Friday, January 25, 2002

Here's a bit of information about the famed Stradivarius violins, for those of you that are interested. (And we all know what a pressing concern it is on the minds of the american people...)

In 1984, Professor Joseph Nagyvary at Texas A&M University, a specialist in biophysics and biochemistry, announced a recipe for recreating Stradivari's varnish: Boil one pound of shrimp shells in powerful lye for 24 hours, strain it through cheesecloth, then rinse the residue thoroughly with water and dissolve it in vinegar until it attains a syrup-like consistency. This, he contended, would duplicate Stradivari's varnish, which Nagyvary believes was made mostly of chitin, the polymer found in the bodies and wings of insects. (Shrimp shells also contain chitin.)

In 1986, Nagyvary claimed that a microscopic fungus growing in the wood used by Cremonese violin makers was responsible for their special sound. Long soaking of the logs from which the violins' wood came made it especially receptive to the particular qualities of Stradivari's varnish, he said. On the other hand, in 1988, William Fulton, a retired aerospace engineer and now secretary of the Violin Society of America, suggested that wood destined to be made into violins should be subjected to ammonia fumes for several weeks to duplicate an eighteenth century smokehouse treatment.

In 1991, Mayne R. Coe, a retired organic chemist in Jupiter, Florida, received U.S. Patent 5018422 for what he believed was the secret to Stradivari varnish: tung oil. He claimed Italy started importing tung oil around the time Stradivari and other violin masters in Cremona began establishing their reputations. He cited other research that suggested the violin makers colored their varnish with a red dye called dragon's blood resin, extracted from the rattan fruit from India....

In fact, the insect-repelling mixture of "salt of gems" - finely crushed crystals - and borax that Cremora's violin-makers used as varnish is what fossilized the wood to a perfect pitch, Mr. Nagyvary claims. The accidental chemical reaction of phosphates and wood, he says, lifted Stradivarius's violins to a whole new level.

There is no special varnish, of which the composition has been known for quite some time. It is, rather, a chemical treatment of the wood containing potassium silicate and calcium that creates a greater absorption in the softer wood in respect to the hard wood found in other parts of the violin. This is the secret that has tortured violin makers for over three hundred years that was finally revealed yesterday by the Professor Andrea Mosconi who has dedicated his life to the organization and maintenance of the violins and collection of documents of the famed Stradivarius held at the museum of Cremona, located in the northern Italian province of Lombardy. He is the leading authority on the history of Stradivarius that exists today. For thirty years he has been the curator of this invaluable collection. Every day he checks the temperature, the humidity, the lighting before he begins the most delicate job of playing each instrument. On violins that have a value in the millions of dollars he delicately plays a few cords to keep the instruments in tune.

As you can see, quite contradictory...


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