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Master Craftsman: Antonio Stradivari

Updated on March 3, 2009
Antonio Stradivari by Edgar Bundy 1893
Antonio Stradivari by Edgar Bundy 1893

Antonio Stradivari (1644 - 1737) was an Italian maker of violins. He was one of the leading instrument makers in music history. He used Stradivarius, the Latin form of his name, on the labels of his instruments. A pupil of Amati, who taught him the art, which he himself perfected. His violins are recognized as the finest ever made. Some of his more famous instruments still in existence are the Viotti, Ernst and Alard violins, and Paganini viola, and the Piatti violoncello. His two sons, Francesco (1671 - 1743) and Omobono (1679 - 1742), succeeded him as violin-makers.

Tools of the Trade

9. fretsaw 10. violin tailpiece 11. violin scroll 15. soundpost setting tool: the positioning of the soundpost (a vertical strut inside the violin) is vital to obtain good sound. 16. gouge
9. fretsaw 10. violin tailpiece 11. violin scroll 15. soundpost setting tool: the positioning of the soundpost (a vertical strut inside the violin) is vital to obtain good sound. 16. gouge
17. clamps
17. clamps
18. square
18. square
19. bridge template
19. bridge template
20. f-hole template
20. f-hole template

Stradivarius Background

The famous creator of the legendary Stradivarius violins was born in Cremona, Italy, a renowned center of instrument craftsmanship. He spent his whole life in Cremona.

He inherited the traditions of the Cremonese instrument makers from his teacher, Nicolo Amati, a noted instrument maker, and brought their art to its zenith. Stradivari worked under Amati until his death in 1669, learning the basic skills of making stringed instruments.

His technique for making violins brought the instrument to perfection. Later violinmakers followed the methods and designs established by him but the secret of the superb tone of his instruments has never been discovered.

The earliest violins resembled those of his teacher, Amati, in shape and varnish. The violins of his second period were built in around 1690 to a different pattern; they were flatter and longer, had more definite scrolls and were coated with a brighter varnish. His most famous violins came from the third period, 1695 - 1725, and combined an elegant shape with a broad outline that made maximum use of the resonance of the wood; the varnish was vivid and usually reddish. It is estimated that Stradivari made more than 1100 instruments, those that were incomplete at the time of his death were finished by his sons and pupils. Very few of his violins still survive.

Although Stradivari made certain changes in the proportions of his instruments, particularly the violins, the secret of his mastery, which has never been equaled, appears to have been in the varnish he used. His finest instruments were made between 1700 and 1725. About thirty of his best violins and a dozen of his best cellos are still in use. His violins are more desired by players than those of any other instrument maker with the exception of his contemporary, Giuseppe Antonio Guarnieri.

Stradivari's instruments combine excellent wood, outstanding craftsmanship, beautiful shape and proportion, and superb vanish. His masterpieces provide an incomparable blend of strength and sweetness of sound. Stradivari's instruments, like others of his time, were later modified. They were fitted with longer, tilted necks and finger boards; stronger bass-bars; and higher bridges. These changes gave the instruments increased string tension and the structural strength to resist that tension. The modified instruments gained the volume needed to perform in the large concert halls and with the large symphony orchestras of the 1800's and 1900s.

Stradavari, who was still making instruments when he was over ninety, had eleven children, of whom two sons, Francesco Stradivari (1671 - 1743) and Omobono Stradivari (1679 - 1742), worked closely with him.

References

  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 6, 1954.
  • The World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 18, World Book Inc, 1985
  • New Knowledge Library - Universal Reference Encyclopedia, Volume 2, Bay Books, 1981
  • New Encyclopedia, Volume 22, 1971, Funk & Wagnalls

Comments

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    • nbhumble profile image

      nbhumble 

      6 years ago from Staffs, UK

      A very interesting read. I have some nice violins in my collection (www.virtuosiviolins.com), all of which would qualify as antique, but unfortunately none of the value of a Strad...as yet!!! Maybe I will get there some day!

    • profile image

      sada 

      6 years ago

      :) good info

    • profile image

      Gary Logsdon 

      8 years ago

      My Friend, Paul Craft, just rebuilt a fiddle and when he disassembled it, there was a sticker in it signed by Omobono,Stradivarius. Someone gave it to Paul in "basketcase" condition. Now it's beautiful. Paul does this as a hobby, he is 80 years old, and very curious as to what this instrument would be worth. Any interests in discussing this, feel free to call me. 419 310-3435, Gary Logsdon

    • monitor profile image

      monitor 

      10 years ago from The world.

      Well, Now I know. Of course I have heard the name but until I read you hub I really didn't know.

      Thank you.

      Your fan.

      Mon

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen 

      10 years ago from Australia

      I've always had a fondness for the cello, though I've never touched one let alone played one. I do however play the electric bass guitar.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      10 years ago from New Zealand

      I was never good enough or rich enough to own a Stradavius - but I did play for quite a number of years. One of the oddity of stringed insturments like violins and cellos is that they have to be played on a regular basis. I think rich owners and museums lend them out to good players

    working

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