Friday, January 27, 2012

Classical Music Riots from Richard Wagner to Steve Reich

By Stefan Aune

Awhile back I wrote a blog about the riot that broke out at the premiere of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The audience became so violent that the police shut down the performance, resulting in plenty of publicity for Stravinksy's tonally and artistically controversial ballet. You may be surprised to learn that The Rite of Spring premiere isn't the only instance of classical music rioting. In fact, there have been several instances throughout history where the emotions of the audience were moved in the direction of yelling, fighting, or disruption. Here are a few of the most famous incidents:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mirecourt, France. Where the Seeds of French Bow Making Were Sown.

By Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

In the twenty-first century, violin makers (luthiers) and bow makers (archetiers) are usually two separate people with skill sets that are very rarely combined. It would seem that a luthier would be interested in making the bows that go with their instruments, but bow making is entirely its own occupation.

Violin bow attributed to Francois Jude Gaulard, Mirecourt, ca. 1845-1850

Mirecourt, France. Headwaters of French Violin Making

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker and Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

Many of France's best violin and bow makers from the 1700s to the present day share a very similar biography - Jacques (or Jean-Baptiste, Jeanne, Rene', Renee', Andre', Emile, etc.) were born in Mirecourt where they learned the trade from their father (or uncle, grandfather, brother,mother, sister, etc.). Starting at about age twelve, they worked at the bench with their family making instruments and bows... A shop owner in Paris (Vuillaume, Chanot, Caressa, Francais, etc.) heard of their talent and invited them to come to Paris. In Paris they received great acclaim for their work... Or didn't, so they slunk back to Mirecourt and toiled away in one of the production workshops there.

An H. Derazey violin, Mirecourt circa 1860

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

By Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is one of the best cultural assets in Minnesota. Located in our shop's city (Saint Paul, MN), the SPCO is one of a very few professional chamber orchestras in the United States. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra was established in 1959, and for more than 50 years, they have accomplished a tremendous amount in their music, and in their collaboration with soloists, composers, artistic partners and conductors.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Beheading of Léopold Renaudin - French Violin Maker & Revolutionary

By Stefan Aune

Léopold Renaudin was a french violin maker who was born, like may of the greatest French makers, in the city of Mirecourt in the Lorraine region. He left home for Paris at the age of 16 and apprenticed with an unknown violin maker, eventually working from home and cultivating a profitable business. He was a skilled maker, who made a cello for Boccherini and worked for the Academie Royale de Musique. Renaudin is particularly known for the high quality of his basses.
A violin by Leopold Renaudin

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Carnegie Hall's National Youth Orchestra of the U.S.A.

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? I don't even have to fill in the answer. Every musician already knows this joke. How about if you're a teen, ages sixteen to nineteen? The answer's the same, except now you can become part of the National Youth Orchestra of the U.S.A.
Carnegie Hall

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

By Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

Living the life of a performing violinist is (of course) a topic that captures all of us who play and listen to classical music. These virtuosos have a long list of accomplishments such as creating flawless repertoires, traveling across the world, winning competitions, judging competitions, starting foundations and much more. They are given (well deserved) instruments from various philanthopists and companies to perform their music, giving us the opportunity to hear the best from the best.
From our time comes a violinist who has mastered her playing, and also has one of the most interesting stories I've come across.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg & her 1721 Petrus Guarnerius of Venice

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Erica Morini and the Davidoff Stradivarius

By Andy Fein, Violin Maker and Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.
In this era of so many great women violin soloists, Anne-Sophie MutterRachel Barton PineHilary HahnLara St. JohnAnne Akiko Meyers, Sarah Chang, Midori, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and many others, it's hard to imagine a time when being a woman violinist and trying to make it as a soloist was very, very difficult. Solely because you were female!

That time was not very long ago. The first half of the twentieth century was a rough time for women violinists and it stayed that way at least through the 1960s!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Goffriller, Montagnana, and the Golden Age of Venetian Violin Makers

By Stefan Aune

In recent blogs we have focused on the city of Cremona, Italy, the renowned violin-making hub that gave us the names Amati, Stradivarius, and Guarnerius. While Cremona is certainly the nexus from which much of violin making history resonates, attention must also be paid to the city of Venice, renowned for its rich musical culture as well as its violin makers.

A Painting of the Venetian Canals by Joseph Turner
The political and economic context of Venice played a significant role in the development of its violin making culture. Venice was a "cultural crossroads" for commerce and art, with Saracens, Arabs, and Greeks rubbing shoulders with Europeans. The city was always staunchly independent from its European neighbors, hesitant to enter into long term alliances and agreements. The focus of Venetian politics was on propagating its trading culture, which flourished and made the city one of the mercantile centers of the world. Venice also maintained its independence from the Roman Catholic Church to such a degree that one of the popes excommunicated the entire city.  This was later reversed.

This independence resulted in two fundamental differences between the violin making cultures of Cremona and Venice. Whereas Cremona's fame derived from its provision of instruments to the courts of European royalty, Venetian makers made instruments for all classes of people, rich and poor alike. Additionally, the lack of church connections meant that Venice didn't benefit from the influences that spurred the development of the Cremonese violin designs. Consequently, the famous Venetian makers appear slightly after the rise of the Cremonese makers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Paypal and the Mystery of the Smashed Violin

By Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

The internet payment service Paypal faces heavy criticism after a recent story in which a seller claims Paypal "forced" a buyer who disputed the authenticity of a violin to destroy it in order to get their money back. According to the Guardian a seller named "Erica" sold an old French violin to a buyer in Canada for $2500, and had the violin authenticated by a "top luthier" prior to sale. Obviously we don't' know who the luthier was, and it goes without saying that violin makers often disagree on the authenticity of labels and instruments, but irregardless, the buyer disputed the authenticity of the instrument upon receiving it.

Rather than simply get in touch with the seller and arrange to return the instrument, the buyer contacted Paypal directly to try and get their money back. Paypal responded that in the case of "counterfeit" merchandise (a category that a disputed violin absolutely does not belong in) the buyer must provide evidence of having destroyed the merchandise in order to get their money back. The buyer proceeded to smash the violin and send pictures of the wreckage to the seller. Paypal gave the buyer their money back, and the seller was out both the money and the violin.

The Smashed Violin
A close examination of Paypal's regulations confirms that they may require a buyer to destroy an item claimed to be "counterfeit." In the case of something as precious as an old violin, the sheer senselessness of this policy boggles the mind. There is absolutely no reason that this violin should have been destroyed, and now this instrument is lost forever. This was not a "counterfeit" violin, but rather a violin with a disputed interior label. This sort of situation is hardly exceptional. Violin makers often disagree over instrument authenticity. Appraising a violin is a complicated and delicate process that involves examining pieces of wood that are often hundreds of years old, and sorting out original work from repair work, and false labels from authentic labels.

It is unconscionable that Paypal would have a violin destroyed in order to resolve an internet business transaction. They have neither the expertise nor the ability to reliably resolve a dispute over a violin, and ordering the violin destroyed benefits no one. If the seller was unhappy with the violin they should have simply returned it. Hopefully the exposure garnered by this incident will result in a change of policy for Paypal, and ensure that this situation is never repeated. Old violins are a precious commodity, and the last thing we want to see is someone taking a hammer to one in order to get a refund.

Here is The Guardian's article in its entirety.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lara St. John

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
 and Angie Newgren

One of our favorite violinists hails from Canada. A violinist who has mastered performances for a lifetime, Lara St John  has had a natural talent for the violin since she was young. Her talent bloomed into a career that has given people all over the world the opportunity to hear the true beauty of this instrument. 

How is her first name pronounced? As she says on her Facebook page, "Pronounced Lara. Exactly as spelled. (there is no 'u' in my given name). Like bar, like car, like star".

Lara St John