Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hear It from the Master

Last weekend we were graced by the presence of Stephanie Voss, Certified German Master Violin Maker. She has been crucial to A. Cavallo Violins, LLC over the years for her expertise, wisdom and business experience.

She spent Saturday with us, often helping with the hordes of customers we saw. At one point we had 5 different groups of people looking and trying instruments, a record for the shop. She answered questions about instruments people were looking at, the violin business in general and her personal journey as a violin maker.

That evening, about 30 people convened for the "Hear it from the Master" discussion and wine tasting. There were three segments of discussion, interrupted by three courses of wines, including a German wine, and Italian wine, French wines and American wines in keeping with the diversity and style differences present in "The Art of Sound" exhibition.
Here are some of the questions, answers, and points of discussion that were brought up:

  • Q: What is the difference between a "Stradivarius" and "Guarnerius" model violin and what are the reasons for the distinction? A: The biggest visible difference is in the shape of the f-hole and the edge and purfle work. The Guarnerius f-hole is more upright with a teardrop instead of a circle at the top, and is often larger and more open. The Strad corners are often squarer and less rounded, and the c-bouts are more perfectly proportioned, as well as the bee sting from the joining of the purfle always goes to the inside of the c-bouts. Stradivarius model violins tend to be very responsive and have a more silvery clear quality of sound, and Guarnerius violins tend to be darker and more muscular in sound and response.
  • Q: Was the wood the golden age makers the secret to the great sound? Did it come from a period of mini ice age as many people have suggested? A: The wood in Stradivarius' violins is often not even great (and in his early works not always maple, using a cheaper substitution), and there is great wood available today. One of the neasures is how wide the "winter" grain is, not only the measure of the width of the grain. There is great wood coming from European Alpine, American, Carpathian, and even Chinese enviroments. The distinction of quality is often more about the age and treatment of the wood.
  • Q: What about the "Secret of Stradivarius?" Was there such a thing? A:Stradiviarius was an artist! He was just a darn good maker, as good as any, and combined the skills of carving, form, varnish, and inlay to a very high level. His instruments are works of art, and it is not possible to reduce his sucess to a "secret," in fact it does him great injustice!
  • Q: Are modern makers inferior to old makers? A: We are in a golden period right now! The level of artistry, worldwide communication, and technical expertise is unrivalled in history. New instruments are very possibly the best investment.
  • Q: Are there significant technological innovations in construction changing the violin significantly? A: There have always been experiments historically, but the basic form of the instrument has not changed significantly since the days of Stradivarius. It is overwhelming to think of how such a perfect form was arrived at in 1700!
Everyone left with a good feeeling of violin fellowship, nice wine and gourmet appetizers. They all learned something and incresaed their excitement about the individual creations available from old makers and makers today! -A.

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