A violin’s age has little to do with the sound or tone it produces, says British research, which found concert violinists were unable to tell the difference between music produced by old or new violins.
The researchers could find no link between the age and value of the violins and how they were rated by the violinists. The three old instruments had a combined value of $10m, a hundred times that of the modern violins. “They are beautiful instruments, but the prices are insane,” Fritz said. “The old versus new issue doesn’t make any sense. “It doesn’t matter if the violin’s old or new, all that matters is whether it’s a good violin or a bad violin. Many modern violin makers are doing a great job.”
The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) has recently added a Stradivarius violin to its instrument collection, in what is believed to be the first Australian acquisition of one of the highly revered instruments. Valued at nearly A$1.8 million, the Stradivarius is one of some 550 of the violins that are known to survive worldwide.
Constructed by Italian instrument maker Antonio Stradivari in the late 1720s, the violin will be played by Satu Vänskä, the ACO’s assistant leader, who will be performing with the instrument for the first time during the Orchestra’s Baroque Virtuosi Australian tour in July.
Despite the economic downturn, some classical music instruments are proving to be a good investment for their owners, with values not only remaining stable, but even showing modest increases. At least this is the case for instruments worth more than US$100,000, particularly violins, and especially those made by the likes of Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri del Gesù.
“The instruments that sell for more than $1 million are a small percentage of the overall market,” says Philip Margolis, a string-instrument analyst based in Rapperswil, Switzerland. “These are the ones you hear about, but there are maybe 500 in the world. But musicians use tens of thousands of instruments in the $30,000 to $500,000 range,” says Margolis, who founded Cozio.com, which has information on more than 11,000 instruments worldwide. A small fraction of top instruments surface on the market in a given year, adding a rarity premium to their values.
Does the enduring mystery behind the superior tones of Stradivarius violins lie in their “stronger acoustic response in the lower octaves” than that of more ordinary violins?
After spending ten years painstakingly measuring the acoustics of violins rated from “bad” to “excellent” by professional musicians, George Bissinger of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, says that the ‘excellent’ old Italian violins in his sample show a significantly stronger acoustic response in the lower octaves than do the ‘bad’ violins, whereas those rated merely ‘good’ have intermediate values. The high-quality tone is caused by a single mode of vibration of air inside the body, which radiates sound strongly through the violin’s f-holes.