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austin_dern

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May. 11th, 2012

Here's some cheering news: they've now cleared varnishes as possible sources for the sound made by Stradivarius violins. I'm not sure who they were exactly, but I'm pretty good on varnish and on Stradivarius violins. I mean knowledge about Stardivarius violins. On actual violins I was good at the parts where you played the notes that didn't need fingers put down on the strings for. Give me sheet music made up of the right E, A, D, and G notes and I could carry on for whole minutes producing music-like sounds before I got bored and went off to watch Silverhawks.

It's the notes where you have to have fingers on the strings that were trouble. They always came out sounding like I had only learned how to put fingers on things a few minutes ago and hadn't had time to practice. I remember the first finger was supposed to go about a thumb width down from the top of the thingy, but it would actually come down maybe on the underside of the bridge, maybe on a small and, in context, justifiably protesting fish. Also I could do the bow thing part all right, as long as it was just moving the bow side to side somewhere near the strings, but the part of plucking notes I was bad at, because I was scared of my fingernails snapping the strings, sending them flying loose, snagging my eye and flinging that up into the air, and I just knew it'd happen in a part where you're supposed to repeat a block of music. But there were parts of the Theme From Masterpiece Theater that I was just great at, particularly the D and the A notes.

Anyway the thing with Stradivarius violins is they're supposed to sound so very much better than regular violins that it's worth naming them after Antonio Stradivari. But they really had to do that, since it would be a stroke of luck to name them before Stradivari. Still, ever since they got a reputation for sounding so great people have gone out trying to figure why they do. Probably that's so they could duplicate the sound. You never read about people working hard to replicate the taste of a Stradivarius, or the way it cuddles up against someone in the dark of the night.

Over the centuries all kind of theories have been tried out. For example there was a great theory going where maybe the wood came from old cathedrals and so the music was enhanced by the centuries of built-up observances of Septuagesima being emitted all at once. But careful study showed the story couldn't be that simple. The wood was clearly tree matter of some kind, while cathedrals are mostly rocks and glass, and there's just not so much rock in violins. That took years to prove, since the surest way to prove something is a rock is to drop it on your foot, and who wants to go dropping violins on feet in case they turn out to be rocks too? But by 1807 some suitable violins were donated to the cause of science, and by 1814 they'd found the first researcher actually had rocks as feet, which had confused the earliest results.

With the cathedral idea dashed we could move on to blaming the wood preservatives. There was certainly wood in the violins after all, and why shouldn't they have been preserved? So if you start with a couple violins and carefully remove the preservative, what you get is a small bucket of preservative and a pile of moldy violin ash. That approach handles the problem of excessively many Stradivarius violins, but it does nothing to solve the mystery of the Stradivarius Theramin or the Stradivarius Collection Of Mom's Pots And Pans Scattered On The Floor And Banged On With A Spoon, unless the spoon is also made of wood. Check and find out while Mom's not looking.

I wonder if part of my problem wasn't that I was learning on what's called a 3/4-size violin because it was not 3/4ths the size of a regular violin. I'm waiting for research results about that.

Trivia: On 11 May 1934 the Douglas DC-2 made its first flight. It seated two more passengers than the prototype DC-1. Source: The Boeing 247: The First Modern Airliner, F Robert van der Linden.

Currently Reading: The Fear Planet and other Unusual Destinations, Robert Bloch.

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