"Long before it's in the papers"
June 04, 2013

RETURN TO THE WORLD SCIENCE HOME PAGE


Fungus-treated violin beats Strad in blind test

Sept. 15, 2009
Courtesy EMPA
and World Science staff

A re­search­er has put a newly de­vel­oped, fun­gally treated vi­o­lin in a blind con­test against one made in 1711 by the most famed vi­o­lin mak­er of his­to­ry—and the newer fid­dle won.

The event took place Sept. 1 at an an­nu­al con­fer­ence on for­est hus­band­ry, the Os­na­brück­er Baum­p­fle­ge­ta­gen, in Os­na­brück, Ger­ma­ny.

Swiss vio­lin maker Mi­chael Rhon­heim­er with one of his “bio­tech” vio­lins. (Pho­to: Em­pa)


Sci­ent­ist Fran­cis Schwar­ze of EMPA, the Swiss Fed­er­al Lab­o­r­a­to­ries for Ma­te­ri­als Test­ing and Re­search, de­vel­oped the new vi­o­lin by treat­ing it with spe­cially se­lected fun­gus, which he says im­proves the sound qual­ity by mak­ing the wood light­er and more un­iform.

In the test, the Brit­ish star vi­o­linist Mat­thew Trus­ler played five dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments be­hind a cur­tain, so that the au­di­ence did­n’t know which was be­ing played. One of the vi­o­lins Trusler played was his own “Strad,” or in­stru­ment made by the most sto­ried vi­o­lin mak­er of his­to­ry, An­to­nio Strad­i­vari, in Ita­ly in the 18th cen­tury.

The oth­er four were all made by Swiss vi­o­lin mak­er Mi­chael Rhon­heim­er—two with Schwar­ze’s fun­gally-treated wood, the oth­er two with un­treated wood.

A ju­ry of ex­perts, to­geth­er with the con­fer­ence par­ti­ci­pants, judged the tone qual­ity of the vi­o­lins. Of the more than 180 at­ten­dees, al­most half, or 90, felt the tone of a fun­gally treated vi­o­lin dubbed “Opus 58” the best. The Strad reached sec­ond place with 39 votes, but 113 mem­bers of the au­di­ence thought that “Opus 58” was ac­tu­ally the Strad. 

“O­pus 58” was the one made from wood that had been treated with fun­gus for the longest time, nine months, Schwar­ze said.

Strad­i­var­i­us vi­o­lins are re­garded as be­ing of un­par­al­leled qual­ity even to­day, com­mand­ing prices in the mil­lions. Strad­i­vari him­self knew lit­tle of wood-at­tacking fun­gi, but Schwar­ze claims the mas­ter re­ceived in­ad­vert­ent help from a “Lit­tle Ice Age” which oc­curred from 1645 to 1715. Dur­ing this pe­ri­od Cen­tral Eu­rope suf­fered long win­ters and cool sum­mers which caused trees to grow slowly and un­iformly – cre­at­ing ide­al con­di­tions for the fun­gus to at­tack.

For the new vi­o­lins, Schwar­ze uses Nor­we­gian spruce wood treated with the fun­gus Physi­por­i­nus vit­rius and syc­a­more treated with Xy­laria lon­gipes.

The re­sult means that “in the fu­ture even tal­ent­ed young mu­si­cians will be able to af­ford a vi­o­lin with the same ton­al qual­ity as an im­pos­sibly ex­pen­sive Strad­i­var­i­us,” said Horst Heger of the Os­na­brück City Con­serv­a­tory. Schwarze said the new in­stru­ments would probably run about $25,000.

“Com­pared to a con­ven­tion­al in­stru­ment, a vi­o­lin made of wood treated with the fun­gus has a warm­er, more round­ed sound,” he added.


* * *

Send us a comment on this story, or send it to a friend









 

Sign up for
e-newsletter
   
 
subscribe
 
cancel

On Home Page         

LATEST

  • Meet­ing on­line may lead to hap­pier mar­riages

  • Pov­erty re­duction, environ­mental safe­guards go hand in hand: UN re­port

EXCLUSIVES

  • Was black­mail essen­tial for marr­iage to evolve?

  • Plu­to has even cold­er “twin” of sim­ilar size, studies find

  • Could simple an­ger have taught people to coop­erate?

  • Diff­erent cul­tures’ mu­sic matches their spe­ech styles, study finds

MORE NEWS

  • F­rog said to de­scribe its home through song

  • Even r­ats will lend a help­ing paw: study

  • D­rug may undo aging-assoc­iated brain changes in ani­mals

A researcher has put a newly developed, fungally treated violin in a blind contest against one made in 1711 by the most famed Italian violin maker of history—and the newer fiddle won. The event took place Sept. 1 at an annual conference on forest husbandry, the Osnabrücker Baumpflegetagen, in Osnabrück, Germany. Scientist Francis Schwarze of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research developed the new violin by treating it with specially selected fungus, which he said improves the sound quality by making the wood lighter and more uniform. In the test, the British star violinist Matthew Trusler played five different instruments behind a curtain, so that the audience didn’t know which was being played. One of the violins Trusler played was his own “Strad,” one of the instruments made by the most storied violin maker of history, Antonio Stradivarius, in Italy in 1911. The other four were all made by Swiss violin maker Michael Rhonheimer—two with Schwarze’s fungally-treated wood, the other two with untreated wood. A jury of experts, together with the conference participants, judged the tone quality of the violins. Of the more than 180 attendees, almost half, or 90, felt the tone of a fungally treated violin dubbed “Opus 58” the best. The strad reached second place with 39 votes, but 113 members of the audience thought that “Opus 58” was actually the strad. “Opus 58” was the one made from wood that had been treated with fungus for the longest time, nine months, Schwarze said. Stradivarius violins are regarded as being of unparalleled quality even today, commanding prices in the millions. Stradivarius himself knew little of wood-attacking fungi, but Schwarze claims the master received inadvertent help from a “Little Ice Age” which occurred from 1645 to 1715. During this period Central Europe suffered long winters and cool summers which caused trees to grow slowly and uniformly – creating ideal conditions for the fungus to attack. For the new violins, Schwarze uses Norwegian spruce wood treated with the fungus Physiporinus vitrius and sycamore treated with Xylaria longipes. The result means that “in the future even talented young musicians will be able to afford a violin with the same tonal quality as an impossibly expensive Stradivarius,” said Horst Heger of the Osnabruck City Conservatory. Schwarze said the new instruments would probably run about $25,000. “Compared to a conventional instrument, a violin made of wood treated with the fungus has a warmer, more rounded sound,” he added.