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Interesting question. Having some knowledge about both Strads and Guanieri violins, I think that you have to take into account that each of these violins sounds different from another, even those made by the same maker. For example, Joshua Bell recently replaced his Strad with another Strad because the new one, the "Gibson", had a "bigger" sound, which was more conducive to concert performance than chamber music (as an aside, it was very similar to upgrading your components when you think of it, although the cost is a little different!). Similarly, Bobby McDuffie fell in love with his del Gesu after having played dozens of them, searching for the one that best suited his style and taste as an artist. While it's all well and good to generalize (Strads are more tempermental and sweeter than del Gesus, which have more power, are more versatile and are better for filling a large hall, and all of them have a tone that modern violins just can't match), the fact is that unless you're extremely familiar with the sound of a particular Strad or del Gesu, it's unlikely that any recording is going to let you know the instrument being played unless you know the artist or the liner notes tell you. My guess is that the sweetness and tone of a lot of these violins may be lost by the close miking of recordings (it has been said, and I can believe it having heard Bobby's del Gesu up close and on recordings, that no recording of Heifetz ever fully captured the sweetness of the tone he got from his del Gesu), and that fact in addition can mask the fact that a lesser violin does not project into a concert hall with the power of one of these rare violins. So in answer to your question, I agree that without being intimately familiar with the violin in question, it would be difficult to tell what type violin is being played on a music reproduction system, but I would probably place the reason more on the recording process and the fact that all these rare violins sound different than on the playback equipment. By the way, I believe that there is a recording by violinist Elmar (?) Oliviera where he plays a number of rare violins from his collection on one disc, would be interesting to hear that disc to hear the differences in sound among the different violins.
(From an email to a group I belong to, I realize these are vague references, but they might lead you to something of interest):
"A few [The Absolute Sound] issues back there was a long article on the project where about thirty Strads and Guarneris were recorded under identical conditionssame player, same mikes same everything. The whole package is expensive but you can buy a sampler for around $25...
Telling the Strads from each other or the Guarneris from each other may require a violinistically trained ear, but if you cant tell the Strads as a group from the Guarneris as a group, you need either a new audio system or a lot of thought on just what you are listening for and how effectively. It is really obvious, blind or otherwise...
If you don't believe, buy the Bein and Fushi comparison CD(you can order it from them in Chicago). Then you will."
Good luck and hope this is of interest,
Charlie: I think that's the Oliviera disc they're referring to; thanks, I was trying to figure where to get it. Oliviera is a fine violinist, it would probably be worthwhile picking it up, just to hear the differences. I agree that if you hear them side by side under the same conditions you can hear the differences, but given the state of most commercial recordings (which the Oliviera disc is definitely not) and the fact that there may be no clues as to the type of violin used on those recordings, I would think only true violin afficianatos, violinists and dealers would consistently be able to pick out the types of violins being used on them (let alone the actual violin). For example, Bobby McDuffie's recording of the Barber concerto on Telarc was made with his previous violin, while the one he made before that, his recording of Kreisler and similar romantic short pieces (which is a lot of fun, if you haven't heard it), was made with the del Gesu. After he told me, I could hear the difference, although to my relatively untrained ear it could also have been the difference between the different halls and the different styles of music played that I was hearing. In a live concert setting, the differences are much easier to notice, in my experience.
This issue does not apply to violins only, but also to any family of musical instruments or groups of same instruments by the same maker. Yes, it is true as Rcprince points out, that some of the unique nuances of tone and expression that some instruments or groups of instruments by the same maker are lost or at least blurred by the recording process, but there is still plenty of information that is captured to make identification not only possible, but as Danvect points out, quite obvious. These "subtle" differences in timbre, as in the case of Strads vs. Guarnieris, are far more obvious than the differences between say, a Siemens and a Telefunken 6DJ8, differences that we audiophiles agonize over. The problem is that we as audiophiles have many more opportunities to compare different cables, tubes, cartridges etc., so as to form opinions concerning their "family" sounds, than opportunities to hear comparisons of different musical instruments or different equipment used by musicians. But plenty of recorded examples exist; we just need to know what they are.
While I can't claim to be an expert on vintage violins, I can speak with some authority on this issue as concerns woodwind instruments (I play them for a living). The sound of say, a Powell flute, regardless of vintage, is quite different from that of a Haynes or a Brannen; the differences are not that subtle, and are easily captured by the recording process. To hear a classic Haynes sound listen to any recording of Jean Pierre Rampal. An even better example of captured differences in the sound of different makes of flutes are the recordings fo James Galway. Listen to the 1972 recording of the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto in C K.299 (Angel SC-3783). On this recording Galway, still playing principal flute with the Berlin Phil., is playing on a Powell flute. For comparison, listen to any of his solo recordings on RCA; he plays a Brannen on all of these. If the fact that the Brannen is far more brilliant, aggressive, and almost tin-whistle like is not obvious in comparison to the Powell's suppleness; then as Danvect says, you need a new system.
Other examples: Pepper Adams "Ecounter" Prestige 7677 (1969). Classic Pepper Adams; beautifull and robust baritone sax sound with plenty of warmth and growl. Pepper used a Berg Larson mouthpiece on his horn during the 60's and 70's. His mouthpiece was damaged in the early 80's and had to switch to a Dukoff. Listen to the dramatic difference in sound, and how much more edge and lack of bottom his sound has on "Urban Dreams", Palo Alto Jazz Records PA8009. Incidentally, these differences are not the result of different recording techniques; although this can obviously have an important effect.
Any of Phil Woods' recordings pre 80's. "Rights Of Swing" (1961)or even his great alto solo on Billy Joel's "I Love You Just The Way You Are", are great examples of the classic Selmer(Paris)made saxophone sound: bright but with lots of body and very complex. In the 80's Phil switched to a Yamaha alto. On "Heaven", Blackhawk Records BKH50401-D, the Yamaha's thinner and less complex sound could not be more obvious.
By and large, the differences that we are talking about here are far greater than the differences that dedicated audiophiles are able to hear by "tweaking" our systems. And once again we, IMO, come back to the reality that for the audiophile that wants to really sensitize him/herself to details such as these; the best education is a good amount of exposure to live music. In the live music experience, all the details and wonderfull complexities of fine musical instruments, are revealed that much more obviously.
To anyone really committed to learning about what makes instruments tick, so to speak, from the musician's perspective; there are plenty of resources. Periodicals such as "Woodwind Player", "Downbeat", "The Grenadilla Society", "Stradiverius Society", "Flute Talk" and others offer articles and interviews with leading professionals and discussions on this very topic.
Regards and Happy Holidays.
Just my two cents...
Regardless of whether you are talking about Strads or Guarneri's, it is the tone of the particular performer that often has a greater "sonic signature" than the maker of the instrument. The greatest performers have a signature tone that carries over from instrument to instrument. For example, Yo-Yo Ma's early recordings were made on a Gofriller, later ones on either a Strad or Montagnana. Yet, in all of his recordings, early or late, it is the same sweet, beautiful tone. Slight differences, of course, but the same unmistakeable character.
This is even more interesting when you consider the previous owners of Yo-Yo Ma's cellos. I once heard Ma perform the Elgar cello concerto live, on his Davidov Strad. Beautiful performance. However, Jacqueline du Pre performed on the Davidov Strad for most of her tragically short career. Same instrument, TOTALLY different tones. Similarly, Ma's Gofriller was previously used by Pierre Fournier. Again, same instrument, very different tones.
Personally, I think it is more interesting to listen for the characteristics of a performer's sound, rather than try to determine the general sonic characteristics of a particular instrument maker.
I have one CD album which made by TACET and title is what about this Mr.Paganini? The Album played seven most famous violins, Amati,Guadagnini,A Guarneri,P. Guarneri, Horvath, Straivari and Vuillaume by Saschko Gawriloff. He play Johann Sebastian Bach Partica d-Moll BWV 1004: Sarabande on seven different violin that I listed above. U probably will hear the difference between them. Tacet have many good classical music CD which has a good recording. I do not know if u can purchase in US, it made in Germany. If u have a problem to purchase it or order from online and just send me a mail.
I wonder how much of this is brainwashing? Since we are told it is a Stradivari violin; do we react to that knowledge positively instead of what we hear? If someone lied would you folks know it was not a Stradivari, considering even they all sound different?
Excellent posts! Frogman, I think that you're right, as a musician who plays wind instruments your training and expertise make it easier to spot the differences in types of instruments, just as my experience as a guitarist makes it easier for me to hear differences on recordings between a Martin, Guild or Gibson. You can train your ear to hear the differences, but the casual listener or ordinary music lover may not be able to make the distinction. But I agree with Ewha's assessment that the artist's style can be more recognizable than the particular instrument that artist is playing. The better instruments can remove the boundaries of what the artist wants to communicate, and help the artist develop a sound that he/she wants, but ultimately it is the musician's style and soul that makes them distinctive to me and what I'm listening for.
I agree with you RCprice, Frogman and others. I always assume a great musician will have a great instrument, so it never really crosses my mind. I was in a recording session with Dave Brubeck last spring. They had a Baldwin piano brought in for Dave. They only had Steinways and Bosendorfers on hand. The Baldwin produces the sound Dave wants, so they got him one.
Great discussion! And some great comments. Ewha could not be more on the mark concerning the relative importance of concerns over the instrument's inherent sound
characteristics versus the performer's personal sound. And as Sugarbrie points out, no, we would not stop listening to a great performer because they are not using a particular instrument on a given occasion. The details of the music making always swamp, in scope and relevance, the details or differences between makes of instruments.
But that is not the root question in this thread. Can the recording process capture the differences between makes of instruments? Without a doubt! Is it brainwashing that we can hear them? Sounds like shades of the audio cable "double-blind test" issue to me. Of course we can really hear them!
I have always been fascinated by the parallels between the concerns of "tweaky" audiophiles (of which I am a proud example) and the concerns of musicians when choosing equipment. The way that we as audiophiles concern ourselves with tube types, sound of different cables and the reasons why, be they the silver or copper used or type of dialectric, isolation of components etc., is almost perfectly paralleled by the way that many professional musicians think about their "set-up". Does silver plating on a saxophone sound different that gold? Which brand of guitar string gives the player the characteristics that he is looking for? Is a different dimension for the rim of the trumpet mouthpiece going to fatten up the sound? What was it about the craftmen's touch that made pre 1960 Henri Selmer saxophones so great and why is it that modern instruments, in spite, of having certain advantages such as better micro-tuning and better key mechanisms, somehow sound less soulfull. Tubes vs. solid state? Hmmm?!
But ultimately it's all a means to an end. The musician wants the instrument to get out of the way as much as possible, and facilitate personal expression; which is the greatest contributor to his or her "sound". The audiophile wants the audio system to get out of the way as much as possible so that the recorded music can express itself as much as possible through the system; and that is the justification for all the tweaking. The music is always
what matters most.
Several years ago I watched on television a segment in one of the magazine shows, I don't remember which, maybe 20-20. It was an account of a successful modern vionlin maker's attempt to replicate the sound of a Stradiverius violin. Every conceivable aspect of the Strad's physical makeup was analyzed using modern computer program based techniques. Every dimension internal and external, wood was sourced from the region and era that the great Antonio used. Even the glue used was analyzed in a lab and "duplicated". After the instrument was completed it was played sided by side with the real Strad.; no clues were given as to which was which. Even over the very deficient speaker in my television, the differences could not have been more obvious. One instrument, of course the Strad, always sounded much more tonally complex and most importantly livelier, as if the player was better connected to it, and it responded more quickly. Now, the cinic might say "well the player new which was the Strad and that influenced the way that he played", and that caused the differences. Maybe, but I doubt it. Besides, all this would not be as much fun.
Fascinating thread Mara, and posts, Rc - Frogman - Sugar and others. In the case of the Stradivaris, isn't it amazing what a half-literate technician could achieve vs. what our present, hi-tech, sophistication cannot? A great master indeed!
More on subject, I can discern sonic differences on winds -- easily, as a matter of fact. But I have rarely paid but lip service to the instrument played -- more to the musician's playing, as Ewha. One exception is piano, so perhaps my ear is now more sensitive differences in that instrument.
BTW the Tacet cd mentioned by Stud above seems interesting.
Last time I heard Perlman's violin (I believe a Strad) was prevously owned by Yehudi Menuhim.
When a classical recording is on the radio that I own, I usually recognize it. Some friends are surprised when I tell them who is playing before the recording ends. I can sometimes tell it is certain person when I do not own it.
Earlier in his career, Perlman played on a Carlo Bergonzi violin which had also belonged to Fritz Kreisler. Perlman's del Gesu is known as the Sauret, and dates from
about 1743. Perlman first had the 1714 Stradivari "General Kyd" which he sold in mid-1980s and acquired the 1714 "Soil" Strad in 1986 from Lord Yehudi Menuhin.
Marakanetz: Perlman (sp, I'm sure) plays what many consider to be the finest Strad in existence, called "le Soill" or something close to that--it has the sweetness and delicacy of the Strads but the power of the del Gesus. Acquired it in 1989 from Yehudi Menhuin, who wanted money to buy a new house at the time (the violin must be worth around $5 million right now)! He also has a del Gesu, but reportedly only uses that for outdoor concerts where weather and humidity are a concern; indoors at a big concert you'll hear that Strad.
Interesting thread. . I seem to recall hearing that the Smithsonian Institution has chosen Apogee's Diva speakers to reproduce as accurately as possible, the recordings of Mozart's piano that is on display at the Institution. Considering that the piano is a stringed instrument, wouldn't the chosen instrument (Strads, Guarneris, del Gesu etc) individual definition be just as audible on the Diva's as Mozart's piano from a similar piano?
Great thread! While my previous post discussed my preference for listening for the special tone of special performers, I have always been intrigued by the craftsmanship of fine stringed instruments. My dream is to one day retire, open a violin shop, and restore/make instruments in a room with a reference level audio system. That would be heaven!
Some of my favorite instruments that I've had the privilege of examining up close...
The "ex-David" del Gesu that Heifetz played for many years, currently used by Midori. What a beautiful instrument! A previous post mentioned the "Soil" Strad played by Perlman. I'd say the Soil, the ex-David, and the Bull Strad are the three finest violins in existence.
In terms of sheer beauty... the Axlerod Strads. They are a quartet of matching, beautifully decorated Strads at the Smithsonian. I studied cello with David Geber of the American String Quartet for awhile, and the Axlerod family has loaned these Strads to the quartet on several occasions. They are, in a word, breathtaking. The "fit and finish" of these instruments is incredible, even compared to other Strads.
As for cellos, my personal favorites are the Davidov Strad (mentioned in my previous post), and as Sugarbrie mentioned, the Duport Strad played by Rostropovich. Both are examples of Strad's "golden years" and have that beautiful golden-red varnish that simply glows.
Keep the posts coming! I'm finding this thread to be great reading!
In a more pedestrian strand there is a very nice album by Tony Rice and David Grisman called Tone Poems that is interesting. They play traditional tunes on a variety of old traditional instruments. The notes include the instruments played. Its very nice if you like the style of music. Each musician is recorded on one channel. I have never played this cd for anyone who commented that the instruments were different without it being pointed out first. They are not playing a Stradivarias but they do play some of the finest old guitars and mandolins available and the production was geared toward highlighting the instrument's voices. Check it out if you have the chance.
I fear the greatest acoustic instruments are somewhat homogenized once they are recorded or transduced or what ever.
sugarbrie: in the early '70's, the smithsonian did loan out a portion of its collection of strads to the university of iowa string quartet (which, temporarily, changed its name to the stradivarius string quartet in recognition of the great honor). the cellist at the time, charles wendt, was a friend i valued dearly. i remember how charles always had the biggest travel budget in the quartet, since he had to buy an extra ticket (1st class, of course) so his cello would have its own seat. it was always listed on the passenger manifest as "ms. strad cello." the smithsonian, for reasons i've lost in my ever-degrading memory banks, reneged on their "permanent loan" agreement and sent the strads to another group. i've lost track of these strads now, tho i hope, as you, that they're not hanging up as a static display. -cfb
Sugarbrie, instruments do indeed "burn in"; especially wooden ones. A new oboe or clarinet must be broken in slowly, played for short periods of time during the first few days of ownership; the sound then opens up as the wood relaxes. To not be carefull about this can cause the wood to crack. Unfortunately, in the case of clarinets and oboes this process also means that the instrument will eventually get "blown out". The wood relaxes to the point that the internal bore of the instrument changes, and this adversely affects the response and sound of the instrument and it starts to sound lifeless and less briliant with less core to the sound. This happens over years of use.
This fortunatelly does not happen to stringed instruments; although they do need to be broken in. In fact it is important that they be played regularly. This is one of the reasons that instruments that are part of institution-owned collections are loaned out; so that they get played.