Violin by Antonio Stradivari, 1709 ex “Viotti-Marie Hall”

Tags: Antonio Stradivari | violin

Antonio Stradivari is considered the most significant figure in the history of violinmaking. His house and workshop have been well-preserved to this day, allowing people to visit. The memorial plaque in front of his workshop has an inscription that reads “brought the violin to perfection and left to Cremona an imperishable name as master of his craft” “This house was once a place where Antonio Stradivari produced his finest violins. His masterful craft has rendered Cremona a city that will never be forgotten.”

Recent research has shown that Antonio Stradivari may have studied violinmaking under Francesco Ruggeri, using the smaller Amati violin model as his base that bore the Amati style and attributes. However, during the period 1680–1690, Stradivari’s work underwent a transformation, as he sought to integrate the soft tone of Amati’s violins with the solid, powerful sound of a Maggini. During the years 1690-1698, he developed the elongated Stradivari violin known as the “Long Strad,” which combined the smooth and rounded sound of a Maggini with the bright clarity of an Armati. From 1690 onwards, Stradivari’s violins began to bear a layer of red lacquer on top of a yellow-golden base, giving them a strong aesthetic appeal.

The period 1700–1720 was the peak of Stradivari’s violinmaking career. In 1704, he developed the “Betts” style, and brought the body length of the “Long Strad” down to the original size of 14 inches, making the overall shape of the violin more attractive, with a beautiful symmetry to the contour. By this stage, Stradivari had already mastered the precise thickness of the wood, and was able to give a slight curve to the soundboard to make sweet and fuller timbre. The model that Stradivari established during this period has been followed by successive generations of violinmakers.

During the years 1707–1710, Stradivari developed a smaller style of cello, generally known now as “forma B”. This was the standard pattern for cellomakers in the early 19th century; the 29-inch body length is considered today the most ideal size for cellos. Cellos of this type have unique musical characteristics, achieving a perfect balance between low and high pitches, and providing a superbly clear sound even for pianissimo pieces played in a large concert hall. In the last 10 years of his life, Stradivari modified this cello design into a model similar to the proportion of the “Long Strad” violin.

After G. B. Viotti (1755–1824) performed on a Stradivari in Paris in 1782, the fame of the Stradivari gradually grew throughout Europe. Stradivari’s improvements in the violin had made it more suited for musical arrangement and larger performance venues, enabling the violin to take its place within the orchestra, meeting the needs of contemporary performers. By the 19th century, the Stradivari and the Guarneri had become the best choices for violinists in performances. The famous violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (1963–present) once said, “When you own a Stradivari, it can give you an incomparable thrill even with just a mere touch.”

Antonio Stradivari created the ideal specification for the violin, establishing a paradigm for later generations of luthiers to follow. He took violin form, proportions, lacquering and tone to the height of perfection. No other luthier of his era even came close to rivaling the structural design and beautiful tone of a Stradivarius until the emergence of Guarneri del Gesù. Nevertheless, Antonio’s mastery in lacquering had already achieved the peak of violin making that was considered a great success in originality.

The violin, which bears the label of the original maker, is 35.6 cm long. It is made from a whole section of excellent quality maple-wood which Stradivari bought in 1709 and made into several violins in 1716. The sides of the instrument bear delicate scrollwork, while the medium-width scrollwork on its head gradually becomes wider towards the edges. It is lacquered in orange-brown color. In 2008, this violin was exhibited at the Montpellier Fabre Museum in France and Cremona Museum in Italy.

The Hill brothers, heads of the British company W.E. Hill & Sons, claimed in their book, "In all aspects, this violin is an outstanding example." "The Strad” magazine also evaluated it, "Out of all the violins that I have ever heard, this one gives the best timbre." "There are many famous Stradivari violins in the world; no doubt this one is recognized as having the best tone."



Text and images are provided by Music Digital Archives Center, National Taiwan Normal University (Digital Violin Archive Project of Chi Mei Museum)