Stradivarius Violins Do Not Project Their Sound Better, Study Finds : Shots - Health News Old Italian violins like those made by Stradivari are famous for their ability to project their sound. But a study found people in a blind test thought new violins projected better than old ones.
NPR logo

Is A Stradivarius Violin Easier To Hear? Science Says Nope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527057108/527452868" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Is A Stradivarius Violin Easier To Hear? Science Says Nope

Is A Stradivarius Violin Easier To Hear? Science Says Nope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527057108/527452868" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN MUSIC)

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

That violin sounds pretty good, right? But does it sound better than this violin?

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN MUSIC)

MCEVERS: The answer is a big deal in the violin world because one of them is a fancy Stradivarius. NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports on new research that suggests that telling the difference is trickier than it sounds.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: A lot of people who care a lot about violins say the ones made by Antonio Stradivari back in the 18th century have a special, paradoxical quality. They project their sound out into the concert hall without sounding loud to the person playing them. That Strad sound brings in serious money at auction. In 2006, an instrument nicknamed the Hammer sold for $3-and-a-half million. But that alleged quiet-up-close-yet-loud-far-away thing has always kind of baffled French researcher Claudia Fritz.

CLAUDIA FRITZ: There is really nothing obvious there. And it physically doesn't make any sense.

HERSHER: Fritz studies musical acoustics at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, and she tested it. She had people in a concert hall listen to six violins, three by Stradivari and three by modern violin makers, and rate a bunch of qualities including how they projected their sound. Here, you try it. Here's one.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF BRAHMS' "VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, OP. 77")

HERSHER: And here's number two.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF BRAHMS' "VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, OP. 77")

HERSHER: If you can't tell the difference, that's normal. Fritz and her team have already established that even most musicians can't. Want to try again, though? Remember; you're listening for how it projects sound. Number one...

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF BRAHMS' "VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, OP. 77")

HERSHER: And number two...

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF BRAHMS' "VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, OP. 77")

HERSHER: People who could tell the difference thought violin number two projected better, which is surprising because it's not the Stradivarius.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF BRAHMS' "VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, OP. 77")

HERSHER: And what's more, when they asked musicians how the violins sounded up close, the ones that projected into the audience also sounded pretty loud to the players. The results were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Full disclosure - one of Fritz's co-authors owns a studio that builds violins, but she says she is not trying to diss older violins. She thinks people will always see a Stradivarius as special.

FRITZ: Because it's a piece of art. It's - I mean it's - they are beautiful. We can't deny that. As long as people are aware that they don't need to pay that amount to have something which works well, then it's fine.

HERSHER: She says people should be less focused on whether Strads are better and think more about what gives any violin its unique sound. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BORUSAN ISTANBUL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF RIMSKY-KORSAKOV'S "SCHEHERAZADE, OP. 35")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.