Brand Stradivarius Fails To Resonate

Van: “Recent research led by Dr. Claudia Fritz of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris has questioned whether we can perceive the differences between old and new violins. In September 2010, Fritz and her team of researchers asked 21 experienced violinists to choose which violin they preferred from a pool of six. These consisted of three new and three old violins, two of which were Stradivarius … Each of the participants wore goggles that disguised whether the instrument they were playing was old or new.”

“Contrary to expectations, it was one particular Stradivarius that was the least preferred. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the single most preferred instrument was a new violin … In her most recent paper, published last month, Fritz asked an audience of 55 volunteers to listen to and compare three new violins with three Stradivari violins in a concert hall in Paris. The audience consisted of those with relevant expertise, such as violin makers, players, musicians, audiophiles, music critics, composers and acousticians. Without knowing whether they were listening to old or new violins, the audience decided that new violins not only projected better, but that they also generally preferred their sound over old violins. Fritz repeated the experiment in New York and gained similar results.”

“Fritz’s study may have proven that new violins sound just as good old ones when we are unaware of their age, but in reality no violinist plays in such blind conditions, and most concert programs will inform audiences if the soloist is playing on a priceless antique. We do not play or listen to music in isolation: anything from the concert venue, the time of day, to knowing that the soloist is playing on a centuries-old instruments affects our response. The staunch defenders of Stradivarius’s superiority illustrate that we still find something special in the long histories of old violins. Our romantic obsession with old objects and the stories that surround them continues, meaning there is little more that science can do to dispel the Stradivarius myth.”

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