Skip to main content

World-famous violin Stradivarius mystery remains even after recent scrutiny

The Stradivarius instruments continue to captivate music aficionados worldwide.
The Stradivarius instruments continue to captivate music aficionados worldwide.
Håkan Svensson

It’s no secret to music-lovers everywhere that the most coveted violin, historically, is the Stradivarius. People have debated for ages over what exactly is so special about the instruments fashioned by Antonio Stradivari, whether it was a secret of the crafting or possibly something that was done to the instruments after they were produced.

That’s what some researchers in France and Germany recently aimed to tackle; lucky enough to examine 5 of the famous instruments, chemists set out to analyze the varnish used to finish off the violins, hoping that perhaps they would uncover the secret of this long-sought-after mystery.

Those captivated by this mystery need not worry, though. Based on the analysis of the finish on Stradivarius collection at the Musee de la Musique, it turns out that the varnish Stradivari used to complete his masterpieces was in line with what most furniture makers of the time were using as a standard.

The study, which was published in an online German chemistry journal, looked at a number of chemical factors of the famed instruments, and it turns out that the varnish was a rather simple combination of drying oil (either linseed or walnut), resin, and pigments for the golden color.

So the mystery over what gives the Stradivari instruments their radiant sound remains. For a more detailed account of the study, visit the New York Times’ article interviewing a number of the researchers on the project.