You might not guess that the story of the Stradivarius violins has anything to do with botany, but—if sometimes indirectly—it often does. To that end, I like to follow along with these stories much as I can; the tale keeps growing as scientists conjure up ever more complex means of understanding the finest instruments made to date.
As of now, research suggests that one of the reasons for the transcendant sound behind the instruments of luthiers Stradivari and Guadagnini might be the mini ice age that took place during their construction. The cold snap that followed Europe through much of the 17th and 18th centuries may have stunted the trees near the luthiers’ town of Cremona such that it created a dense, more harmonically agreeable wood.
There’s also the theory that a fungal infection of the trees used to make these violins had a helping hand in that sweet sound. But now, scientists suggest another factor: wood that’s been eaten through by bugs, cracked, and patched with new wood and paper. The thought that the asymmetry of sheer wear and tear could have something to do with the wood’s sound might be the key to this code. Then again, I suspect we’ll continue to investigate these multi-million-dollar masterpieces if only because the mystique demands it. —MN