Unlocking the Mystery of the Stradivarius

Note: This event has been cancelled in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

Did you love the 1998 movie “The Red Violin”? Then you might want to check out this special lecture that we’re bringing to the Musical Instrument Museum on March 28!

The first 20 CAZACS members to sign up can enjoy this event for free! Sign up here

What makes the Stradivarius the Stradivarius, i.e., the non-plus-ultra of all violins? The great masters of Cremona left no historical records of their methods, and violin makers have tried for two hundred years in vain to figure it out. It was left for the powers of modern science to shed light on the intricacies of the ancient art and elucidate its evolution during the golden era from 1560 till 1770.

First came the physicists who measured the stiffness of the violin wood and determined the vibrational/acoustical properties of the great violins, but this was not enough for the successful reconstruction of the masterpieces in neither visual nor acoustical regards. It took the efforts of chemists to analyze tiny fragments of the wood and varnish to recognize that Stradivari and members of the Guarneri family applied the knowledge of alchemists to the preservation and acoustical improvement of their wood before they set out to fashion their individual models of violins. The modern chemical-analytical methodology was introduced to this field in the late 1970s by the presenter of this program, who will explain in layman’s terms how a major international research effort unfolded and how the Stradivarius yielded bit by bit its secrets. By now we have gained a reasonably good understanding of how the great violins were designed, constructed, and how the materials were processed, including the stratigraphy of the beautiful finish that covers them. Due to these successes, we have entered a new golden age of violin making.

You can now have a an equivalent of a Stradivarius for a fraction of the price. Dr. Joseph Nagyvary has brought an unprecedented level of academic expertise to bear upon the age-old violin puzzle. A native of Hungary, he majored in chemistry at the Eotvos Lorand University of Budapest (1952-1956); he became a student of the Swiss Nobel Laureate Paul Karrer in 1957, and received his PhD in the chemistry of natural products in 1962.

While in Zurich, he had his first formal violin lessons on a violin which once belonged to Albert Einstein, a coincidence which helped turning his attention to the physical mysteries of the violin. He gained his first glimpses into the art of violin making from the Zurich luthier Amos Segesser. In 1963, he spent a postdoctoral year in Cambridge with Lord Alexander Todd, a British Nobel Laureate. He came to the United States in 1964, and settled down in Texas in 1968 where he has remained a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University until his retirement in 2003. Dr. Nagyvary was the recipient of a Career Development Grant, and numerous other research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the NASA. His discoveries concerning the classical violins were made public in over 255 lectures sponsored mainly by the American Chemical Society. On such occasions, his claims were examined by professionals and comparisons were made between Professor Nagyvary’s new recreations and the finest locally available antique Italian violins, including several Stradivaris.

The lecture will take place at 1pm on March 28, 2020, but we highly recommend that you come earlier and check out this fascinating museum! The event runs from 11a-3p

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