The finest of all fiddlemakers
Martin Gayford reviews Stradivarius: Five Violins, One Cello and a Genius by Toby Faber
According to the great violinist Nicolo Paganini, Antonio Stradivari (better known as Stradivarius), to make his celebrated violins used only “the wood of trees on which nightingales sang”. Others have made more prosaic suggestions – that the timber Stradivari employed was soaked in brine, or that it was of unusual density owing to the freezing conditions of the 17th-century “Little Ice Age” in which it grew. Some argue that his wood was endowed with special properties while it was being floated down river from the Alps in the form of logs. But there is still no agreement.
Nor is that the only mystery of these antique musical instruments. Their varnish, measurements and internal construction have been minutely examined since the 19th century. And still – 360 years after the birth of their maker – nobody really knows what makes the tone of these old fiddles so marvellous….
Some great things can’t be duplicated. If they could, we’d enjoy them less because they would become trite.
Now for something that’s not trite, here’s Bela Bartok’s “Tanz des holzgeschnitzten Prinzen – Nachspiel” (RealAudio), played on a Stradivarius violin (with orchestral accompaniment).