Stradivari — Die Geschichte einer Legende
(Stradivari — The History of a Legend)
2022-02-06 — Original posting
Interessante und lesenswerte Monographie zu Antonio Stradivari — Zusammenfassung
In einem sehr informativen und äußerst unterhaltsam geschriebenen Buch von 305 Seiten (erhältlich als Hardcover oder als PDF) beschreibt die in Bonn lebende Italienerin Alessandra Barabaschi Leben und Werk des wohl bekanntesten Geigenbauers Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737). Der Inhalt überdeckt ein breites Spektrum, beginnend bei den Ursprüngen des Namens, dem sozio-ökonomischen und politischen Kontext. Die Entstehung der Violine im Spätmittelalter, die Geschichte des Geigenbaus in Verona werden ebenso diskutiert wie Stradivaris familiärer Umkreis, seine Werkstatt, die Entstehung seiner Instrumente. Das Buch beschreibt Stradivaris Konkurrenten, wie auch die Protagonisten im Handel mit seiner Hinterlassenschaft.
Der untenstehende Bericht (in Englisch, wie alles in diesem Blog) gibt eine Übersicht über den Inhalt. Er beurteilt das Buch (und seine PDF-Version) jedoch auch in seiner Aufmachung, der Sprache, Stil, Qualität von Schriftsatz, Abbildungen, Seiten-Layout. Der Rezensent weist auf wünschbare Ergänzungen und mögliche Erweiterungen hin. Anmerkungen mögen teils kritisch klingen, sind aber primär das Resultat des Versuchs einer sorgfältigen und detaillierten Auseinandersetzung mit dem Text. Es schmälert kaum den Wert des Buches, das der Rezensent sehr empfehlen kann—nicht nur für MusikerInnen und SpezialistInnen, sondern ebenso für ein breiteres, musik-interessiertes Publikum.
Table of contents
- The Author: Alessandra Barabaschi
- What’s in the Book? An Outline
- An Exploratory Walk Through the Book
- Sources, Origins, Name / Genealogy, Ancestors
- Socio-Economic and Political Context
- Origins and Inventors of the Violin
- Leading up to the Baroque Violin Climax in Verona
- Stradivari’s First Marriage
- Family and Workshop
- Successes, Prominent Clients — And New Love
- Stradivari’s Career at its Peak
- Maturity and Death
- The Legacy
- The Aftermath
- Some Afterthoughts
- Technical Readability
- Bibliographic References
I have been invited to review the book “Stradivari — Die Geschichte einer Legende” (Stradivari — The Story of a Legend) by Alessandra Barabaschi (for the literature references see below).
This constitutes a somewhat unusual review in the context of this blog. For one, of the around 600 blog posts so far, this is merely the second book review. My concert and media reviews leave me very little, if any time to read books. So, this cannot be a major focal point in my blog.
More importantly, the book I have been asked to review is in German. However, my blog is and remains in English. This implies that the review may appear somewhat clumsy, as it involves conveying German text in English. Moreover, as long as the book is not available in English. A majority of the regular visitors to this blog may only have a marginal interest in this publication. Of course, there is hope that someday there will also be an English version.
The Author: Alessandra Barabaschi
Alessandra Barabaschi (baraˈbaski) was born in Busseto, near Parma, Italy. She studied history of arts, and obtained a University Degree in Modern and Contemporary Art and a Master in Art Management at Bocconi University in Milan.
Barabaschi is looking back at a nine year professional career in PR and marketing. She has worked in London, Milan, Rome, and Cologne. She sees herself as link between “the passionate art world and the highly structured business environment”. In 2009, she settled in Bonn, Germany, where she founded her own PR agency.
Author and Journalist
Alessandra Barabaschi is fluent in Italian, English, and German, with “a good command of further two”. Besides her work in PR, she has not only worked as international arts journalist. She also evolved into an expert in the history of string instruments. A first major achievement was a substantial contribution to a four-volume documentation describing 150 instruments by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737). This is a limited, exclusive edition with full-size photographs (Barabaschi et al., 2010). 2016, a follow-up edition with four additional volumes (Eder, Loescher, Thöne, & Rohrmann, 2016) brought the count of Stradivari instruments covered in this 8-volume documentation to a respectable number of 300.
Over the past 10 years, Alessandra Barabaschi must have spent vast amounts of time searching for information and facts for the book that I’m reviewing here. Besides that, she has been travelling to lecture at institutions such as the Library of Congress in Washington. And she started publishing articles on famous examples from the large number of Stradivari violins. One of these was a documentation on 20 instruments for the Tokyo Stradivarius Festival 2018. She also regularly writes articles for the magazine “The Strad”, and for Tarisio Auctions, the biggest trading place for string instruments.
As if this wasn’t enough, Alessandra Barabaschi has also published an entire series of language course books (German-Italian, in particular). These are also both tourist guides and criminal stories.
What’s in the Book? An Outline
I’m not going to describe the book in a single, short summary. Nor do I intend to present the actual content in much detail. Rather, I want to give a description of what’s in the book. In other words: what you can expect to encounter in the text, thus wetten your appetite, so to say.
Here’s a list of the chapters. The translations are my own. In the interest of readability, I’ll refer to the translated chapter titles in my comments in the sections that follow.
|15||I. Nomen est omen|
|27||II. Nobility and Clergy, Peasants and Weavers (Adlige und Geistliche, Bauern und Weber)|
|35||III. A Question of Shape (Eine Frage der Form)|
|55||IV. Masters and Pupils (Von Meistern und Schülern)|
|65||V. The First Ringing of the Bells (Das 1. Glockengeläut)|
|75||VI. Beginnings Between Family Life and Workshop (Der Anfang zwischen Familienleben und Werkstatt)|
|85||VII. First Successes and a New Home (Erste Erfolge und ein neues Zuhause)|
|91||VIII. Magnificent Farewell (Ein prunkvoller Abschied)|
|97||IX. Prominent Clients (Prominente Auftraggeber)|
|109||X. New Love (Eine neue Liebe)|
|117||XI. The Golden Age (Die goldene Zeit)|
|125||XII. What Did People Listen To at Stradivari’s Time? (Was hörte man zur Zeit Stradivaris?)|
|139||XIII. A Clever Businessman (Ein gewiefter Geschäftsmann)|
|149||XIV. The Perfection Named Cello (Die Perfektion namens Cello)|
|157||XV. Stradivari — Personal Description (Stradivaris Steckbrief)|
|171||XVI. The Rivals (Die Rivalen)|
|181||XVII. The Mature Years (Die reifen Jahre)|
|195||XVIII. Death of a Legend (Der Tod einer Legende)|
|207||XIX. A Remarkable Nobleman (Ein bemerkenswerter Graf)|
|221||XX. The Key Traders of Violins (Die wichtigsten Geigenhändler)|
|231||XXI. What Experts Would Love to Know (Was die Experten gerne wüssten)|
|241||XXII. Forgotten in the Attic, or Disassembled in its Case (Vergessen auf dem Dachboden oder zerlegt im Koffer)|
|251||XXIII. On Stradivari’s Footsteps (Auf Stradivaris Spuren)|
|263||Antonio Stradivari’s Family (Die Familie von Antonio Stradivari)|
|301 – 305||Registry of Persons (Personenregister)|
Some General Remarks
Alessandra Barabaschi’s book undoubtedly is the result of thorough, serious scientific research in archives, collections, and historic locations. And, of course, the author could draw from her extensive, prior experience. The over 200 literature references, as well as the large body of over 420 end marks underline the scientific attitude of the book. Yet, I would not call this book a scientific work. A truly scientific (“research”) publication covering the same or a similar scope would be vastly bigger and (even) more comprehensive in most or all aspects.
Rather, the author is telling stories around the life and the works of Antonius Stradivarius. Well-founded and excellently researched stories, of course. Highly informative, and at the same time very interesting and entertaining. I’ll get back to the subject of story-telling in the sections below. Alessandra Barabaschi is indeed a very good narrator. At the same time, the author gives plenty of information on her research methods and the sources she was using.
An Exploratory Walk Through the Book
Sources, Origins, Name / Genealogy, Ancestors
Chapter I, “Nomen est omen”, is devoted to the last item mentioned above, i.e., the author’s sources for information. Superficially, it’s about resources such as communal and church registries that genealogists are most familiar with. These are the obvious places where one should be able to find information on births, christenings, marriages, deaths, and burials. The churches also were responsible for a periodic census in their communities.
From this book, the reader learns how tricky it is to locate entries relating to specific persons. Due to wars and political upheavals, many documents were either destroyed, or dispersed and most likely lost. Furthermore, the spelling of names was anything but consistent. Inevitably, much of the genealogy, such as the origin of the name “Stradivari” remains foggy, often guesswork. Oddly, even Stradivari’s birth year is subject to debates. Nevertheless, the author’s scrutiny and persistence in searching archives and documents is fascinating and impressive!
Socio-Economic and Political Context
Chapter II, “Nobility and Clergy, Peasants and Weavers”, describes the socio-economic context up to and around Stradivari’s life. The description of the political and socio-economic context is far more than the fulfillment of a requirement in historical and musicological texts. That chapter is highly informative, thorough (and compact) enough. It is interesting, as well as easy, even entertaining to read. Especially for readers who are not familiar with the political situation and the history of Northern Italy between 1500 and the early 18th century.
Origins and Inventors of the Violin
Chapter III, “A Question of Shape”, presents the evolution of the violin, starting from the early, medieval beginnings (around 1000). And how what we now know as the “Italian violin” took shape from these beginnings. This includes predecessor instruments such as crwth, rebec, viols, and many more. The text is mostly descriptive, certainly not too technical. The author documents this through a set of illustrations. These are color reproductions of beautiful paintings and frescoes, which she has studied in much detail.
In terms of colors, the quality of the illustrations is adequate, both in the hardcopy, as well as in the PDF. In the latter, though, I find the colors typically fresher, lighter, more vivid.
The one hiccup with this is that the reader can at best guess or imagine some of the details that Alessandra Barabaschi describes. The originals may often be several meters in size. The illustrations in the hardcopy book have a maximum width of 11 cm. The area of interest (i.e., the instrument that the author refers to) often has a size of 2 cm only. In the hardcopy version, one needs a magnifying glass to get a vague idea about details. The rasterization of the color prints obscures these. In the PDF version, one can zoom in. However, one just finds that the pixel raster obscures these details even more.
Obviously, in the hardcopy version, high-quality, fine reproductions would have required a different, rather expensive print process, such as lithography on glossy paper. That’s most likely out of question for this type of book. In the case of PDF, a fine pixel raster (such as 600 or 1200 dpi) would have increased the size of the PDF substantially. A much easier (and not very costly) alternative (both for print and PDF) would have been to associate at least some of the illustrations with a second picture showing a magnification of the relevant detail.
Leading up to the Baroque Violin Climax in Verona
Chapter IV, “Masters and Pupils“ is about the evolution of the violin in and around Verona, up to and including Stradivari’s instruments. In the center of the chapter, one obviously finds the members of the Amati family of luthiers and their “ecosystem”. Alessandra Barabaschi also discusses Stradivari’s (possible or factual) relationship and connections to the “Amati school”. One also learns how the Amati workshop (probably) was organized, what kind of people and professions worked there, etc.
Stradivari’s First Marriage
Chapter V, “The First Ringing of the Bells”, is exemplary in showing how Alessandra Barabaschi is “telling stories”. A prosaic approach would be to state when Stradivari got married, to whom, and where his wife came from. From there, one might work backwards in the ancestry tree, up to the desired level of depth. Alessandra Barabaschi does not take this “ordinary” route. Rather, she uses this as an opportunity to reflect upon the rules in the society at that time.
The author picks up a “distant thread”, talking about a seemingly completely unrelated person, the architect, mathematician and surveyor Alessandro Capra, living in Cremona. She then adds the thread of Capra’s first wife, her history, her marriage with Capra. And her tragic, early death after giving birth to a second child, which soon also died. Capra wanted to marry again. And here, we encounter the Ferraboschi family and Capra’s second wife, Francesca. There were two daughters, though Capra died after a quarrel with Francesca’s brother, before the second child was born. Three years later, 1667, Antonio Stradivari married Francesca Ferraboschi.
Family and Workshop
Stradivari’s first instrument is dated 1666, one year before his marriage. Chapter VI, “Beginnings Between Family Life and Workshop” describes the first years of the Stradivari family, with the birth of six children (2 daughters, four sons, one of which died soon after birth). And the beginning of a rich production of string instruments. Based on drawings and tools, these must have included lutes, mandolins, viols, viole d’amore, guitars, and harps.
Chapter VII, “First Successes and a New Home” follows Stradivari’s growing success among several competing workshops in Cremona, and his move into a new house. The chapter also describes how Stradivari was experimenting with variations in the form and construction, in order to optimize the sound.
There is rarely a chapter where Alessandra Barabaschi restricts herself to a single topic. She leaves out no opportunity to describe social life, economic circumstances, etc. . For example, with marriages, she gives detailed lists of the dowry. The following Chapter VIII, “Magnificent Farewell” is about Francesca Ferraboschi’s death and funeral. Here, the author gives the detailed list of the funeral expenses. She compares these with the expenditures for other funerals, allowing the reader to assess Stradivari’s social status, etc.
Successes, Prominent Clients — And New Love
Chapter IX, “Prominent Clients”, describes Stradivari’s success, his early masterworks, his interaction with aristocracy in several European countries, e.g., Spain, Poland, and of course Italy. A longer section is about the masterful “Medici Quintet”. That’s a set of two violins, an alto and a tenor viola, and a cello. Alessandra Barabaschi follows the path of these instruments in detail. She finds out who ordered them, how the instruments were delivered, and where they ended up in modern time. She even uncovers errors in historical records.
The following Chapter X, “New Love” is about Stradivari’s second wife, Antonia Maria Zambelli. There are (were) very few records about that person. Alessandra Barabaschi made admirable, extensive efforts to find out about Antonia Maria Zambelli. She located her parents and their whereabouts, social status, etc., and she even resolved strange “errors” in her death records. Antonia Maria gave birth to a girl and four boys.
Stradivari’s Career at its Peak
The following sections, starting with Chapter XI, “The Golden Age”, describe the luthier and his work at the height of his productivity. This includes a the type of wood used for violins, how the luthier selected the trees, and the like. Even in this “luthier chapter”, Alessandra Barabaschi can’t resist from expanding into socio-economic aspects, describing the circumstances in which the growing family lived.
The following Chapter XII, “What Did People Listen To at Stradivari’s Time?”, is a retrospective excursion into the music that was performed in Northern Italy up to and at Stradivari’s time. Naturally, this focuses on Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643). Interestingly, also the astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) appears in this chapter, in connection with the 1718 violin San Lorenzo. A second “excursion” follows in Chapter XIII, “A Clever Businessman”, showing Stradivari’s talent in achieving extra income by lending money. With this, he was also securing the livelihood of his offspring.
Back to the instruments. Chapter XIV, “The Perfection Named Cello”, describes Stradivari’s central role in the evolution of the cello. That instrument used to have a substantially bigger body than modern instruments. Stradivari’s started off with this size (body size 79 cm), but from 1707 on switched to his “B shape”. Sadly, apart from the new length of around 76 cm, no details about the “B shape” are given. See also below.
Maturity and Death
One could also translate the title of Chapter XV, “Stradivari — Personal Description” (Stradivaris Steckbrief) as “Stradivari — A Mugshot”. Alessandra Barabaschi presents a very limited set of known paintings / portraits that allegedly feature the luthier. None of these are proven, authentic representations of Stradivari’s look.
The Chapter XVI, “The Rivals”, talks about the other, prominent luthiers (vaguely) around Stradivari’s time. It features the families Amati, Guarneri, Ruggeri, Bergonzi, Rogeri, and Guadagnini, as well as the Austrian / German Jacob Stainer (1619 – 1683), as “outsider”.
Chapter XVII, “The Mature Years”, covers the luthier’s last productive years. It also talks about Stradivari’s violas. The oldest of these is from 1672, the last one, the Gibson, from 1734. And it also mentions the instrument owned by Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840). The biggest part of that chapter is devoted to Stradivari’s testament, all of its beneficiaries and their respective inheritances. The subject of Chapter XVIII, “Death of a Legend”, is obvious. It covers Stradivari’s death on 1737-12-18, his funeral, and the last years of his legendary workshop.
For a while, Stradivari’s sons Francesco and Omobono (both from Stradivari’s first marriage) continued their father’s work (presumably mostly completing unfinished instruments), together with Carlo Bergonzi. Omobono died 1742 (aged 63), Francesco 1743 (aged 72). Stradivari’s youngest son, Paolo Bartolomeo (1708 – 1775) had 5 children. None of these chose to become a luthier. So, the workshop closed with Francesco’s death.
The subsequent chapters deal with Antonio Stradivari’s legacy: the precious instruments that he left behind, spread all over the world. Chapter XIX, “A Remarkable Nobleman”, is a section mostly devoted to Ignazio Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salabue (1755 – 1840). That Italian aristocrat inherited an Amati violin from his father and soon became “the first great connoisseur and collector of violins”. Cozio di Salabue acquired detailed knowledge about the construction of violins. He hired Guadagnini to work for him exclusively, and he asked the luthier to create exact copies of Stradivari’s instruments.
In addition, Cozio di Salabue acquired and collected a large number of instruments by Cremonese luthiers. Alessandra Barabaschi’s research reveals interesting facts about the relative value and appreciation of instruments / Cremonese luthiers at that time. A chapter full of information, anecdotes / stories, and interesting details!
The Chapter XX, “The Key Traders of Violins”, deals with another central figure in the trade of violins, Luigi Tarisio (1796 – 1854). It then expands onto other important traders of violins, across the 19th and 20th centuries, covering France, England, and Germany. One key person in France was the productive luthier and businessman Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798 – 1875).
Chapter XXI, “What Experts Would Love to Know”, is not (primarily) biographic. It deals with questions around Stradivari’s instruments. One of these is about how many instruments the luthier might really have produced. And how many of these are still around, also considering false attributions / fake instruments / fraud? Another question that Barabaschi addresses is about the secret of Stradivari’s lacquer recipe. Then, of course, there’s the question of validating the authenticity of instruments that are assigned to Antonio Stradivari. For the non-expert reader, it would have been very interesting to have at least one side-to-side pictorial comparison of a Stradivari and an instrument by another luthier. See also below.
The anecdotal Chapter XXII, “Forgotten in the Attic, or Disassembled in its Case”, tells stories about the (re-)discovery of half a dozen Stradivari instruments. It starts with the 1704 violin “Dornröschen” (Sleeping Beauty / La belle au bois dormant, now played by Isabelle Faust. It also includes instruments that were recovered and restored from near-destruction in WWII.
The final Chapter XXIII, “On Stradivari’s Footsteps”, looks at what remains of the Stradivari family, in terms of buildings, locations. It entails the question about Stradivari’s grave and burial site. Sadly, apart from scarce workshop objects now shown in museums and in the form of pictures, there isn’t much hard evidence (other than records buried in archives) that a tourist, musician or historian can still visit or attend to. The key legacy remains the wealth of instruments that Antonio Stradivari left behind.
I like just about every aspect of that book. One “hiccup” is the absence of an English translation. However, this will hopefully find a solution in the near future. In the present form, the German original is a highly commendable book. It is easy to read, even gripping. Her narrative uses a highly entertaining dramaturgy, the book is never boring. The author cleverly mixes topics, not just between the chapters, but also within.
German may not be your mother tongue. However, Alessandra Barabaschi’s style is light, conversational. Her language / phraseology is not exceedingly complex, her syntax not overly encapsulated, the vocabulary very reasonable. So, why not give it a try?
The book is interesting for violinists, for people trading with string instruments, for those specifically interested in the history of violins and violin making. However, it is not just written for specialists, but for a wider range of readers. This includes lovers and enthusiasts of classical music in general. And of course those interested in violin solo, chamber and orchestral music.
Print Quality, etc.
I would even call it a book for the bibliophile, even though it “merely” comes as affordable hardcover (not linen-, let alone leather-bound). The quality of the book, in terms of paper / printing, binding/cover is excellent. The image quality (digital prints) is good (rasterization / resolution, color gamut and fidelity) and adequate. With few exceptions (see above), where some fine details fall prey to the rasterization.
Alessandra Barabaschi draws from over a decade of experience on the subject of Stradivari instruments. And of violins and violin making in general. She may have intended this book to be mainly for violinists and people dealing / trading with violins or music instruments in general. However, the terminology is not technical or scientific. People with interest in this matter will have no problem understanding the language describing violins, or string instruments in general.
However, members of potential, wider audiences mentioned above may not be familiar with some of the terminology. For example, it occurred to me that not all readers may instantly know what a Zarge (the garland of ribs, the “sidewalls” of the instrument) is. It would not have hurt to add a short, 2-page section describing and naming the components of a violin. These might include the body (bottom plate, ribs, top plate with f-holes), neck and fingerboard, scroll, pegbox, tuning pegs, strings, the bridge, sound post and bass bar, tailpiece / saddle / endpin, chinrest.
For the “insider”, this might be totally redundant, superfluous. However, for non-specialists, such an addition (and occasional references to it) might prove helpful. However, as outlined above, the author’s narration style aims at a much wider audience. This (to me) is not a scientific textbook. For the “scientific” / specialist reader, such expansions would do no harm at all. They can easily be skipped. However, they would be help- and useful for a non-specialist audience. And: despite the redundancy, it would make the book more “complete” also as a (partly) scientific publication.
Violin Shapes and Their Evolution—How?
In Chapter VI, “Beginnings Between Family Life and Workshop”, the author mentions Stradivari’s Allongé violins. These feature a longer body shape that the master was experimenting with. Barabaschi states that the untrained eye would have difficulties seeing the difference, as it is “only a few centimeters”. To me, that sounds like 3 – 5 cm, which would be rather obvious. I actually doubt that it is that much. Is this rather millimeters? In any case, the author resorts to purely descriptive language. It would have been far better and highly informative to have a pictorial information, e.g., an overlay of properly scaled (front and maybe also lateral) silhouettes of violins from Stradivari’s various periods.
The same should have been done to compare Stradivari’s violins with representative instruments by Amati, Guarneri, perhaps others. This might also include Stradivari’s successors, such as Guadagnini, Vuillaume. The author must be among the people who can look at a violin for a few seconds to know whether it is a Stradivari or not. I suspect that the average reader rarely (if ever) has the opportunity to see two violins of this class side-by-side.
Same for the Cello…
The same applies to the evolution of the cello. In Chapter XIV, “The Perfection Named Cello”, Barabaschi describes how Stradivari opted for a smaller cello body, and she also refers to Stradivari’s “B-shape” instruments. And again, words are completely inadequate to describe these changes to the average (non-expert) reader. I suspect that even artists performing on such instruments—if they are aware of these changes at all—would find a visual representation interesting and useful.
And also here, a graphic / pictorial comparison with instruments by Stradivari’s predecessors would be highly interesting. And, as the author mentions it: the size of all (?) Amati cellos was apparently reduced in later years. For people who haven’t seen altered instruments (real or in pictures), it is inconceivable how one can possibly achieve this. Some more information would be desirable here. But OK, this apparently wasn’t done to Stradivari’s instruments—it would be somewhat of an off-topic.
What About Bows and Strings?
Also, describing a violin bow in a similar way as proposed for the violin above would seem appropriate, too. After all, in the actual production of sound on a string instrument, bow (baroque vs. Tourte vs. modern) and strings play a major, major role, even the choice of rosin! How about the change from gut strings to modern metal and metal-clad strings? Aren’t these components / aspects a bit underrepresented in the book? I think these might actually justify an entire chapter of their own.
How Original are Historic String Instruments?
The form / shape of violins has not just evolved over time, up to the instrument that one finds in all modern orchestras. At some point (presumably in the 19th century) virtually all baroque violins were “modernized”, by equipping them with a slightly longer and steeper neck (for higher string tension / “bigger” sound), and with a longer fingerboard (to extend the tonal range at the top). This was largely ignored for most of the 20th century. Only the advent of historically informed performance (HIP) ensembles brought this back into people’s mind.
It would have been appropriate for the book to mention what these changes entailed. And which instruments by Antonio Stradivari were affected. Also here, some illustrative graphics illustrating the changes might be useful. I remember reading the claim that the 1704 “Sleeping Beauty” (Dornröschen / La belle au bois dormant, now played by Isabelle Faust) is the only Stradivari violin that remained unaltered since its creation. True?
It may even be worth mentioning possible negative side-effects of such modernization. I have at least anecdotal evidence of one (non-Stradivari) instrument that suffered from the excess pressure from the steeper neck.
Manufacturing Techniques, Repair / Maintenance
Other enrichments (less important that the above, though) might have been
- Explanations on Stradivari’s manufacturing techniques. And maybe an idea on how they differed from those of other luthiers (e.g., Guarneri, Guadagnini, Vuillaume, etc.).
- Insights into how historic violins are repaired might be of interest to readers of the book. Examples: how the luthier opens such instruments, the role of hide glue, etc.
Some of the chapters mention a large number of persons / names. The author is Italian, so I’m sure she has no problem telling these apart. To the non-Italian reader, however, many of the names sound similar. Overall, the multitude of names in some chapters can easily be confusing. It would have been helpful to add a list of persons (in the case of family matters maybe even an ancestry tree) to every (group of) chapter(s). There is a chronological list of family members (the two wives and their children). However, that’s just the core of the staff. It does not help in the early chapters, with the many people around the Amati workshop, etc.
Font selection (serifs, Times New Roman / Garamond family typeface), font size and typesetting / layout all make the book technically very readable. The text is justified, with a line length of around 12 words per line. Longer quotes are indented, using a slightly smaller font (ca. 15 words / line). Justified text formatting is hard to beat in terms of sheer esthetics (e.g., when compared to left-flush formatting).
Footnotes vs. Endnotes?
Remarks are not shown as footnotes, but are collected as endnotes in the last part of the book (pp.280 – 300), grouped by chapter. Avoiding footnotes gives the book a “cleaner” look. And the bound fabric bookmark helps in looking up remarks while reading. The one disadvantage with this is that in the PDF version (which is an exact reproduction / representation of the hardcopy layout), remarks and literature references are hardly accessible at all within the text body. In a hypothetical Web version, hyperlinks from the superscripts to the endnotes, and from there back into the text body would help. However, these may not be supported by typical PDF reader apps.
Language / Translation
Page 105 quotes a message by Count Bartolomeo Ariberti addressed to Antonio Stradivari. In the German text, the latter is addressed “Ihre Lordschaft” (Your Lordship). Whatever title Ariberti may have used in the Italian original (not shown), “Lordship” is an English term and barely applicable to an Italian addressee. At best (if at all), “Lordschaft” may be used in German translations from English documents.
Page 113 (paragraph 2 from bottom) states that Stradivari’s second wife, Antonia Maria Zambelli, had “the same name as her father (Antonio) and her grandmother (Antonia)”. In German, claiming that Antonia and Antonio are “the same name” is at least somewhat sloppy.
I did not scrutinize the book for factual errors. I only happened to note very few:
- On page 91, the last paragraph states that Francesca Ferraboschi (Stradivari’s first wife) had given birth to two daughters in her first marriage, and “six sons with Antonio Stradivari, five of which survived”. This conflicts with lines 5/6 on page 93, which mention Giulia Maria, the “first daughter with Antonio Stradivari”. Page 91 obviously should read “six children”.
- Page 119, line 3, states that maplewood (used for the backside of a violin) is harder and stiffer than the spruce wood used for the front. The text also states that “its sound propagation much slower than with spruce“. The associated literature reference (p.287) reads “AA.2.21, a. a. O.”; I could not make out what this refers to. In any case, this is factually wrong. Harder and stiffer solids propagate sound faster, not slower. For information see Wikipedia, for example.
The Real Hair in the Soup: Hyphenation
The one reservation I have with the book is with the hyphenation in line wrapping. Up to most of the last century, this used not to be an issue. Even with computerized typesetting, hyphenation always was subject to the scrutiny of a careful lectorate. Here, I get the impression that the publisher was putting too much trust into the page layout software. And / or, that their layout software has serious flaws. What otherwise could explain the presence of almost 50 gross hyphenation errors?
Not just that. The word “Instrument” (and variants thereof) occurs around 640 times in the book. Occasionally even 12 – 14 times on a single page (which by itself may cause some raising of eyebrows). That term is obviously very central to the text. Oddly, “Instrument” (and its variants) is involved in 14 hyphenation errors. The software apparently was not able to decide between “Inst-rument” and “Ins-trument“. Both are wrong, obviously. The correct hyphenation scheme here is “In-stru-ment“ and “In-stru-men-te“.
To be fair, there are also four instances where the software hyphenated “Instrument” correctly after the first syllable. However, one of these is part of the composite word “Saitenin-strument“, which again is not exactly ideal.
That leads to a second, minor quibble. With 12 – 15 words per line, hyphenating off two-character syllables, albeit not “illegal”, has very little effect on balancing the word spacing. However, it also makes the text harder to read, especially if the hyphenation occurs across a page break. I have used software that permits suppressing two-character hyphenations. Here, I did not try counting the two-character hyphenations in the book. Just as an example: in the word “Instrument(e)“, I personally would prefer allowing only for the hyphenation “Instru-ment(e)“.
To summarize: the hyphenation is not on a par with the overall quality of the book.
- Alessandra Barabaschi (2021). “Stradivari – Die Geschichte einer Legende“, Böhlau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG (hardcover, 305 pp.); ISBN 978-3-205-21204-1
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- Alessandra Barabaschi (2021). “Stradivari – Die Geschichte einer Legende“, Böhlau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG (online version); ISBN 978-3-205-21206-5
- Barabaschi, A., Chiesa, C., Leonhard, F., Loescher, J., Morris, S., & ThöneJ. (2010). Antonius Stradivarius (Vol. I–IV; ThöneJ. & RöhrmannJ., Eds.). Cologne / Germany: Jost Thöne Verlag (1,323 pages, 1,662 reproductions, 19 fold-out plates, DVD; Limited edition: 2,000 copies, linen-bound / Limited edition: 100 copies, leather-bound/gilt edges ISBN 978-3-00-031644-9).
- Eder, C., Loescher, J., Thöne, J., & Rohrmann, J. (2016). Antonius Stradivarius (Vol. V–VIII; J. Thöne, Ed.). Cologne / Germany: Jost Thöne Verlag (1,344 pages, 1,680 reproductions, 24 fold-out-plates, DVD; Limited edition: 2,000 copies, linen-bound, ISBN 978-3-00-050178-4 / Limited edition: 100 copies, leather-bound/gilt edges, ISBN 978-3-00-048981-5).
The media for this review were sent to me by Ms. Karin Gasch, press representative at BRILL Österreich GmbH / Böhlau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG.