Edward John Payne, “Stradivari,” in: George Grove, A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, J. A. Fuller Maitland (ed.), Vol. 3, New York: Macmillan, 1898, p. 733.


 Joseph Joachim on Stradivari’s Violins

Dr. Joachim, after perusing the proofs of this article, has most kindly communicated to the writer, to be incorporated with it, a few words on the tone of Stradivari’s violins. He considers them as mines of musical sound, which the player must dig into, as it were, in order to develope their treasures, and attributes to them a peculiar responsiveness, enabling the earnest player to place himself completely en rapport with his instrument — a relation which, as Dr. Joachim’s audiences are well aware, is with him no matter of fancy, but a fact. After some preliminary observations, he continues: ‘While the violins of Maggini are remarkable for volume of tone, and those of Amati for liquidity, none of the celebrated masters exhibit the union of sweetness and power in so preeminent a degree as Giuseppe Guarnieri (del Gesù) and Antonio Stradivari. If I am to give expression to my individual feeling, I must pronounce for the latter as my chosen favourite. It is true that in brilliancy and clearness, and even in liquidity, Guarnieri in his best instruments is not surpassed by him: but what appears to me peculiar to the tone of Stradivari is a more unlimited capacity for expressing the most varied accents of feeling.[1] It seems to well forth like a spring, and to be capable of infinite modification under the bow. Stradivari’s violins, affording a strong resistance to the bow, when resistance is desired, and yet responding to its lightest breath, emphatically require that the player’s ear shall patiently listen until it catches the secret of drawing out their tone. Their beauty of tone is not so easily reached as in the case of many other makers. Their vibrations increase in warmth, the more the player, discovering their richness and variety, seeks from the instrument a sympathetic echo of his own emotions: so much so that they seem to be living beings, and become as it were the player’s personal familiars — as if Stradivari had breathed a soul into them, in a manner achieved by no other master. It is this which stamps them as creations of an artistic mind, as positive works of art.

[1] ‘Gefühls-accents.’ Dr. Joachim uses the term in the technical sense, signifying that peculiar touch and pressure of the bow and finger which the character of the music requires. Baillot enumerates no less than thirty different ‘accents,’ which he divides into four classes: 1. The simple and naïve; 2. The vague and indecisive; 3. the passionate and dramatic; 4. the calm and religious. It is an interesting confirmation of Dr. Joachim’s opinion that Paganini’s Joseph Guarnerius violin is fitted with a very light bridge, having no ‘heart’ or central hole, and extremely small and slender feet. This great player evidently found it impossible to obtain the requisite delicacy of tone in this instrument with an ordinary bridge, and therefore had to sacrifice power to expression.