Great players and their instruments

Great players and their instruments
   Joachim plays upon a Stradiuarius, Vieuxtemps on a Guarnerius, Ole Bull on a Guarnerius and an Amati, De Beriot on a Magini, (of which he had two very splendid examples, the second being now in the possession of the author,) Carrodus a Guarnerius, and many other living instances. Piatti a Ruggerius violoncello, Servais a Stradiuarius violoncello. Past examples may be cited in Paganini, who played upon a Guarnerius, Mori a Guarnerius, and Spagnoletti the same. Ernst used a Stradiuarius. Dragonetti played on a Gaspar di Salo and a Stradiuarius double bass.
   In the last article, we have given some general rules for judging of the probable tone of an instrument from its model. A few further remarks on this and other important topics will well supplement what we have said.
   1. Accurate judgment in violins can only be obtained by long experience and seeing many instruments, and if possible those of a high class. There are many little points which to a casual or careless observer are invisible, but which a practised connoisseur detects immediately, and thereby is enabled to declare the maker. A difficulty will often present itself to a tyro in the knowledge of violins, from the family likeness which it is possible to trace, for example, between Amati, Stradiuarius and Bergonzi. These have a general resemblance which indicates the coming from one school. This applies also in many other cases - but every master has some distinct difference which is perceptible to the practised eye. The faces of a flock of sheep are to a stranger all alike; to the shepherd, each has its personal individuality. It is the same with violins, which can be read by the practised student as easily as we know each other by the countenance.
   2. It is erroneous to imagine that Cremonese instruments can be successfully imitated, a very popular story about Paganini's Guarnerius to the contrary notwithstanding, as the lawyers say. An attempt to impose an imitation on a practised judge is always productive of an unpleasant result. To fall from the sublime to the ridiculous is especially awkward, and results in becoming very particularly ridiculous yourself. This _must_ be whenever a modern maker attempts to make an ancient violin. There are practical difficulties impossible now to get over - such as the varnish. The secret of making the grand old varnish is lost, and therefore whatever is put on by a modern tells the tale and cries aloud to the judge - This is a cheat!
   3. It is easier to imitate an old painting than an old violin, though that is difficult enough to a good judge, but such an insuperable obstacle as the old amber varnish does not puzzle the picture forger.
   4. In choosing an instrument it is better to select one of a flat model, the sides of medium height, well proportioned and with good oil varnish.
   5. We are inclined to think that all the great instruments of the great makers are well known, and that there are none lying by unknown to fame.
   6. Most of the more celebrated instruments are given a name of distinction, such as the Yellow Stradiuarius, the Blood Red Knight Guarnerius, the Ole Bull Guarnerius, the De Beriot Magini, the Emmeliani Stradiuarius, the General Kidd Stradiuarius Violoncello, the Servais Stradiuarius Violoncello, and others. These can be recognised like the human face.
   7. The reason why Italian instruments are so superior to all others must be ascribed to their exquisite make, the careful adjustment of the various thicknesses of wood and the varnish, the secret of which appears gone for ever. Perhaps another reason may be named in the wood being so ripe and dry as to permit free vibration.
   8. The Cremonese obtained their colour in oil. The moderns get it only in spirit, which imparts a hardness to the tone. Compare a Cremona with the German and other imitations. Can't you hear how perceptible the difference? The former is mellow and rich - the latter flinty and harsh. This arises no doubt from the varnish.
   9. The Cremonese violoncellos were mostly made deeper by half an inch at the bottom than at the upper part. Guiseppe fil Andreæ, Guarnerius, Stradiuarius, Landulphus, and others observed this rule. The tone is said to be greatly improved by it.
   10. Some persons think it is very difficult to obtain an Italian violin at a moderate price. It is not so. There are many whose makers are not known, and also third class instruments of good qualities, which can be obtained from £10 to £25. It is better to purchase one of these than a baked copy or a new violin. Then again amateurs may resort to the old French makers, some old English and the Tyrolean, which may be had cheaper still.
   11. A respectable dealer who is known to be a connoisseur of experience, will never sell you a modern copy for an old Italian violin with a long story of how he got it in some wonderful way. His character is at stake. Beware of ignorance which assumes the mask of knowledge, or of designing roguery which apes the appearance of innocence.
   12. The present excellence of the old instruments arises from their having been made thick in wood, which time has ameliorated and mellowed, and now permits free vibration. It is much to be deplored that many instruments have not been suffered to remain as the makers left them, and that others under a false notion of giving an old tone have been made too thin.
   13. Had Magini, Gaspar di Salo, and other very old makers used as little wood as some of their successors, where would their instruments have been now? We are at the present time reaping the benefit of their foresight.
   14. There is evident proof of the deep interest the high class makers took in endeavouring to advance the interests of their art. For example, Stradiuarius sometimes put the widest grained wood on the fourth string side, feeling it was the weakest and needed the open grain. Sometimes he put it on the first string side. He was evidently trying experiments. But he mostly adopted the former plan, no doubt correctly. Again, they made instruments larger at the bottom than at the upper part, gradually reducing in size and depth, an experiment which observation has since found to be correct. They also made instruments thicker under the bridge to enable them to bear the great tension to which they are subject, and many other points showing how perfect they became. They left little for modern ingenuity to discover.
   15. Old instruments of character should be greatly prized and carefully preserved, for it seems probable that there will be no others to take their places, from many well known causes.
   16. Makers of the present time have perverted their talents to discover a means of producing the qualities of old instruments in new ones, an achievement utterly impossible, as their efforts show. Many make instruments with the greatest care, copying the plans of the old masters - but instead of allowing Father Time to ripen them, they use an acid to dry up the wood, or bake them. These are known by a peculiar smell which tells the tale, and they get worse instead of better. Again, they deem it wise to get a colour at any price, which can only be done in our day by the use of spirit varnish. Did they use oil varnish, our successors would at all events reap the benefit, if not ourselves. The great masters were willing to wait for fame and tried none of these dodges. Others again put the varnish on and rub it off in places to resemble the wear of age. Much better would it be to cover the instrument with varnish and leave age to do the rest. Such schemes are futile and reflect discredit on those who adopt them.
   17. The peg holes seen in old Italian violoncellos in the middle of the back are where a peg was put to fasten the instrument round the neck while playing in the Catholic Churches.
   18. Stradiuarius in his early career frequently cut his wood to form what are called slab backs, (explained elsewhere,) and sometimes used pear tree for violoncellos.

Violins and Violin Makers Biographical Dictionary of the Great Italian Artistes, their Followers and Imitators, to the present time. With Essays on Important Subjects Connected with the Violin. — London, LONGMAN AND CO., PATERNOSTER ROW.. . 1866.

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