from the music-to-our-ears dept.
Seth Borenstein reports at AP that ten world-class soloists put prized Stradivarius violins and new, cheaper instruments to a blind scientific test to determine which has the better sound and the new violins won hands down. "I was surprised that my top choice was new," says American violinist Giora Schmidt. "Studying music and violin in particular, it's almost ingrained in your thinking that the most successful violinists on the concert stage have always played old Italian instruments." Joseph Curtin, a Michigan violin maker and Claudia Fritz, a music acoustics researcher at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France had the ten violinists put a dozen instruments through their paces in a rehearsal room and concert hall just outside Paris. They even played with an orchestra. The lights were dimmed and the musicians donned dark welder's glasses. The dozen violins together were worth about $50 million and the older, more expensive ones required special security. The 10 violinists were asked to rate the instruments for sound, playability, and other criteria, and pick one that they would want to use on a concert tour.
The finding shocks music aficionados, because of the mythologies built up around the Italian violin makers of the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly the Stradivari and Guarneri families. Along with violins made by other Italian masters in this era, Stradivarius and Guarneri instruments have gained almost mythical status, with musicians insisting these instruments have a quality that cannot be reproduced.
Canadian soloist Susanne Hou has been playing a rare $6 million 269-year-old violin made by Guarneri del Gesu called by some the greatest violinmaker of all time. Like other participants, Hou was drawn to a certain unidentified violin that ranked No. 1 for four testers and No. 2 for four more. "Whatever this is I would like to buy it." Hou, whose four-year loan of the classic Italian violin has expired, is shopping for a new one this week. She wishes the researchers could tell her which one she picked in the experiment, but Curtin said the researchers won't ever reveal which instruments were used to prevent conflict of interests or appear like a marketing campaign. For Hou finding the right instrument is so personal: "There are certain things you can't explain when you fall in love."