tu­ry Stradi­var­ius and Amati Vio­lins Get Tak­en for a Test Dri­ve by Pro­fes­sion­al Vio­lin­ists

Musi­cian Plays the Last Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Priscilla Deines says:

    I loved this arti­cle and found the entire process of how they record­ed the instru­ments fas­ci­nat­ing. How can I get a com­plete copy of this arti­cle?
    I have a musi­cian friend who would to read it. Thank you so very much for your help.

    Sin­cere­ly yours,

    Priscil­la Deines
    9030 East Zebu­lon Cir­cle
    Col­orado 80134–5730

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