Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. Luthier, Bow Maker & Dealer Extraordinaire

By Fein Violin Staff

Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume is an extremely important figure in the world of violins. Vuillaume had a shop in Paris from 1822 until his death in 1875. He was admired by and friends with Paganini, Ole Bull, and a host of other great soloists.

Label of an 1841 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello

He was three steps removed from Stradivarius' workshop. After Antonius Stradivarius died, his entire workshop and remaining instruments were purchased by Count Cozio. Luigi Tarisio, an itinerant violin dealer purchased many instruments from Count Cozio and brought them to Paris. Vuillaume purchased many Stradivarius instruments from Tarisio. When Tarisio died, Vuillaume traveled directly to Italy to purchase his remaining collection of Stradivarius instruments. And other Cremonese instruments as well. Guaneris, Amatis, Bergonzis, Ruggieris, Rogeris and many more. Just about every Stradivarius and Guarnerius del Gesu passed through Vuillaume's shop at some point.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fix it Yourself or Bring to Your Luthier?

 Written by: Amy Tobin at Fein Violins

Violins, violas, and cellos, because they are made from wood, can change. In fact, they are designed to do so. That way, when the weather changes, and the wood shrinks or swells, it protects the main body of the instrument from cracking. So, when things happen to your instrument and it ceases to operate smoothly, which things can you do yourself, and which things should you bring your violin in to your luthier to take care of?

One of the most common things that can happen is a tuning peg that either slips or sticks.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ole Bull, the Original Andre Rieu

 Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

Ladies and gentlemen! Please welcome consummate violinist, composer, advocate, and all around electrifying personality........


Ole Bull

Born in Bergen, Norway, in 1810, he was the original rebellious child.
His father had plans for him to become a minister, but after showing talent at a very young age (soloing with the Bergen Philharmonic at age 9!), it was clear there was only one path for Ole. In fact, when he went to take the entrance exams for Theology school, he failed. Yep. Question is, did he really fail or did he throw it?

In an apparent attempt to have his father think that he was making something of himself, he went to Germany, where he pretended to study law. 'Yes, Dad. Everything's great! School? Oh, school is going just fine.....' Shortly thereafter, he moved to Paris, Europe's famed haven for all artistes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Glitz, Celebrity & Sex Appeal in Classical Music

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

One of my musical heroes, Gidon Kremer, recently cancelled out of playing in the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. In a, public letter to the director Mr. Kremer decries a classical music world "in which 'stars' count more than creativity, ratings more than genuine talent, numbers more than...sounds." He also points out a "misguided fixation with glamour and sex appeal."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who Worked with Stradivarius?

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

The romantic image of a lone violin maker, crafting each instrument individually from start to finish, is certainly an image that is held in high esteem. Something the British have termed "A One Off" - each instrument crafted from start to finish, varnished and set up by one individual.  But is it a true image of a violin workshop? Have instruments ever been made that way?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Comparing Two Stradivarius Violins - The 'Lady Blunt' and the 'Messiah'.

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

On June 10, 2011, the two finest Stradivarius violins in the world were displayed side by side at the Ashomolean Museum in Oxford, England. The Ashmolean is home to the most perfectly preserved Stradivarius in existence, the 'Messiah' of 1716. The Lady Blunt of 1721 would certainly be considered the next most perfect Stradivarius next to the 'Messiah'. The strange difference is that it is almost universally accepted that the 'Lady Blunt' is a Stradivarius. Not so with the 'Messiah'.

'The Messiah' on display at the Ashmolean Museum

© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons
'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius

Tarisio Auctions. Violachick68 at English Wikipedia

The Messiah Stradivarius has an interesting history. Made in 1716, the 'Messiah' violin remained unused in the Stradivarius workshop until the death of Antonius Stradivarius in 1737. Still unused and unplayed, the 'Messiah' violin was sold by Antonius’ son Paolo to Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775. Luigi Tarisio purchased the Messiah Stradivarius violin from Count Cozio in 1827. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris purchased the Messiah Stradivarius violin, and the rest of Tarisio’s collection, upon Tarisio’s death in 1854. Eventually the Messiah Stradivarius made its way to the Hill shop of London and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. For most of its life, the 'Messiah' has remained unplayed! 

Since it was not sold by Stradivarius nor played in his lifetime, and not played by any of the other owners, it is perfectly preserved. Many critics have argued that it is too perfectly preserved. That is, it is so perfect that it cannot be a Stradivarius. One of the more common theories is that it is actually a very perfectly made copy of a Stradivarius, probably made by Vuillaume and his workshop. 

The 'Lady Blunt' is on the bottom, the 'Messiah' is in the middle, the 'Hellier' on top.
Bringing two Stradivarius violins side by side allowed for great comparative observation and photographic documentation.
The 'Lady Blunt is on the left, the 'Messiah' on the right.

The conclusion? They are very similar instruments. If an expert would accept the 'Lady Blunt' as a Stradivarius (an almost universal truth!) then any reasonable expert would have to accept the 'Messiah" as a Stradivarius as well. 

We blogged about the 'Lady Blunt' previously. There are more pictures there as well. 

It might be heresy to preservationists, but I argue that all violins, even the 'Messiah' and the 'Lady Blunt,' should be played. They were made to be musical instruments, not objets d'art! When they are not played, they are more than half dead. Play them!
The 'Messiah is on the left, the 'Lady Blunt' on the right.
Many thanks to the Ashmolean Museum and Tarisio Auctions for making the display possible!

We have two violins modeled after the 'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius - Fein 'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius model and the Cremone DIVA Violin. We also have the A. Fein Patrizio Stradivari Violin which has features of both the 'Messiah' and 'Lady Blunt'.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sometimes, It's The Little Things That Count

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and Angie Newgren

Okay, so you have practiced, and practiced, and practiced (just like you're supposed to!). You have a nice violin (viola, or cello), you've matched it with a good bow, and hopefully you have a nice set of strings.  Is there anything else you can do to bring your instrument's sound to the next level? Of course! We previously wrote a blog on 10 things to improve the sound of your instrument. In addition to these 10 things, there are a few other simple steps you can take to get the most out of your instrument.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear? Perceptions of Violin, Viola & Cello Tone

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Do you hear what I hear? The answer is -No. No one hears with your ears except yourself. Each of us has a different perception of hearing depending on our age and life experiences.

Doubt that? Take this amusing and not very scientific Mosquito Ringtone Hearing Test. It's very common for people over age 25 to not hear tones over 15kHz ( about 2 octaves above the highest note on a full size piano). Big deal, right? That high a note is very rarely, if ever, played in music. However, that note and even higher tones make up the overtones of many notes we play on stringed instruments. Those notes add to the "brightness" of an instrument in terms of tone quality. The more and higher the overtones, the brighter the instrument will sound. But only if you can hear those overtones. That's why an instrument might sound tinny and annoying to one person and pleasantly bright to another person.

If you're age 19 to 25 and are being smug about hearing things your elders can't, snap out of it. The high frequency hearing loss starts soon after age 18. Earlier and faster if you've listened to lots of loud noises (like loud concerts or ear buds pumped up high).

Friday, July 15, 2011

10 Things You Can Do Today to Make Your Violin, Viola, or Cello Sound Better

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Every string player wants to sound better. Here are 10 things you can do today (not tomorrow, not next week) to make you and your instrument sound better.

1) Practice. Hah! Bet you didn't think that was one of the 10 things. But it is. Practice the hard parts, practice with quiet concentration, put the time in and you'll get multiple dividends out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Music Wizard of Deathly Hallows- Alexandre Desplat

Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins,
 and Angie Newgren

Alexandre Desplat held the grand task of composing the soundtracks for the last two Harry Potter films (Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2). A well accomplished composer, Desplat displays his talents not only as an artist, but in his ability to compile all the themes in the first through the sixth soundtracks and bring them to a great finale.

Alexandre Desplat was born in Paris in 1961. His parents, (Greek mother, French father) greatly influenced him with music by classical training, and also with doses of American Jazz and Hollywood scores. Did his parents hope he'd grow up to be a great composer for Hollywood? Perhaps, but in any case that's what happened (and I'm sure they're proud).

Desplat has composed music for over 50 European films, and came to Hollywood to do the same. He has composed the scores for Hollywood movies such as The King's Speech, Twilight: New Moon, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Golden Compass, The Queen, and The Girl With the Pearl Earring. He has won four Academy Awards and a Golden Globe.

The Deathly Hallows Part 2 opens with the song, "Lily's Theme." Desplat, said in an interview with The Leaky Cauldron, "The goal was to find something as gentle, as sweet, and as kind as a lullaby with a guilty touch to it." As for those of us who have read the last book, we know what an important role Lily has to the plot. I believe he captured the melody he was looking for right on target. Although his work seems almost flawless, he seems to think differently. He said in an interview with Classic FM  "I’m never very satisfied with anything… I never listen to my scores because if I do I just want to do it again and I have no time for that - life is too short!”

Desplat is an extremely talented composer. He is equally talented at melding the works of all the previous composers of the Harry Potter film scores- John Williams, Nicholas Hooper and Patrick Doyle. The Hedwig theme by John Williams is an iconic tune for the Harry Potter films. Desplat explains in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, "We knew from the start that this last episode would require a bit more reference of John Williams's wonderful "Hedwig's Theme". The previous film was very much away from the school of Hogwarts and therefore was going for something more adult. And now that they are back at Hogwarts, with all their friends, all the kids we've seen growing up through the years, this incredible theme was needed. Was calling."

As the last credits roll and you say farewell to Harry and all your other Hogwarts friends, Alexandre Desplat's music will wash over you. And each time you hear his music from the film, even decades from now, you'll be transported back to the magical adventures of Harry Potter.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Music of Harry Potter

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

The Harry Potter films are one of the most successful franchises in history, and all seven movies that have been released so far are at the top of the box-office earnings list. The 8th and final installment, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2, premieres this week and is sure to meet or exceed the expectations established by the first seven movies. Although most famous for giving us characters like Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (played by Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (played by Rupert Grint), the movies have also given us a wealth of music that has set the tone and created the atmosphere in which the Harry Potter stories get translated onto the big screen.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Fiddle?

Written by Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle? Well, the old joke is: about $2,000. However, in recent years fiddlers have purchased extraordinarily nice (& valuable!) violins from us, putting that old joke in its place.

The truth is that the "fiddle" and the "violin" are the same instrument. The set up is somewhat different for the different styles of playing, but a fiddle can be a violin and a violin can be a fiddle. Or both. At the same time. The differences in the set up can also vary depending on the preferences of a player. 

For beginning violinists and fiddlers the similarities are many. Most beginning violinists use very stable strings- either nylon or metal core. This is also true for beginning fiddlers. Additionally,

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fantasy Role Play...
Band Camp: for Strings!

Written by Debra Krein of Fein Violins

What? Fantasy role play, you say? Yes. And it's for adults only, of course.

Not to worry, this fantasy role play is nothing scandalous. No, no. This is The Violin Shop, not craigslist, after all!

The fantasy I'm referring to here, is the chance for adult amateur musicians to live out their dreams, with a chance to perform with "the greatest orchestra in the world."[1]

Minnesota Orchestra Hall
Schematic design by KPMB Architects

Friday, July 8, 2011

Instruments In Space

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

Atlantis blasted off today for the last space shuttle mission. It's surprising how many astronauts are also musicians. You might think that performing on a musical instrument and traveling through outer-space would be two mutually exclusive activities. Surprisingly, many astronauts choose to use their limited allotment of personal items to bring instruments with them, and on rare occasions they broadcast their performances back to earth. During a 2011 interview with National Public Radio, astronaut Cady Coleman played her flute for the audience and talked about the important role music plays in her life on the space station.

Cady Coleman isn't the first astonaunt to perform in outer space. In 1993, Space Shuttle Discovery mission specialist and classical flutist, Ellen Ochoa, had a flute performance broadcast back to earth for an educational event.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Learning the Violin as an Adult

 Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

I love the new players who come in to our shop to look for instruments. There is a certain look in their eye, a moment of hesitation before getting a little more comfortable with us, and certain sense of both nervousness and excitement. Sometimes these new players are adults, and there is one consistency among all of them. They all seem to think that we are going to act like they are crazy for wanting to learn to play the violin (or viola, or cello) as an adult. Au contraire!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So You Think You Found a Stradivarius

Written by Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
Stefan Aune, & Angela Newgren

So, you think you found a Stradivarius? Unfortunately, YOU PROBABLY DID NOT FIND A STRADIVARIUS! It probably is not a Stradivarius!
A real Stradivarius violin. You probably do not have one. 
Even if the instrument has a Stradivarius label and has been in your family for generations, YOU PROBABLY DON'T HAVE A STRADIVARIUS! 

First, Stradivarius was a real person (Antonius Stradivarius). He was born in Cremona, Italy in 1644 and he worked there until his death in 1737. If you have an instrument that is dated outside the timeline of Antonius Stradivarius's life, it is not a Stradivarius. If you have an instrument that's marked "Made in Germany" or "Made in Czechoslovakia", it's definitely not a Stradivarius. Even if you have a violin that isn't marked "Made in Germany" or "Made in Czechoslovakia" and even if the date is from the 1700s- YOU PROBABLY DON'T HAVE A STRADIVARIUS.
The 'Messiah' Stradivarius. No, your "Stradivarius" does not look exactly like this.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stradivarius vs. Guarnerius

Written By: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

In this corner... Antonius Stradivarius. Apprenticed to Amati at a young age, he was the first violin maker in his family. Stradivarius was a sober and industrious guy that led a large workshop cranking out his instruments for almost 60 years, from about 1680 to 1737. He made more than 2,000 instruments of which about 600 still exist, mainly violins, violas and cellos. If you know anything about violins or violin makers, you know the name Stradivarius.

In the opposite corner... Giuseppe Guarnerius, known as del Gesu.

Friday, July 1, 2011

BUZZ! What To Do When Your Instrument Is Buzzing

 Written by: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Most string players have experienced this -- One day you pick up your instrument and instead of the beautiful tone you usually get, you get "BUZZ." Either all over the instrument or on just one particular note. It can drive you crazy.
Or crazier. You are a musician, right?

I'll walk you through the steps I take when someone brings a buzzing instrument into the shop.

1) Look at the strings. If there is a spot on one or more of the strings where the winding is worn, that will make a buzz. Change that string(s). That usually takes care of string buzz.

2) Look at the E string tuner. It should be secured to the tailpiece. If it is loose, tighten it. Also, look at the arm under the tailpiece if you have that style of tuner. If it is touching the top, that will cause a buzz. Back it up all the way and use your peg to re-tune your E string.

3) Look where the tailpiece goes under or near the chinrest. Is the tailpiece touching the chinrest? That will cause a buzz. Move the chinrest.

4) Is there dust, polish or schmutz in the narrow spaces of the f holes? Try blowing those areas clean with a quick puff of breath. Or use a compressed gas duster such as ones that are used for cleaning electronics. If that doesn't work, your violin repairer should be able to very carefully clean that out for you.