A book and a DVD dedicated to the Stradivarius myth

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Stradivarius and Cremona lutherie. Jean-Philippe Echard. Editions of the Philharmonie de Paris. 251 pages. €39. April 2022

Janine Jansen (violin), Antonio Pappano (piano): “Falling for Stradivari”, documentary by Gerald Fox. Clara Schumann (1819-1896): Romance No. 1. Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962): Liebesleid. Josef Suk (1874-1935): Song of love. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943): Andante from the sonata for cello and piano. Manuel de Falla (1876-1946): Spanish Dance, arrangement by Kreisler. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Piece in the shape of a Habanera. Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Melody from Souvenir d’un lieu cher. Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Sospiri. Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881): Despair from Three romances without words. Robert Schumann (1810-1856): Fantasiestücke No. 1 for clarinet and piano. Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937): The Fountain of Arethuse, extract from Myths. Jerome Kern (1885-1945): Yesterdays from Roberta. 1 DVD/Blu-ray Arthaus Music. Film in English, subtitled in English, German and Japanese. Duration: 131 minutes

The simultaneous publication of a remarkable work by Éditions de la Philharmonie de Paris and a superb DVD by Janine Jansen revives the Stradivarius myth.

The notoriety of Antonio Stradivari is such, more than two hundred and fifty years after his birth, that the very name of Stradivarius is used to designate a perfect work, a masterpiece. A remarkable work by the Musée de la musique uses the instruments held by its collections to analyze the reasons for this myth and its birth in the 19th century.

Last June, the violin that belonged to Toscha Seidel was sold at auction for 15.3 million dollars, a little below the historical record attached to the “Lady Blunt” sold for 15.9 million in 2011. Common point between these two instruments , they were both from the workshop of Antonio Stradivari (1648-1737), more famous under his signature of Stradivarius. Of all the luthiers of Cremona, he remains the best known, the one whose instruments are the most sought after by great soloists, even though his finest productions are now more than three hundred years old. The book published by the Cité de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris and which is due to Jean-Philippe Echard, curator of bowed string instruments at the Musée de la musique, sets out to identify the reasons for this notoriety which borders on myth. It is based on the instruments owned by the museum, essentially following donations from collectors, mainly made in the 19th century. In addition to the exceptional quality of the illustrations, which make it a feast for the eyes (let us mention in particular the striking view of the interior of a cello by Garneri), it is worth by its erudition, its knowledge of the technique specific to the luthier ( and he judiciously underlines the importance assigned to the tools, forms and preparatory drawings for the realization). The supremacy of Stradivarius over his contemporaries and colleagues appears due as much to his longevity as to his perfectionist character, to the extreme care given to the production. Two chapters in particular arouse fascinating reflections; the one entitled “to great men, grateful violin making” highlights a founding text “the chelonomy or the perfect luthier” by Abbé Sibire published in 1806. There is indeed expressed the idea that violin making has reached a peak unsurpassable in Cremona at the turn of the XVIIᵉ to the XVIIIᵉ century and that any subsequent attempt must limit its ambition to approaching this unsurpassable perfection. This idea, which coincides with the need felt by successive great virtuosos, Viotti and above all Paganini of course, to have powerful instruments capable of projecting their sound into ever larger halls is all the more striking in that it contradicts that, valid in the other arts and sciences of a continuous progress. Equally fascinating is the chapter devoted to the “values ​​of a Cremona violin” which clearly shows how the value of an instrument is now the fruit not only of its own quality, of its authenticity but also of its history and of the illustrious owners. who played it. By the richness of its text, the beauty of its illustrations, the erudition of its author, it is a major work likely to interest not only luthiers and violinists but also music lovers with curious minds. In this sense it harmoniously completes an earlier collective work published ten years ago in the collection of the Dijon Opera and to which Jean-Philippe Echard had already collaborated: The Italian violin, a second human voice (Aside).

By a happy coincidence, an exciting DVD was released at the same time featuring twelve violins by the great luthier played by Janine Jansen, preceded by a documentary based on the erudition of Steven Smith, managing director of the great English merchant J. and A. Beare.

This documentary film in English only and subtitled in English, German and Japanese (but unfortunately not French) reports on the experience of the English merchant J. and A. Beare who brought together under the leadership of his general manager Steven Smith twelve “Strad” and entrusted them to Janine Jansen. The violinist plays herself on one of these twelve Stradivariuses, loaned as is almost always the case today by a generous patron, so much the stratospheric prices reached by these instruments make them inaccessible to instrumentalists. The second part of the DVD/Blu-ray is thus devoted to a recital given with Antonio Pappano on keyboard in Cadogan Hall in London on these instruments; the result is moreover unequally convincing, as much the Liebesleid by Kreisler on a violin that once belonged to the composer is marvelously moving, both the spanish dance de Falla arranged by the same sounds quite aggressively, while we are surprised at the choice of the slow movement of the Sonata by Rachmaninoff for cello to pay homage to Milstein. Another summit to salute, the rare romance without words “despair” of Vieuxtemps on his own instrument. And the recital, an astonishing exercise, ends with a song by Jérome Kern on the Shumsky that the Dutch soloist precisely touches. A few archive images (Milstein, Ida Haendel, Oscar Shumsky) enrich the documentary where Steven Smith’s erudition and technical remarks prove to be much richer than Janine Jansen’s exclamations of enthusiasm in front of each new instrument.

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More details

Stradivarius and Cremona lutherie. Jean-Philippe Echard. Editions of the Philharmonie de Paris. 251 pages. €39. April 2022

Janine Jansen (violin), Antonio Pappano (piano): “Falling for Stradivari”, documentary by Gerald Fox. Clara Schumann (1819-1896): Romance No. 1. Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962): Liebesleid. Josef Suk (1874-1935): Song of love. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943): Andante from the sonata for cello and piano. Manuel de Falla (1876-1946): Spanish Dance, arrangement by Kreisler. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Piece in the shape of a Habanera. Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Melody from Souvenir d’un lieu cher. Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Sospiri. Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881): Despair from Three romances without words. Robert Schumann (1810-1856): Fantasiestücke No. 1 for clarinet and piano. Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937): The Fountain of Arethuse, extract from Myths. Jerome Kern (1885-1945): Yesterdays from Roberta. 1 DVD/Blu-ray Arthaus Music. Film in English, subtitled in English, German and Japanese. Duration: 131 minutes

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A book and a DVD dedicated to the Stradivarius myth – ResMusica