Nagyvary Violins is the practical outgrowth of 30 years of research
by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary into the materials and mechanics of violins made in Cremona, Italy
in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is based on several breakthrough
discoveries achieved in state-of-the-art laboratories which give us a realistic chance of approaching the level of excellence of
the legendary masters.
The first breakthrough in our
understanding of the Cremona
violins was provided in the 1972 book of Simone F. Sacconi. He proposed
that the ground of the old Italian violins was made of potassium silicate,
his proposition being based on chemical analysis of the wood-varnish
interface by an unidentified chemist. Although this claim could not be
verified, it issued a challenge to identify the mineral ground more
accurately. Sacconis ideas fit well into the chemical paradigm of
violinmaking that was subsequently developed by Dr. Nagyvary. Following a
decade of historical research, Dr. Nagyvary first announced his thesis at the
1978 Violin Society of America convention that the quality of the materials
is as important determinant of the Italian tone as the wood-crafting
workmanship. In addition to the macro operations, the violin also has to be
crafted on the micro-scale at the cellular and molecular level. Most makers
and researchers of the violin believed that the key to the cherished Italian
tone lies in the proper tuning of the free plates to certain low frequencies.
In contrast, Dr. Nagyvary has maintained that the essential feature of the Cremona tone, its
brilliance and purity, has little to do with low frequency tuning which is a
necessary but rudimentary requirement. Rather it is caused by an elaborate
process of wood treatment and the application of certain filler materials,
which enhance the high frequency emission and reduce the noise level. In his
seminal paper (1978, J. Violin Soc.) he postulated three critical material
requirements. In 1982, Nagyvary pioneered the use of cutting edge
microanalysis, the EDX spectroscopy, to show that the wood of a Guarneri
cello was treated with wood ash. Naturally, valuable contributions were also
made by other researchers in the past 15 years. The most recent work
published in Nature (2006) provided the first experimental proof that the
wood of Stradivari and Guarneri had been indeed chemically manipulated with
borax and other compounds.
Nagyvary Violins represents a break with violin making as it has
existed for the past 200 years. During this post-Stradivari era, most violins
were made of sap-heavy unpreserved wood and filled with homogeneous rubbery
varnishes consisting of linseed oil and oleoresins. More than just the
materials have changed since the days of Stradivari, who like his teacher and
other renaissance artists, relied on team work. Most violin makers nowadays
view themselves as individual artists who create signature-pieces of artwork.
At Nagyvary Violins, we make
recreations of the old Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins according to the
criteria that really count. Our focus is specifically on the material and
tonal reproduction of the Great Masters' work, which we greatly admire. We do
not create individual art works. Our instruments are made by a team of two
men: the distinguished craftsman Chen Guang-Yue and the scientist Dr.
Joseph Nagyvary, in a close collaboration. Dr. Nagyvary is in full control of
all structural and engineering aspects of the carving process; he tunes the
plates by carving away the last critical millimeter of wood and also by
applying chemical solutions. The selection and processing of the wood, the
application of preservatives, fillers and the varnish are all done by Dr.
Nagyvary who also performs all the acoustical testing and repeated
adjustments. The carving itself can be accomplished in a matter of weeks, but
the processes of fine-tuning of the parts and the assembled violin could
proceed on and off for at least one year. The violins get played in for
several weeks by electro-mechanical vibrators over the entire frequency
range. Each note is played many times into a computer-based signal analyzer
which provides a fingerprint of the sound (FFT power spectra). Unless this
fingerprint comes close to those of the fine Stradivari and Guarneri violins,
the new violin will be reworked, or priced as a less expensive student
violin. Knowing how to re-engineer a new and yet imperfect violin is one of
the most important skills of a good maker. The musician may not understand
the objective analysis, but he/she can clearly discern the clean, ringing and
focused tone and the easy, crisp response of the finished violin.
Similarities of sound spectra of the old and new violins would make it
difficult for the audience to tell them apart, but the player would still
hear the difference. Much of the perceived superiority of the old violins
lies in their lower noise level, which we believe to be a material property.
The attenuation of noise also seems to relate to the amount of playing time.
Violins made with our process are played in faster and possess less noise
than most new violins.
Public Reactions. Dr. Nagyvary's research should be viewed against a
backdrop of non-cooperation and direct animosity from many components of the
violin business who did not like his conclusions. The reasons for this
negative attitude can only be guessed. In contrast, Dr. Nagyvary found
nothing but support and approval by the educated scientific
societies during his lecture tours which took him to every state of the
union. Nagyvary's research and new instruments were vetted in hundreds
of public lecture-demonstrations. They were heard in several concerts,
including those by The Takats Quartet and The Muir Quartet, and they elicited
positive audience responses.