“For hundreds of years, the best violin players have almost unanimously said they prefer a Stradivari or a Guarneri instrument,” writes Steph Yin in Wednesday’s (12/21) New York Times. “Why nobody has been able to replicate that sound remains one of the most enduring mysteries of instrument building. A new study, published … in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that answers may lie in the wood: Mineral treatments, followed by centuries of aging and transformation from playing… ‘If you compare Stradivari’s maple with modern, high-quality maple wood that is almost the same, the two woods are very different,’ said Hwan-Ching Tai, a professor of chemistry at National Taiwan University and an author of the paper.…  Dr. Tai and his colleagues … found evidence of chemical treatments containing aluminum, calcium, copper and other elements—a practice lost to later generations of violin makers…. Researchers also discovered that one-third of a wood component known as hemicellulose had decomposed.… The instruments had about 25 percent less water in them than more recent models…. When they heated the wood shavings of the [Stradivari] violins, [Dr. Tai’s team] found an extra peak in oxidation [which] may give the instruments greater expressiveness.”

Posted December 22, 2016

Stradivarius violin photo by Stefan Elf