It reminds me of Galileo’s experiment of 1589, when the scientist dropped two rocks of different mass at the same time from the Tower of Pisa. In so doing, he demonstrated that they fall at the same speed – and disproved the Aristotelian theory that heavy objects fall faster than light ones. In an instant, Galileo demolished a “well established fact” that had been widely believed for centuries.
Those would all be good things – but alas, such changes will be strongly resisted. Whereas Galileo was merely upsetting scientific theory, the Indianapolis experiment threatens the financial foundations of the string-instrument business. Anyone who owns a Strad worth $1 million or more isn’t going to take kindly to the idea that it might be no better than a modern violin worth $10,000.
A little digging on the internet reveals that modern-vs.-old violin tests are not a new idea. Such comparisons have been going on at least since the 1970s – and the results often reveal the modern instruments to be as good, or even better, than highly rated old ones. (Several comparisons are described in an article that the Australian luthier Alan Coggins wrote in 2007, here.)
Yet it seems that every time such an experiment is undertaken, the methodology of the test is called into question, with the aim of discrediting the results. And true to form, the details of this latest experiment have been challenged. (See here.)
It would be interesting to see those who scorn the various tests carried out so far devise a better test, and demonstrate that it is in fact possible to consistently distinguish between the old masters and the best modern luthiers. Until then, I’m more inclined to trust the experiments that have been done (flawed though they may be), rather than the people who would have us believe, without offering any proof, that a Strad’s superior quality can be clearly heard.
However, the mystique of the Cremonese instruments is not going to die quickly or easily. There’s too much at stake.
© Colin Eatock 2012