Tag Archives: Itzhak Perlman

History Preserved: Guarneri, Amati & Stradivarius Violins

This weekend I had the great opportunity to travel to New York City and spend time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was especially excited about their wing dedicated to musical instruments with some incredible stringed instruments on display, including original violins by makers Stradivari, Amati, and Guarneri as well as other 16th century violins from the Cremona school in Italy.

20140217-185425.jpg
“The Antonius” Violin by Antonio Stradivari,1711, during Stradivari’s “Golden Period.” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY)

Evolution of the Modern Violin

The Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari families actively produced instruments between 1550 and 1744 in the same region of Cremona, during which time the modern violin as we know it came to life. While string instruments have evolved over time with various body shapes and string counts, very few changes have been made to the violin that was standardized during this time as a four-stringed instrument with its signature shape and size, strung in perfect fifths (E, A, D, G).

You may notice slight differences in design between the Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivarius violins, but they are clearly instruments in same family with the same tuning, string count, and contours. These violins seem so familiar because they are; almost all violins today are made with Stradivari, Amati, or Guarneri body designs.

20140217-185411.jpg
1731 “Baltic” Violin by Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesu” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY)

For example, if you take a look at all the violins we carry at Kennedy Violins, you’ll notice that they are all made with the same standard measurements (body length, string length, string height, fingerboard length and so on—take a look at our violin measurements chart) used by luthiers today. Most are made and shaped with an original Stradivari design.

Preserved Historical Violin

As you may know, some instruments preserved from these hundreds of years ago are still in use. Most notably, there are 650 Stradivari violins still in existence, ranging in value from between hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. In 2010 a Stradivari violin sold at auction for $3,600,000, a record high.

Updating to a Modern Setup

Even though these 16th, 17th, and 18th century violins are in tact and in use, the ones in performance today have actually been modernized with fittings that make them playable by today’s standards.

I found the diagram below so fascinating. From it we learn that a Stradivarius violin in performance today has been OPTIMIZED to compete with modern violins to catch up with the evolution of the violin that has taken place over the centuries. These evolutionary changes in setup have made the violin more easily playable with more projection and better sound quality.

20140217-185143.jpg
What’s changed? Here’s a visual comparing Baroque violin setup to modern violin setup.

What’s New?

Updates from the Baroque setup to the modern setup include

  • a new neck that angles back
  • a longer fingerboard that allows performance in higher octaves
  • a modern bridge
  • new strings, often synthetic with metal winding instead of strings made from animal gut
  • a modern tailpiece
  • a longer bass bar in the interior of the violin

What’s the Same?

What remains “untouched”? Essentially, the body of the violin (back, face, and ribs) and the scroll/pegbox.  This may not sound like much, but it’s the body of the instrument that most greatly affects the sound. The quality of wood and the precise gradations in the carving and thickness of the plates make these instruments sound like they do.

In this sense, the restored Baroque instruments retain their authenticity because no one can replicate the carving of the plates done by the original masters themselves.

20140217-191011.jpg
Violin by Andrea Amati, Cremona, ca. 1569, one of the “earliest surviving violins.” (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY)

The Legacy Lives On

If you get a chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art or other museums throughout the world with string instruments on display, definitely take the opportunity to see these preserved treasures. Better yet, you can hear a Stradivarius performed live (or on record) by modern violinists including Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman.

To see and hear these pieces of history alive is truly a privilege as we remember the master makers who brought to life music as we know it today. Here’s to the continuation of their legacy through the practice and performance of music forever!

___________________

Related Articles:

 

 

Itzhak Perlman: An Inspirational Virtuoso

I have been inspired by many violinists, but one stands out in particular. This musician overcame a big obstacle in his life, and didn’t let it stop him from becoming extraordinary.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Itzhak Perlman performing

Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, British Palestine on August 31, 1945. Having contracted polio at age four, he was able to make a good recovery. Today he walks using crutches and plays the violin while seated.

This is not a typical situation for most musicians, but Perlman didn’t focus on his limitations. Instead, he diligently studied the violin and became extremely accomplished.

Perlman first heard someone playing the violin on the radio, and this inspired him with a desire to play. From an early age, he studied violin at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv until moving to the United States to study at the Julliard School under master teachers Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay.

THE ROAD TO SUCCESS

In 1963, Itzhak Perlman made his debut at Carnegie Hall, as well as winning the Leventritt Competition in 1964. At this point he began to tour extensively, making appearances on American television programs. He has also played for several functions at the White House.

In 1987, Itzhak Perlman joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and toured Russia, China, and India, primarily as a solo artist. He has played with other notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Isaac Stern, Yuri Temirkanov, and Pinchas Zukerman.

Perlman also enjoys playing jazz, and has been a soloist in several movie scores. Recently, he conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Westchester Philharmonic.

ITZHAK, THE TEACHER

In 1975, he joined the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, and in 2003 succeeded his own teacher, Dorothy DeLay, at the Julliard School. Perlman also began his own music program on Long Island, New York, where he teaches master classes to promising young violinists.

THE MASTER’S VIOLIN

Itzhak Perlman has the privilege of playing an antique Soil Stradiviarius violin that was made in 1714. This violin was formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhim and is considered to be one of the finest made during Stradivarius’ “golden period.” He also plays the Sauret Guarneri del Gesu, made in 1743.

WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?

If you already play the violin, do know of someone who inspires you? If you don’t yet play the violin, have you ever been inspired to play when listening to or watching someone else?Tell us about it!

And If you haven’t yet begun to play the violin, let the friendly, helpful staff at Kennedy Violins assist you in selecting a violin that will be just right for you.