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violin with bow and music notes

The answer is not $999,900. Well, it is… but that’s only the minor difference between the $1,000,000 and $100 violins. The big question is: what causes this enormous price difference between the old master violins and the new ones? Why is it that we value old master violins so much more than the contemporary violins?

The birth of a master violin

The art of creating violins originates in the 16th century in Cremona, Italy. There, in the workshop of the Andrea Amati, the first violin came to life. The technique was then passed on to other members of the Amati family and to other master violin makers, such as the Guarneri and the Rugeri families. Of course, when we talk about master violins, we have to mention also the name of Antonio Stradivari, probably the most famous violin maker. His violins, known under the name of Stradivarius, are some of the most expensive violins, valued at millions of dollars.

These old master violins from the original violin makers are the most expensive violins on the market. They are also the most desired violins in the world, every violinist dreaming of playing one.

Does a listener prefer a master violin or a newer one?

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) tries to answer this question. The study, “Listener evaluations of new and old Italian violins” evaluates the projection of the sound of old master violins and newer ones. In this test, listeners evaluated the sounds of these instruments played by renowned violinists, without prior knowledge of the age of the violin.

The results show that, surprisingly, the listeners preferred the projection of the newer instruments compared to the Stradivarius violins. This was valid for the cases when the violinist played the instrument with and without an orchestra.

Moreover, a previous study by the same authors shows that violinists are not able to distinguish between old and new violins when playing under blind conditions.

What we need to keep in mind about these results is that only a few instruments were tested. In order to gain a more accurate statistics, more instruments, old and new, need to be considered. In addition, a wider audience and a larger number of violinists could help in getting more accurate statistics.

For now, it’s enough to recognize that how we enjoy the sound of old or new violins depends on many factors. What we need to remember is to take the time to listen and appreciate the art that is both the instrument and the music.

Are we too busy to appreciate the sound of a Stradivarius?

We like to think we love music and we buy expensive tickets to attend concerts and listen to good quality music played by renowned musicians. But, when we have the chance to do this for free, we completely ignore it.

In 2007, The Washington Post and Joshua Bell, a famous violin player, ran an experiment in a subway station in Washington. In this experiment, Joshua played six of the most difficult and exquisite classical music pieces on his $3.5 million Stradivarius. He played for 43 minutes in the morning when everyone was rushing through the subway station. The result? Out of 1,097 people who passed by during his mini-concert in the subway station, only seven people stopped to listen to his music. He also managed to gather a substantial fortune during this performance: $32! Just a tad less than what he received three nights before in Boston. His performance at the Boston Symphony House filled the concert hall, many of those tickets being sold for $100 each.

What does this experiment say about us? Do we only appreciate music when we pay for it? Or are we so busy and focused on our own lives that we can’t take a moment to admire the magnificence of the world around us?

If you want to read more about this, check out the Washington Post article that describes the Joshua Bell subway experiment.

We all have our busy lives, rushing to work, or to school or to do something else that’s very urgent. But maybe sometimes we should remember to just slow down and admire the surrounding beauties. Try it! You might find that your busy day suddenly gets better.

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