March 10, 2014
Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari is generally considered the greatest and most significant artisan in his field. In addition to violins, he also crafted harps, guitars, violas and cellos. By current estimate, he made more than 1,100 instruments throughout his life. About 650 of these instruments survive, including between 450 and 512 violins.
Stradivari’s instruments are recognized by their inscription in Latin: Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno [date] (Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, made in the year …). In the early part of his career, he made instruments in the Amati style but after 1680, he began to develop a personal violin model, setting a standard for violins and cellos that has never been matched, much less exceeded.
When we hear his instruments played today, it’s the sound that tells the story. No two Strads are alike, and so, no two sound alike. But they are all rich and vibrant, soaring and whispering, powerful and delicate, singing out in the hands of the world’s greatest violinists.
If that were all to the story of the Stradivarius violins, if that were all they represented, that would be enough. But that’s not all. Each of the 600 or more remaining Strads charted its own unique journey through the world, a journey that only adds to the wonder and mystique of these fabled instruments. That each path is often difficult to winkle out only makes the instruments that much more intriguing.
Most Strads followed a similar path through their lives. They were created and sold, only to disappear for 50-200 years. Once rediscovered in a shop or attic, they spent life spinning through the various hands of ardent collectors and transcendent players. Every story drifts from to one interesting place and person to another. Perhaps one Strad hid in a damp store room where only through luck or providence did the instrument survive damage. Perhaps this Strad finds its way into the hands of one of the 19th century’s great players, while another one features prominently in well-kept collection. One and all, they have lived lives that rival yours and mine.
We should count ourselves fortunate to know that more than 200 years after Antonio Stradivari gifted them to us, we know some little bit about these instrument’s winding paths and are able to experience their peerless sound.
But Stradivari’s violins are more than the sum of their parts. Audiences and musicians around the world and throughout generations have marveled at the quality of the instruments, both in terms of sound and craftsmanship. It’s as if Stradivari imbued his work with some strange and unknowable alchemy, something that transcends mere wood, varnish and strings.
In celebration of the 370th year of Stradivari’s birth, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra invites music lovers and admirers of superlative craftsmanship to experience up to eight of these magnificent violins in performance over the four evenings of Strad Fest LA.