Sunday, December 23, 2018

Berlioz, A Snuff Box, and a Requiem. It's Pretty Fantastic!

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins,
and Ivana Truong

File:Berlioz conducting.jpg
A cartoon of Berlioz conducting, originally captioned "Fortunately the hall is solid... it can stand the strain!"
Hector Berlioz, like many composers, was pretty crazy. In between composing masterpieces, he even almost murdered his ex-lover  (and her fiance and her mother!) while cross dressing as a maid. (You can read the full story on our past blogpost here)

But besides the murder-suicide plots, he was also pretty paranoid. So while the truth is questionable, here is a story from his memoir, of how his famous Requiem, the "Grande Messe des Morts," was almost sabotaged at its premiere.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Your Brain on Strings

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins,
and Ivana Truong

Music unifies us, it's enjoyable, and as it turns out, beneficial to our health. A review of 400 studies done by Professor Daniel J. Levitin suggests that music can increase the quantity of certain antibodies and immune cells. After just 50 minutes of listening, participants had increased levels of antibodies. Interestingly, depending on music preferences or genre, the effect changed. Listening to happy, dancing music caused more of a boost than a random playlist of songs.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Goffriller Cellos. For Cellists- Goffriller > Stradivarius?

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins,
and Ivana Truong

We've written several times about Stradivari's cellos. As beautiful as these instruments are, many are not in their original condition. Stradivarius made BIG cellos for much of his life and most of those big cellos have been 'cut down' to make them more playable for a modern concert cellist.
Amit 10.jpg
Amit Peled on "Pablo", Pablo Casals'  1733 Goffriller
Matteo Goffriller, worked in about the same period as Stradivarius (1670s-1742, for Goffriller; 1670s -1737 for Straidvarius), but made a number of smaller cellos throughout his life. An uncut 1728 Goffriller cello has a back length of 757mm, as opposed to the 794mm of the Lord Aylesford Stradivarius. However, Goffriller's instruments vary greatly since he made every instrument to order. His cellos are smaller or larger, and made from better or worse quality materials depending on who it was made for, what type of sound they wanted, and how much they were willing to pay. Ahh, some things never change!

Monday, October 29, 2018

All About Tailpieces- Long, Short, and Fine Tuned

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong
with comparison videos by Diane Houser and Megan Scott
A Schmidt Harp Style tailpiece made from Pernambuco

Tailpieces do far more than hold your strings on to your instrument. And then there's the BIG question of how many fine tuners to use, if any. One? Two? Four? None?

What sounds best? Or- does it affect your tone and playability at all?

Pernambuco tailpiece with four fine tuners made by Bois d'Harmonie

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Eva Mudocci- Violinist and Muse for Edvard Munch.

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins and
Ivana Truong

You know those stories about a picture or a violin or something turning up in grandma's attic after being stored away for 50 years? Very infrequently, it's actually something worth taking a second look at. Even less frequently, it's something of value.

St. Olaf College, in Northfield, MN had one of those moments recently. A painting that they've had in their collection and hung on the wall in the president's dining room for about 20 years might have been painted by Edvard Munch, the painter of "The Scream".

What caught my ear in this story was the speculation that the subject of the painting was a violinist, Eva Mudocci.
Image result for st olaf munch
"Eva", the possible Munch

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Know Your Rosin - It's a Sticky Situation

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Magic Rosin with the Fein Violins logo  

It's been several years since we've blogged about Rosin.  The basics really haven't changed- Every string player needs rosin on their bow. And, in fact, the way the rosin works hasn't changed in several hundred years. But our understanding of how rosin works on a horsehair bow is becoming more in depth.

The differences in the many varieties and qualities of rosin for violin, viola, or cello seem to come from these factors- the season of the year the tapping is done, the specific species of evergreen that is tapped, how the rosin is refined from the resin, and what, if any, sprinklings of fairy dust are added.
Magic Rosin. It's clear!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Left Handed Violins

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Occasionally, we get calls from beginners, or their parents, desperately searching for a "left handed violin".  Andy's mother was a lefty and the cello expert at our shop is a lefty, so we know the challenges that left handed people face in many aspects of life. And we know that guitars are made left handed. But guitar construction is not the same as violin family construction or playing. So here's our contention (and Megan, a left-handed cellist absolutely agrees!)- VIOLINS (and violas, and cellos) ARE LEFT HANDED as they are standardly set up. That is, the fine finger movement and hand control necessary to play a stringed instrument is centered in the left hand. Lefties have an advantage when it comes to playing violin, viola or cello- their brains are already wired for the movements to play a violin family instrument. It's righties that have some brain training to do in this regard.

The bow is held in the right hand. While there is a lot of bow finesse to learn, it's mainly macro muscle arm and hand movements. So, again, lefties are already set up to play stringed instruments the way they are already constructed.

The insides of a violin look like this-
soundpost on the E (treble) side and a bass bar on the G (bass) side

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

BIG Violas and Lionel Tertis

Lionel Tertis

image from courtesy of Margaret and Robert Lyons

By Andy Fein, Luthier, Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Lionel Tertis was a giant of the viola world. He brought the viola and viola playing into the 20th century as a viola soloist and commissioner of new viola solo compositions. A true giant of the viola world. But he was not a giant of a man. More like an average sized guy. But he loved the big, deep, bass-like sound that big violas produce. Throughout his career, he played a 17'' Carlo Antonio Testore viola from 1735, as well as a 17 3/4'' Gasparo da Salo viola. He met his match in Paris in 1920 when he discovered a huge Montagnana viola that was made in 1717. The Montagnana viola was 17 1/8" ( 434mm). To play a viola that large comfortably and without injury from long term use, I'd insist that the player be well over 6'! Preferably, over 6'4". Alas, Tertis was 5'6'', not anywhere near that tall. What to do, what to do?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Before Cremona- Where Did the Violin Come From?

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Where did the violin family come from?

"1647 Nicola Amati Violin"

Used by permission of the author and publisher of BC, Before Cremona, All rights reserved

It's possible, although not probable, that Andrea Amati woke up one morning and said (in Italian, of course!) "Hey! I've got a great idea for a four stringed musical instrument that doesn't have any frets, is tuned in fifths, has f-holes, violin type corners, pegs that project out to the sides,  and that you play with a stick that has rosined horse hair on it." More likely, the instruments we know as the violin, viola, and cello slowly evolved from previous instruments and were an amalgamation of ideas for instruments that had preceded them by centuries.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Craft Beer and the Craft of Composing- Joey Crane, Composer and Beer Guy

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins 
and Ivana Truong

In the constantly expanding world of craft beer, it's hard to know what to try, what to avoid, and what is not to your taste. To help guide you, wine has sommeliers, beer has cicerones. A cicerone is a "beer person"  that actually knows what they're talking about. For me (Andy, Ivana's too young to drink), that person is Joey Crane. I first met him at The Ale Jail on St. Clair Ave. in St. Paul. I was perusing the many craft beers and Joey introduced himself as the beer person there. I went away from that first encounter with several beers to try. Now, several years later, I can proclaim without any hint of beer snobbery that "I really like Belgian Ales with secondary in bottle fermentation." And for most cicerones, that's about as far as I'd get to know the person.
Composer Joey Crane

Monday, July 30, 2018

Amati Cellos

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins and
Ivana Truong
Fig. 1. Andrea Amati (Italian, ca. 1505รข€“1578). Violoncello, "The King" (detail), mid-16th century. National Music Museum, Vermillion, South Dakota, Witten-Rawlins Collection, 1984 (NMM 3351)
'The King' made by Andrea Amati, the oldest surviving cello

image from The Met
In an upcoming blog post, we'll be reviewing a book titled BC Before Cremona which traces the lineages of violin family instruments leading up to the early Cremonese makers in the mid 1500s. But somewhere around the 1520s to 1530s- POOF- violins, violas, and cellos started to be made. Who was the first? There are many names tossed around, but Andrea Amati was certainly an early maker of violin family instruments.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Stradivarius vs. Guarnerius Cellos

By Andy Fein, Luthier, Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Recently, cellist Pablo Ferrandez had the incredible opportunity to compare two great cellos- the 'Aylesford' Stradivarius cello of 1696 and a Joseph filius Andrea Guarnerius cello made in 1694. As you can tell, this made Pablo Ferrandez very happy. Very, very happy!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Women Composers That You Should Hear!

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Most of the Western Classical Music world has been dominated for centuries by male composers.
Or, at least we think it has. Many great women composers have lived and died, and many are actively writing beautiful music today. Who are they? Where are they? How come we don't know more about them?  Well, let's start with classical concert programmers. A recent article in The Guardian by Mark Brown pointed out that about 95% of all the classical music on concert programs through 2019 was by male composers. Is it possible that male composers wrote 95% of all the classical music that's worth listening to or performing? Of course not! 

Fanny Mendelssohn, 'Women in European History'

Friday, June 22, 2018

'Playing In', 'Breaking In' a New Instrument. Is it a Thing?

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
and Ivana Truong

Our own Patrizio Stradivari model violin being "played in" with Classical MPR

You often hear a string player talk about how their violin, viola, or cello has really "opened up" in the weeks, months, or years since they first bought it. A statement like that is so common, we assume it's true. But is it? What actually happens when an instrument is "played in"? Does it really "open up"? Is there really a "breaking in" period?
The absolute, categorical, definitive answer to that is---- 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Joachim, Some Grand-Nieces, and a Seance = The Schumann Violin Concerto

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins,
and Ivana Truong

The Schumann Violin Concerto!!! One of your favorites, right? You see it on an orchestra's upcoming season and you're buying tickets the very next minute, right? Ummmmm? Not so much??? Never heard of the Schumann Violin Concerto or heard it played? You're in the vast majority of the classical music audience. The Schumann Violin Concerto is rarely played. And, so goes the consensus, for good reason.