The aura of Stradivari's violins

Kawabata, M. (2014) The aura of Stradivari's violins. Ad Parnassum: A Journal of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Instrumental Music, 12 (23). pp. 61-74. ISSN 1722-3954 (print) 2421-6933 (online)

Abstract

The aura of Stradivari's violins is examined from the standpoint of the history of performance. Why and how have they been valued for so long and by so many players and collectors? What makes them so special, and why do tests reveal that experts cannot aurally distinguish them from specimens by other violin makers? The attempt to identify an authentic Stradivari sound is beside the point when we consider that none of the violins Stradivari made exist in their original condition, all having been modified to various degrees. Furthermore, these violins have been and continue to be valued for musical, psychological and historical reasons, which lie beyond their purely sonorous properties. For the Romantics, Stradivari was an isolated genius living only for his art--an anachronistic image bearing little relation to the working methods of the real Stradivari. For violinists today, the violins represent links in a historical chain--connecting them to the players and repertoires of preceding generations--and bear the imprint of that history in a way that is true for them. Stradivari violins have a musical aura, from the perspective of the players--those who know and love them most intimately--because of their relationship and relationship history. Considering these violins as more than merely objects of artifacts that produce sound therefore extends Walter Benjamin's concept of aura as the ritual power of original artworks.

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