THE ANTIQUE SCHOOL OF CREMONA
Much has been published about the famous Cremonese violin makers of 17th and 18th century and about their also famous school of violin making founded by Andrea Amati Amati. On the other side, some of the most respectable contemporary violin makers avoid the subject, I supose they don’t want to get into unconstructive controversies. I would like to give a consideration about the topic because I feel the need to take a definite position in regard of this tradition in my area: In my opinion in the antique school of Cremona a method was taught with its techniques that guaranteed a result of very good level and part of what is considered “secrets of Stradivari” is based on that. By the other hand is the intuitive-artistic part, in which it manifests itself irrevocably the personality and genius of the artist. I supose that between the teachings of the old school of Cremona there also existed education in history and art under the criteria of the relevant periods: disign with elegant outlines, refined taste in colors and varnishes and music. Like all education also this one can be applied in multiple ways, according to the criteria and talent of whom it is aplied. That is why we see significant differences between instruments made by disciples of the same school of Cremona of this era.
All this has not been lost. It seems that the best contemporary violin makers know it very well – with the difference that today it is not longer taught in schools of violin making or incompletely.
Despite some hesitation I decided to present here 3 analysis of proportions and 2 acoustic analysis of different instruments of important profile so that you may realize how I faced the study of these methods and tecniques of construction in the antique school of Cremona. I choosed the topic of tuning the instruments body for being a key in the construction of any stringed instrument and the proportions because they can be recognized easily in antique instruments, or only in good photographs taken from the front.
THE ANALYSE OF TUNING IN TWO CREMONESE VIOLINS
The tuning is made in three steps:
- While belly and back of the instrument are being slimed down on the inside, their weight is checked continuously with scales, so that at the end, between both of them there is a relationship of weight corresponding to a musical interval of fifth or fourth, that meens: 2/3 or 3/4. An example in grams: 70/105 (= 2/3) or 72/95 (= 3/4). In 5 instruments of which I have information (3 Guarnerius and 2 Stradivarius) this relationship reaches an accuracy up to 0.7 grams. In this measurement, there are two possible ways – one is weighing the belly with, the other without bass bar. In case you measured considerating the bass bar, the relationship without the bass bar may be close to the augmented fourth and vice versa, but not always. A fault tolerance in this case of less than one gram is minimal when we take into account that the weight of a violin plate, when the weather turns, changes up to 3 gr, and that these instruments are about 300 years old.
First: Guarneri del Gesú 1735 “Plowden”/ Weight of the back: 87.9 gr/ Weight of the belly without bass bar: 61.3 gr
This instrument has been tuned in relation of fourth (3/4) considering the baroque bass bar with a (suposed) weight of 4.6 gr. The weight of the belly with bass bar is consequence:
62.3 +4.6 = 65.9 gr
and: (65.9 : 3) x 4 = 87.9
or: 87.9 : 65.9 = 1.333
Two of the five available instruments have been tuned in this way.
Second: Stradivari 1715 “Titian” / Weight of the back: 93.6 gr/ Weight belly without the bass bar: 61.7 gr
This instrument has been tuned in relation of quint (2/3) without considering the bass bar:
(93.6 : 3) x 2 = 62.4 (exactly it should be 61.7 gr. It fails for 0.7 gr)
or: 93.6 : 61.7 = 1.517
Three of the five available instruments have been tuned in this way.
If you knock with your finger on the center point of a belly and a back tuned in this sistem, usually you can hear between both of them an interval of approx. 1/2 tone. But this does not mean that, when you produce this interval in some other belly and back, they have to be tuned in the same way!
2. This important step is the “area tuning” discovered and published in a comprehensive text by Master Keith Hill on his website.
I liked to add two schemes of Keith Hill : A Stradivarius of 1709 and a Guarnerius, probably “Vieuxtemps” of 1741. All the detailled information about the area tuning, you can find in the the web site of Keith Hill. I would like to comment only that it is for the timbre of some importance whether the intervals are consonant or dissionant. Usually we find (as we see in the schemes of K. Hill) in the belly four main dissonant, in the back three main consonante intervals.
KEITH HILL: Guarneri from 1741 and a Stradivarius of 1709:
- When the unvarnished instrument is finished, we set it up. We finish the tuning by ear testing the instrument – removing wood in specific areas, increasing or decreasing weights, fingerboard, tailpiece and pegs, correctly positioning the bridge ,etc …. even the acunpunture can be useful (used by GB Guadagnini apparently)
It is also a remarkable fact that in spite of fairly marked constructive differences between the violins of Stradivari and Guarneri, its tuning is made in exactly the same way, at least in the 5 models of instruments, of which I have available the information and that are covering a period from 1715-1735, not less than 20 years!
THE ANALYSE OF PROPORTION AND BRIDGE POSITION IN THREE INSTRUMENTS
Just as in the tuning of the plates by weight, the main measures of instruments disign are related to musical intervals. The difference is that we use also intermediate frequencies related to Φ quotient and √3, if we decide to avoid knots, which changes the sound color and response of the instrument slightly. Consequence is a serie of numbers that are used to provide the main measures of an instrument:
1.2 = 5/6
1.236 = (A : 2) x phi = (A : 1.236)
1.25 = 4/5
1.333 = 3/4
1.414 = √2
1.5 = 2/3
1.55 = ??? (this number sometimes apeares)
1.618 = Φ
1.666 = 3/5
1.732 = √3
1.776 = 8/9 (see only in Guarneri “Beriot”)
1.8 = (A : 9) x 5 = A : 1.8 = 5/4
1.809 = if: (A :2) x Φ= B , then: ( A + B) : 1.809 = A
1.866 = if: (A :2) x √3 = B, then: (A + B) : 1.866 = A
1.9 = 9/10
Fault tolerance I sit here at about 1.5 mm.
A+ B = total length of the body
A = upper body stop
B = lower body stop
C = neck stop
The two topics I have discussed here – from a contemporary perspective – are on the technical and scientific side of the construction of an instrument and they present an important tool for the development of the mentioned artistic-intuitive side. But the Baroque and Renaissance era, where our instruments have origen, do not know this drastic separation between science, art and philosophy. Art is not yet expression of individual reality. An important artwork is not one-dimensional, but it reflects and is reflexed in multiple way of an universal truth that can never be perceived directly; like the alchemists “opus magnum”. After this period the Enlightenment follows, the human being feels tendentiously in the center of creation. It is when it develops, among many other things, also the symphonic music while descends and finaly ends the great age of the antique school of Cremona …
“I secreti di Stradivari” Simone Sacconi
“The Violin Book” A Balafon Book
“Geigenbaukunst” Otto Moeckel
VSA Pappers/ summer2009/ Vol.XXI, No.1
Keith Hill Website (area tuning)