Chemical treatment gave Stradivarius and Guarneri violins unique sound

January 23rd, 2009 - 11:58 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, January 23 (ANI): A controversial theory that Stradivarius and Guarneri violins obtained their unique sound due to the chemicals used on the instruments, not merely the wood and the construction, has received definitive experimental support from a study conducted by Texas A&M University researchers.
Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus of biochemistry, first came up with this theory in 1976.
After 33 years of research, he is finally confident that the secret of the distinctive sound of Stradivarius and Guarneri violins has been unravelled.
The research, published in the current issue of the scientific journal Public Library of Science (PloSONE), was carried out in collaboration with Texas A&M faculty members Renald Guillemette and Clifford Spiegelman.
All of my research over the years was based on the assumption that the wood of the great masters underwent an aggressive chemical treatment and this had a direct role in creating the great sound of the Stradivarius and the Guarneri, Nagyvary says.
Nagyvary painstakingly obtained minute wood samples from restorers working on Stradivarius and Guarneri instruments.
He highlighted the fact that the results of the preliminary analysis of the samples, published in the journal Nature in 2006, suggested that the wood was brutally treated by some unidentified chemicals.
He revealed that, in his current study, his team burnt the wood slivers to ash, the only way to obtain accurate readings for the chemical elements.
The researcher said that numerous chemicals were found in the wood, including borax, fluorides, chromium and iron salts.
Borax has a long history as a preservative, going back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it in mummification and later as an insecticide, Nagyvary said.
The presence of these chemicals all points to collaboration between the violin makers and the local drugstore and druggist at the time. Their probable intent was to treat the wood for preservation purposes. Both Stradivari and Guarneri would have wanted to treat their violins to prevent worms from eating away the wood because worm infestations were very widespread at that time, he added.
Antonio Stradivari made about 1,200 violins in his lifetime, and sold them only to the very rich, primarily the royalty.
Presently, about 600 Stradivarius violins are existing, each valued at up to 5 million dollars.
The instruments created by a lesser-known contemporary of Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesu, are also considered equal in quality and price by experts to Stradivarius violins.
Nagyvary says that he has wondered for decades how Stradivari, with his rudimentary education and no scientific training, could have produced musical instruments with such an unequaled sound.
These current research results are highly gratifying for me because they prove what I first proposed 33 years ago, that contrary to common wisdom the wood of the great masters was not natural (unadulterated) but chemically treated by certain minerals, some of which I had predicted at the outset. Based on my lifetime experimentations with similar chemicals, we have reason to believe that they could have played a major role in the great tonal refinement of the antique instruments, he says.
When you use science to prove a point, it often de-mystifies the glory of the legendary masters, and for that reason, there has been some reluctance to get to the truth. To have undeniable scientific proof that supports my work is very satisfying, to say the least, he adds.
Nagyvary believes that his latest findings will be of great interest to art historians and musical instrument makers around the world, and may change the process of how fine violins are made. (ANI)

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