Thursday, 03 Jul, 2008 Science

The Secret of the Stradivarius Sound Has Been Revealed


The remarkable sound of a Stradivarius violin has been revealed. Scientists used a medical scanner to discover that the violin has a unique sound due to the extraordinary even density of the wood it is made of. It is worth mentioning that during a three-century period, various musicians and researchers tried to find an answer regarding the exceptional quality of the classical Cremonese violins created by such remarkable Italian artists as Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu.

Finally, scientists believe to have found the answer. A doctor living in the Netherlands, Berend Stoel, along with the artist that creates violins in Arkansas, Terry Borman, were able to discover the mystery behind the exceptional sound of the Italian masters' violins. The two performed a comparative analysis of 5 classical and 8 modern violins using a computer tomography scanner, which is generally used to examine patients.

The doctor and the violin maker examined the physical properties of the violins with the help of an adaptation of a computer program, which was developed with the goal of estimating lung densities in patients with emphysema. In such a way researchers made their study without any damage to the instruments with a total value of millions of dollars.

There were no big dissimilarities found between the median densities of the two types of violins (modern and antique), but researchers found a significant difference between the early and late growth of wood grains in the ancient violins. Due to the fact that the differences in the density of the wood have an impact on the vibrations, thus affecting the quality of the sound, the finding can give the answer regarding the exclusiveness of the Cremonese violins. Researchers reported the results in the online journal PLoS ONE.

One reason why the woods of maple and spruce in a violin made by the Italian artists are so different is that the today's trees grow differently than in the past.

"Climate difference could explain part of it but treatment of the wood could be another explanation. A third answer could simply be the ageing of the wood over the past 300 years. There is no way of knowing from this data; we've just shown there are density differences." mentioned Dr. Berend Stoel of the Leiden University Medical Center told Reuters.

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