Critical Section

Cremona revisited - the science of violin making

Friday,  05/20/05  09:31 PM

Itzhak Perlman plays the "Soil" StradivariusOne of the pleasures of being a Caltech alum is the quarterly Engineering & Science publication, which contains a smattering of fascinating articles by and/or about Caltech research activities.  (The periodical is available to anyone for a $10 annual subscription, and after a suitable amount of time has elapsed from publication of the print edition, the articles are posted on the web as PDFs.) 

In the most recent issue there was a wonderful article entitled Cremona Revisited - the Science of Violin Making.

I am not a violinist nor even particularly a fan of orchestral music, but this article was terrific; well-written, and interesting on the subject of how the best string instruments were made 400 years ago.  Current technology has not been able to duplicate or even fully understand the excellent products of a small number of artisans, concentrated in the small town of Cremona, in Italy (the most famous of whom, Antonio Stadivari, has become iconic; "Stradivarius" has become a synonym for "excellent").

Violins are constructed from over 70 pieces of wood which are carefully treated and fit together to produce sound from the vibration of strings.  The resonant harmonics of the instrument body are a function of the shape and material, and are unique to each violin.  Great stuff at the intersection of technology and art!

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