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1 October 2011

What does it take to make a violin?

What does it take to make a violin?
Alberto Bachman, in Encyclopaedia of the Violin (1st ed.1925), wrote that the surest way to make a fine violin is to trace a master's model. Perhaps for the world as it was in 1929 it was the surest way indeed, but the knowledge unearthed since then would be wasted if not used.

Making violins require a creative mindset with a subtle swing of fantasy and order, precision and spontaneity: one needs to know the rules, where and why they come from, how to enjoy bending these rules or even - why not - break them if it gives an extra spice to the design and the sound of the violin, an extra inspiration to the musicians and the audiences. 

It also requires a complete command of tools, knowledge of wood and acoustics, specially as the latter was addressed by the european predecessors, violin-makers from the end of the 16th century till the end of the 18th century. I do not believe in computers, sophisticated software or hi-tech which anyway did not exist in the period when the violin was born - the Baroque period. I believe in fairly simple hardware, time-tested intelligence
expressed in every living craft and human passion for one’s métier.

The last, but perhaps the most important, violin-making requires an inquisitive and humble mind in order to study and absorb - at least a tiny bit of it - the mother culture which created the violin - the occidental culture thousands of years of age. We are tiny and insignificant in comparison with that culture and even with the violin - this culture’s heritage, not just another “consumer product”. 

What makes violin a fine violin?
I am not saying I am making "fine violins" - it's not up to me to decide whether my violins are fine or not and I don't care whether they are fine or not. What I care about is to know and assimilate about the violin as much as I can in my lifetime. Fine instruments are born from the delicate balance of the opposites - the godly nature of wood and proportions on one side and, on the other side, the human nature - expression contained in the violin's outlines, in the chisel marks and brush strokes - all of which can be influenced by a myriad of human factors, classical music and, of course, by the life itself. So what? Fine violins are born from an Idea, like all of the rest is, and let us hope there are more good ideas than the bad ones in this world. Some violin-makers, but not all, might agree with the above, but I am talking only for myself - not for others as other might have different values and experience.

Going back to Bachman with whom I started this note, I am wondering why is it music - and everything related - which suffered the most? Everyone and everything went through the French Revolution and wars and famine but no one ever said the surest way to make, say, a sculpture is to copy Michelangelo's David or Rodin's Kiss. It looks as if music is the least cataclysm-resistant and once the "bridge" is burned there is hardly a way of restoring it.

All this blah-blah aside, the rest is really simple - just do it and do it well. 

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1 comment:

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