Most Stradivarius-labeled violins are replicas, not originals. They reflect Stradivari's enduring influence, not his direct craftsmanship.
Any fan of classical music would be familiar with the illustrious name of Antonio Stradivari. Revered as one of the supreme string instrument creators in history, Stradivari's brilliance from the 17th and 18th centuries still symbolizes the epitome of excellence and class. Just the mention of a Stradivarius, especially a violin, conjures up a sense of respect and curiosity, associated with exceptional sound quality and visual appeal.
However, if you come across a violin bearing the Stradivarius label, it's necessary to keep your excitement in check. Chances are high that your instrument is not an original piece from Stradivari's workshop. While this might be a letdown, it doesn't degrade the value or sound of your instrument. Comprehending the historical background and production tendencies helps clarify this mystery.
Antonio Stradivari's craftsmanship was prolific. He flourished in what's known as the Cremonese period of violin construction, named after the Italian city Cremona, where Stradivari created his masterpieces. Yet, despite his incredible output – around 1,000 to 1,100 instruments, with roughly 650 still in existence – these figures fall short in comparison to the number of Stradivarius-labeled violins worldwide.
This discrepancy results from Stradivari's enduring influence. After the maestro's demise in 1737, countless string instrument makers started to replicate his designs, aspiring to reproduce the distinct sound and remarkable quality of a genuine Stradivarius. Often, these replicas were not meant to be fraudulent but represented the creator's tribute to Stradivari's genius. To indicate this, they would often affix Stradivarius's name, alongside phrases like "in the style of" or "after" to avoid misinterpretation.
However, as the Stradivari brand gained acclaim, it also attracted the attention of deceitful elements. A deluge of pseudo "Strads" entered the market, many carrying labels that suggested they were genuine Stradivari instruments. These counterfeit products became so widespread that they outnumbered the originals.
Identifying a real Stradivarius is a complex task that demands considerable expertise. Attributes such as shape, finish, craftsmanship, type of wood, and even minor details like tool marks and patterns of usage can help differentiate a genuine Stradivarius from a copy. Advanced techniques like dendrochronology, which analyzes the tree rings in the wood, are used to confirm the instrument's age.
At MyLuthier, we often engage with clients who possess Stradivarius-labeled violins and nurture a ray of hope that they might possess an original Stradivari creation. They typically share photos or descriptions, filled with anticipation, hoping for confirmation that their instrument is indeed a Stradivarius. Yet, the reality we repeatedly confront is that these instruments, though beautiful in their own ways, are almost never genuine Stradivari.
Many violins labeled as Stradivarius are not genuine, but that doesn't mean they are of lesser quality. Many of these violins are fine instruments in their own regard, crafted with care and skill. The best among these can produce a sound that, while not being a Stradivarius, is unique and beautiful in its own way.
In essence, finding a Stradivarius label on your violin should not immediately ignite joy nor should it lead to disappointment. It's highly probable that your instrument is a part of the vast heritage of violins influenced by Stradivari's unparalleled legacy, a tribute to the maestro's enduring influence on the musical world. While it might not bring in millions at an auction, its true worth lies in its sound, its craftsmanship, and its role in the ongoing narrative of violin construction.