The Stradivarius Puzzle CD provides a comparison of a Stradivarius violin with a new violin
made by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary and his associates.
J. S. Bach: Sonata No.1,
1 4:34 Adagio (Strad)
2 5:20 Fugue
I. Stravinsky: Suite Italienne
3 2:28 Introduzione (Strad)
4 3:24 Serenata (Strad)
5 2:26 Tarantella
6 1:39 Gavotte
7 2:29 Variations (Strad) I and II
8 1:18 Scherzino (Strad)
9 5:06 Minuetto and Finale
10 5:18 S. A. Sargon* Supplication
11 4:16 Lullabye (Strad)
12 4:57 Freilach
13 1:23 J. V. Wilson Aggie War Hymn
*Composer-in-residence, Southern Methodist University
Violinist Zina Schiff has been described by The New York Times as an instrumentalist of "luscious high voltage...vintage Heifetz." The comparison to the legendary Jascha Heifetz is apt, as Ms. Schiff was a Heifetz student and protege. With a special blend of virtuosity, musical integrity, and communicative power, she has dazzled audiences and critics throughout the United States, Eastern and Western Europe, Israel, Australia, and the former Soviet Union. A student of Ivan Galamian at The Curtis Institute of Music, she is the only violinist to have won both the Junior and Senior Auditions of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Zina has been selected as an "Outstanding Young Artist" by Musical America. Television viewers worldwide saw Zina on the PBS "Nova" program entitled "What is Music?", where she performed the Sibelius Concerto on an experimental violin by Texas A&M professor Joseph Nagyvary. Zina's highly acclaimed debut recordings were two compact discs - “The Lark Ascending” and “Bach/Vivaldi” -- with the Israel Philharmonic, performed on a Nagyvary violin. Her latest CDs -- “Here’s One”, a collection of American music, and “King David’s Lyre”, a set of works by Jewish composers - were performed on a 1697 Stradivarius and were selected as Best of 1997 by the American Record Guide.
Mary Barranger has been the in-orchestra pianist for the San Diego Symphony since 1976 and principal pianist for the San Diego Chamber Orchestra since 1988. With Zina Schiff, she has recorded a disc of music of Cecil Burleigh for the Naxos American Classic Series.
A Solution to the Stradivarius Puzzle
How were uneducated craftsmen
like Antonio Stradivari able to create string instruments which are considered
superior to anything made by later generations? Why was their method of
violinmaking, seemingly known by all local craftsmen, not transmitted to us but
irretrievably lost? This is the Stradivarius puzzle, one of the great puzzles
in the history of civilization and culture. I have pursued these questions
throughout much of my adult life, first as a hobbyist, then as a committed
scientist until I found the first answers compatible with historical accounts
and scientific analyses.
It appears that the art of
violinmaking in Cremona during the Golden Years ( ~1550-1750) was shaped by
historical coincidences in wood acquisition and preservation. Stradivari and
his colleagues were likely the beneficiaries of a local technology without being
aware of it. For protection against woodworm and mold, chemists were known to
apply a chemical solution to the surface of the wood, and this solution was
often a slurry made with a powder the alchemists called "the salt of gems".
According to historical accounts from Cremona collected by V. Grivel, these
sophisticated materials were provided by the local apothecary to a variety of
wood workers. Presumably, neither the apothecary nor the violinmakers were
conscious of the profound acoustical effect of the chemicals which were used
routinely on all fine furniture.
This explanation also answers the
question of why the supreme method of violinmaking was not passed on to the next
generation and became instead "the lost secret." There is no reason to assume
that the Cremona violinmakers knew more than the German and French luthiers;
they had no secret to pass on. It appears to be a matter of lucky coincidences
limited to a few geographical locations. As the technology of wood acquisition
changed and violinmakers in Cremona began to use more expedient wood finishing
methods, the violin lost the unique feature of the old Italian sound, which is
Following fifteen years of
historical explorations in Northern Italy, my experimental violin research at
Texas A&M University began in 1976 using materials from insect wings and shrimp
shells as wood fillers. The eureka moment of exhilaration came in 1981 when we
first had the chance to analyze an authentic specimen from a Guarnerius cello.
We found the wood surface saturated with fine crystals, "the salt of gems", just
as predicted. Since then, mineral fillers have been found in all samples of
Cremona instruments both by us and other investigators.
In 1988, the Coordinating Board
of Higher Education of Texas awarded a grant for our reconstruction studies
directed toward the reproduction of the Stradivarius. In this major enterprise,
we were able to screen out the best choices among the large variety of salts,
crystals and natural polymers which were not defined by the alchemists.
Chemistry has proved to be an essential tool in our efforts to recreate the
mellow yet brilliant sound of the old string instruments.
Our results became known from
numerous public lectures sponsored since 1977 by the American Chemical Society,
and the resulting popular news accounts have influenced violinmaking worlwide.
For the first time, we are beginning to understand what makes a violin great and
how to translate this knowledge into actual practice.
The proof is in the pudding, and
this CD offers the first comparison of the old Stradivarius flavor (1697) with a
recent recipe. Our violin, made in collaboration with master Guang Yue Chen in
1991, has a similar combination of focus and brilliance as a typical
Stradivarius. One should not forget that the tonal beauty of both violins is
also due to the exquisite artistry of Zina Schiff. We have decided to give
the listeners the chance to guess without prejudice which movement is intoned on
which violin, while hoping that the entire menu will be found delectable.
The Strad was heard on tracks 1,3,4,7,8, and 11; the rest of the music was on
the Nagyvary-Chen violin.
We dedicate this recording to the
125th anniversary celebration of Texas A&M University whose
multifaceted public service has accommodated my search for the holy grail of
A note from Dr. Attila E.
Pavlath, president, American Chemical Society:
This recording was made during October 12 to 16, 2001 at California State University at San Diego in Studio B by Dr. Patrick Walker, of WalkerVision Interarts. A single Royer/Speiden SF-12 stereo ribbon microphone was used and the editing did not include any manipulation of the soundwaves in order to provide for a fair comparison of the two violins.