Readers respond to recent articles
‘Thanks to the internet, performances are sounding more and more similar,’ writes Albena Danailova (Life Lessons, April 2019). Had she been present at last year’s Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition in Hanover, she would have witnessed six performances that were not only technically immaculate but also utterly individual in terms of style and personality. Likewise at the Menuhin Competition in Geneva last April, the defining attribute of all the finalists was their unique individualism. I also note that many of today’s competition winners are products of certain tutors, for example Zakhar Bron – but who would claim that the sound worlds of Vengerov, Repin and Hope are too similar-sounding?
When I was studying the violin it always irked me when members of the older generation said they could ‘recall a time when you could listen outside a practice room and identify a player as Russian school, Franco –Belgian school’ or wherever. In my view, the waning of the various ‘schools’ has led not to a homogeneity of playing styles, but rather a freedom in the minds of young players that they can expand and develop their expressivity in the way they see fit.
Made to measure
It was perhaps inappropriate for Philip Ihle and Andrea Zanrè to propose that the dimensional mismatches that they encountered (‘Variations on a theme’, May 2019) were ‘likely because of a slightly incorrect scaling of the image (of the 1714 ‘Soil’ violin) in the (Thöne/Röhrmann) source material’ and that they ‘did not match these two violins (‘Soil’ and 1715 ‘Titian’), although with correct scaling they might have been attributed as published’.
The measurements made by Thöne and Röhrmann of the ‘Soil’ violin’s back plate correspond almost exactly with those published by Bruce Carlson in 1993 – an agreement that suggests the 1689 ‘PG’ mould. In addition, the long and detailed description of the instrument by Caressa and Français in 1911 includes the line ‘dans la mortaise P.S. [PG] incrustées’ (‘P.S. [PG] inscribed on the mortise’). Thöne and Röhrmann’s back-plate measurements of the ‘Titian’ are again a near-exact match for those by Carlson, suggesting the instrument was made using the ‘P(B)’ mould.
Philip Ihle responds: Thank you, Nicholas, for reading our piece so carefully. After reading your comments I checked the measurements of the instruments and must admit that I stand corrected – the scaling of the prints in the book of the two violins in question is indeed precise to the half-millimetre. If I were to build a copy of the ‘Soil’ and had to use one of Stradivari’s existing forms, I would choose the ‘PG’ mould. The result would leave me somewhat unhappy, however, as it would be a little wider in the region of the upper corner blocks. Because of this difference, we did not match the ‘Soil’ to any of the existing forms. It is even more difficult to find a matching mould for the ‘Titian’. Using either ‘P’ mould would give an instrument approximately 1.5mm too long and, in parts, a touch too wide. Since our matching process was based on the purfling lines rather than the outlines, it was unaffected by wear to the instrument.
O happy day
In March I had the immense pleasure of attending the inaugural Stradfest event, an enriching day of enlightening musical experiences (Postcard from London, May 2019). My day began with introduction to improvisation by Max Grosch, who set out some of the fundamental rhythmic and harmonic principles and helped us to develop our own ideas. Rodney Friend’s lecture and demonstration of his method for practising in 5ths was another insightful and helpfully practical session. As a professional violinist myself, I grew up idolising Mr Friend and, needless to say, bought his book immediately afterwards.
Among the masterpieces generously brought to the event by dealers J&A Beare was the 1701 ‘Circle’ Stradivari violin: words fail me when I try to express how it felt to play an instrument with such a sweet and supple sound. I was lucky enough to try out a strident, forthright Nicolò Gagliano, too. The closing recital by Anne Akiko Meyers in the intimate setting of the Royal Institution theatre allowed us to savour her colourful, lyrical playing and the myriad nuances of her 1741 ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin.
I would like to thank The Strad on behalf of other younger string players starting out in our wonderful profession for a day we will remember for a long time.