October 04, 2009

From Jonathan Cooper:

Re: Fungus-treated violin beats Strad in blind test (Sept. 15): Let me begin by saying I was not at the trial and did not hear the violins in question. That being said I would offer the following as points to think about concerning this story. Stories about the “secrets” of the Stardivari sound and the many possibilities of how he achieved what he did have been around since the time he was alive. To imply the working life of an artist like Stradivari can be explained or surpassed by one element such as wood choice or preparation is a gross oversimplification. It does however get great press as these stories always do.

Great violins were made in Cremona a hundred years before Strad was born and he continued the tradition at a high level. His understanding of design, materials and construction along with hard work over a long period of time enabled him to reach great heights in his instruments.

His fame was the result of more than 6 decades at the bench as a prolific maker who innovated along the way. Simply put he was a consumate artist. To imply his success can be approached by growing fungus in the wood is both non scientific and shows a great lack of knowledge of history.

Playing violins behind a screen doesn’t necessarily prove what you think it does. Attendees at a forestry conference are not qualified to make that judgement. How many of them know what a Strad sounds like? I don’t doubt that they liked the instruments but it is often the case that in theses circumstances new violins do surprisingly well often beating out” Strads”. On this point I take it that the “Strad in question is real. But here again what kind of condition is it in. Many of these violins are past their prime and when played against a new instrument the uninitiated believe the new instruments sound better. I have witnessed this in person a number of times. I would like to know who the experts were and how they voted. This is not mentioned in the story. I have been with groups of violinmakers with many years of experience between them who have done just this exact kind of test and have been in favor of the new violins. In fact the real truth in this story may just be one more instance of the emperors new clothes effect. We bow down to mythology but in fact well made new instruments often sound as well or “better” regardless of whether they were treated fungus or not. I could go on and on but my point is this.

I believe I speak for many of my colleagues when I say many of us have worked hard for many years to truly understand our craft and to produce instruments that are of the highest quality. One of the greatest challenges has been dispelling disinformation of the kind that this story promotes. As this story propagates throughout the web I will get the inevitable calls asking “did u hear that they discovered what makes Strad violins so great” It saddens me and many others who have passionately pursued the truth for so long to once again have to explain that there’s a bit more to it.

Jonathan Cooper ~ Violinmaker
1 Forest Ave, Portland , ME 04038
207 671 6029
www. acousticartisans.com


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