Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor

Date:
December 28, 2006
Source:
Texas A&M University
Summary:
Answering a question that has lingered for centuries, a team of scientists has proved that chemicals used to treat the wood used in Stradivarius and Guarneri violins are the reasons for the distinct sound produced by the world-famous instruments.

Dr. Joseph Nagyvary plays a violin he made in his lab at Texas A&M University. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Kathleen Phillips)

Answering a question that has lingered for centuries, a team of scientists has proved that chemicals used to treat the wood used in Stradivarius and Guarneri violins are the reasons for the distinct sound produced by the world-famous instruments.

The conclusions, published in the journal Nature, have confirmed 30 years of work into the subject by Joseph Nagyvary, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Texas A&M University, who was the first to theorize that chemicals -- not necessarily the wood -- created the unique sound of the two violins. Nagyvary teamed with collaborators Joseph DiVerdi of Colorado State University and Noel Owen of Brigham Young University on the project.

"This research proves unquestionably that the wood of the great masters was subjected to an aggressive chemical treatment and the chemicals -- most likely some sort of oxidizing agents -- had a crucial role in creating the great sound of the Stradivarius and the Guarneri," Nagyvary says.

"Like many discoveries, this one could have been accidental. Perhaps the violin makers were not even aware of the acoustical effects of the chemicals. Both Stradivari and Guarneri wanted to treat their violins to prevent worms from eating away the wood. They used some chemical agents to protect the wood from worm infestations of the time, and the unintended consequence from these chemicals was a sound like none other," he adds.

The team tested several instruments, including violins and cellos, produced by Stradivari and Guarneri from 1717 to around 1741, using spectra analysis and other methods.

The results and those previously reported by Nagyvary showed that two specific areas of the instruments accounted for their unique sound -- chemicals used in the varnish and fillers of the instruments, and the overall wood treatment process used by Stradivari and Guarneri.

"This is highly gratifying for me, because it proves what I first proposed 30 years ago -- that the chemicals used to treat instruments and not the unadulterated wood itself -- were the reasons for the great sound of these instruments," Nagyvary explains.

"I was criticized and ridiculed when I made these claims, and to have undeniable scientific proof that I was correct is very satisfying, to say the least."

Antonio Stradivari (1644 to 1737) made about 1,200 violins in his lifetime and kept a large inventory of them, and would only sell one when he was ready to part with it. Today, there are only about 600 Stradivarius violins remaining and they are valued at up to $5 million each.

Although lesser known, Guarneri del Gesu was a contemporary of Stradivari and his instruments are considered equal in quality and price by experts.

Nagyvary, a native of Hungary who learned to play the violin by using an instrument that once belonged to Albert Einstein, has wondered for years how Stradivari, who could barely read and had no scientific training, could have produced instruments with such a pristine sound.

"I started researching this in the early 1970s and from the beginning, I was convinced that the chemicals used to treat the instruments were the real key, not the wood itself," he says.

There is still a missing piece of the puzzle, Nagyvary believes.

"The next step is to identify the chemical agents involved. To do that, more precious wood samples are needed," he adds.

"But in the past, there has been a lack of cooperation from the antique violin business, and that has to be overcome. It may help us to produce violins and other instruments one day that are just as good as the million-dollar Stradivarius. And this research could also tell us ways to better preserve instruments, too."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Texas A&M University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Texas A&M University. "Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 December 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061129151126.htm>.
Texas A&M University. (2006, December 28). Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061129151126.htm
Texas A&M University. "Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061129151126.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) After testing DNA from a shawl found near one of Jack the Ripper's victims, a scientist said he'd identified the killer. New reports refute the claim. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins