Monday, April 25, 2005

The Strad

The New York Times reviews Stradivari's Genius, by Toby Faber.

Highly prized and priced, Stradivaris have been traded, sold, hidden, stolen and even buried. They have been owned by royalty and rabble, played by amateurs and virtuosos, survived wars, floods and other natural disasters. In the right hands, these legendary instruments have made listeners weep, fall in love and believe in God; they have provided romantic fodder for novels like John Hersey's "Antonietta" and films like Francois Girard's "Red Violin." But "Stradivari's Genius," Toby Faber's first book and a work of nonfiction, is more enthralling, earthy and illuminating than any fiction could possibly be.

(Antonietta is an overlooked but wonderful book that may well have inspired The Red Violin. Anyone who loved the movie would do well to search this title out.)

The first, and to my knowledge only, time I heard a Strad up close and personal, it was played by Angèle Dubeau in an intimate chapel at the University of Ottawa. Angelic indeed!

I'd started playing violin when I was 8. There was a time I had talent, but no passion. From time to time the passion has surfaced, but I no longer had the technique.

For a time I toyed with the idea of making violins, partly for the romance of crafting an instrument from which music would resonate, but mostly to crack the mystery of the Stradivari sound. It seemed like the perfect merging of science and art (I hadn't considered that woodworking would be part of it too, or I might've abandoned the idea much sooner). I found books and blueprints, but had not enough passion to pursue this esoteric livelihood.

Related reading:
Delbanco, Nicholas. "The Countess of Stanlein restored: sound and soundness in a Stradivarius violoncello." Harper's Magazine. January 2001. p 39–54.


melinama said...

You make many more books sound tempting than I will ever have time to read! Thanks.

Kimberly said...

I picked up a copy of this book in my little neighborhood bookstore yesterday. It looked fascinating, but I have about a dozen books at home waiting to be read, so I resisted. This one's going on the wish list, though.

The violin museum in Cremona employs a man whose job it is to play the glorious violins in its collection. The day that I was there, he played part of a Bach invention on a Guarneri del Jesu. Heavenly! I don't know that I have ever heard a Strad live.