AskDefine | Define Stradivarius

Dictionary Definition

Stradivarius n : Italian violin maker who developed the modern violin and created violins of unequaled tonal quality (1644?-1737) [syn: Stradivari, Antonio Stradivari, Antonius Stradivarius]

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From the Stradivari family


  • a UK /ˈstɹæd.ɪ.veə(ɹ).i.ʌs/, "str

Extensive Definition

A Stradivarius is a stringed instrument built by members of the Stradivari family, particularly Antonio Stradivari. The instruments are famous for the quality of their sound, which has defied attempts to explain or reproduce. The name "Stradivarius" has also become a superlative applied to designate excellence. To be called "the Stradivari" of any field is to be deemed the finest there is.


Born in Italy in 1644, Antonio Stradivari is considered to have been a disciple of Nicolo Amati, of the Amati family of luthiers of Cremona. In 1660, Antonio set up shop on his own in Cremona, though his early violins are generally considered inferior to those of his "golden age", between 1698 and 1720. While his techniques have long been fertile soil for debate, still not fully understood by modern craftsmen and scientists, it is known for certain that the wood used included spruce for the harmonic top, willow for the internal parts and maple for the back, strip and neck. This wood was treated with several types of minerals, including potassium borate (borax), sodium and potassium silicate, and vernice bianca, a varnish composed of Arabic gum, honey and egg white.
A Stradivarius made in the 1680s, or during Stradivari's Brescian period from 1690-1700, could be worth several hundred thousand dollars or more on auction, at today's prices. Depending on condition, instruments made during Stradivari's "golden period" from 1700 to 1720 can be worth several million dollars. Though relatively rarely sold, the highest publicised price paid was at public auction for The Hammer, made in 1707, selling for US$3,544,000 on May 16 2006. Private sales of Stradivari instruments have exceeded this price.
It is not uncommon for violins to be labeled or branded "Stradivarius", as the name has been used since by other manufacturers. However, it is generally believed that there are fewer than 700 genuine instruments extant, very few of which are unaccounted for.
The fame of Stradivari instruments is not a modern phenomenon and they appear in numerous works of fiction. The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is described as having owned a Stradivarius, with detail given to how he purchased the instrument for fifty-five English shillings in the story, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box. A famous, if perhaps apocryphal story about the Duport Stradivarius claims the instrument's visible dent was made by the boots of Emperor Napoléon I of France, who tried his hand at playing it.
One aspect of Stradivari's approach is illustrated in the BBC TV series Lovejoy, in the episode "Second Fiddle", which notes that, while one would expect the 'f'-holes on the top of a violin to be symmetrical, Stradivari often made his slightly offset. The show credits this to him being less of a perfectionist than tradition holds, but, if true, it more likely demonstrates an aural perfectionism preferred over the visual aesthetic.
The reputation of the Stradivarius is such that its name is frequently invoked as a standard of excellence in other unrelated fields (such as ships and cars); for example, the Bath Iron Works' unofficial motto is "A Bath boat is the Stradivarius of destroyers!" In 1924, The Vincent Bach Corporation began releasing a line of trumpets which would later become known as Stradivarius Trumpets, in an attempt to capitalise on the Stradivari name.

Theories and reproduction attempts

These instruments are, of course, famous for the quality of their sound, and there have been many attempts to explain and reproduce this quality, largely without success. Over the centuries, numerous theories have been presented, and debunked, including an assertion that the wood was salvaged from old cathedrals. Dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, has proved this false.
A more modern theory attributes tree growth during a time of unusually low solar activity during the Maunder Minimum "Little Ice Age" from ca. 1645 to 1750. During this period, temperatures throughout Europe were much cooler causing stunting and slower tree growth with unusually dense wood. Further evidence for this "Little Ice Age theory" comes from a simple examination of the dense growth rings in the wood used in Stradivari's instruments.
Yet another possible explanation is that the wood originated and was harvested from the forests of northern Croatia. This maple wood is known for its extreme density due to the slow growth from harsh Croatian winters. Croatian wood was a commodity traded by Venetian merchants of this era and is still used for crafting musical instruments by local luthiers to this day.
Some research points to wood preservatives being used in that day as contributing to the resonant qualities.
While the sound of Stradivari's instruments still has not been fully explained by modern research tools, devices such as the scanning laser vibrometer are aiding researchers in testing the theory that the careful shaping of belly and back plate, in order to "tune" their resonant frequencies, may be an important factor.
Glues and varnishes used by Stradivari have been analyzed extensively, and have also been attributed for the sound and quality of his instruments. There remains no consensus on the single most probable factor, and most likely, it is some combination of all, and something not yet recognized.

Stradivari instruments


Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

A string, Amati, Cremona, D string, E string, G string, Strad, Stradivari, bass, bass viol, bow, bridge, bull fiddle, cello, contrabass, crowd, double bass, fiddle, fiddlebow, fiddlestick, fingerboard, kit, kit fiddle, kit violin, scroll, soundboard, string, tenor violin, tuning peg, viola, violin, violinette, violoncello, violoncello piccolo, violone, violotta
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