The Violin above was made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Jesu in 1741
Photographs Of My Violins, Viola, And Cello were made by Mickey Dobo Of Nashville
The Violin Shown Below Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 6 2 In 2 0 1 4
Those of you who have followed my progress in violin making will finally be rewarded here with a new set of recordings. I had them made because I felt I had reached a milestone in my violin making that established a new much higher standard of sound quality that can be heard among all 11 different violins I have recently finished. Does this mean I have "arrived". Not at all. I, above all, needed to compare how my violin sound was stacking up against really fine 18th century Cremonese violin sounds. I wanted to know in which direction I need to go from this point on. And, to my great pleasure, that direction has been clearly and successfully given by the old masters. Here, just below, are all of the new recordings made on these my new instruments listed by opus number. And, as you scroll down the following text you will come to the various recordings of antiques compared to the sounds of these violins along with photos of each of my instruments.
Most of these recordings were made for me by violinist, Matthew Lammers, a recent graduate of the Blair School of Music, who is currently aiming for a Masters degree in Violin at Rice University. Only two of the group of recordings, the Paganini Cantabile in D maj. and the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 17, were performed by Mary Grace Johnson and Nathan Lowry respectively. They along with Daniel Moore, viola, and Alex Krew, cello, are students at the Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Jennifer McGuire, who did all the piano accompaniments, made it possible to realize the musical result I was looking for in making my recordings. Her intelligence, wit, and competence as a musician and communicator allowed the sound of the violins and the affects in the music making to shine free. What follows is the story from my point of view, and from Matthew’s point of view, about the recording project and the instruments.
All the commercially recorded pieces using the great antique Cremonese violins, chosen for the purposes of making comparisons with my violins, were played by Riggerio Ricci, Xue Wei, or Salvatore Accardo. Different recording engineers, each with varying tastes regarding microphone placement, type of microphone, and volume settings for these recordings means that you will have to empirically establish the proper volume level for each track by attending to the volume of the piano. However, those volume levels may also have been adjusted in the recording studio to favor the violin.
MAKING A PARALLEL RECORDING
So Listeners Can Compare The Different Sounds Of My Violins
With The Sounds Of Some Of The Best Antique Cremonese Violins That Exist
by Keith Hill © 2015
Ever since I began building harpsichords in 1972, I understood that the approach taken by most if not all of my instrument making colleagues, that of measuring the antique instruments and making jot and tittle copies, was the wrong approach. What was clear to my ears back then was the vast discrepancy between the sounds made by the antique instruments and the copies being made as “authentic” in every detail to the originals. To me, it was like the difference between a black and white, out-of-focus, poorly developed photograph of a person and the real person. To my ears, that meant the copying approach was seriously flawed so there had to be a better way.
The two recordings below are of harpsichords by Jan Couchet made in 1646 and by Keith Hill made in 2008.
Heard in the recording above, the harpsichord pictured below was made and decorated by Keith Hill Opus 3 9 8 in 2008
That better way, I determined, was learn to trust my ears and to carefully analyze every trait, property, structure, behavior, and characteristic of the sound of the original instruments and then to invent a means of creating those exact same traits, properties, structures, behaviors, and characteristics in the sounds of my instruments. To do this I visited museums and played, whenever possible, the original instruments and purchased recordings that had been made using only actual original 250 year old instruments. I avoided all recordings in which were used a modern or even an antique copy or which failed to identify the instrument used.
My process of invention involved a high degree of alertness to unusual sounds coming out of the work before me that piqued my interest. It did not involve dreaming up a special technique, theory, or method, which some builders use as their preferred style. No, I wanted the wood, the form, the surfaces, dimensions, designs, tools and various materials to speak to me, to tell me how they all wanted their sounding properties to be enhanced. As soon as I heard something interesting, because it captured my attention, I followed that phenomenon until I had nailed down the principle behind the cause the produced the interesting effect.
The first of these two recordings was made on a Conrad Graf Fortepiano from ca.1825
followed by the second made on a Keith Hill Fortepiano after Graf ca.1818 made in 1998 Opus 311
Now, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that, at outset of my violin making, I hated the sound of violin playing and the sounds of violins. The "palsied" vibrato that was used to disguise perennially out-of-tune playing was irritating to me, and the whiny thin sounding violins one hears most of the time had prejudiced me regarding this instrument. One might then wonder, "So why are you a harpsichord maker...because their tinny whiny thin sound comes across like a toy instrument". And you would be right, except that I got to know a few really great sounding instruments early in my career as a harpsichord maker enough to realize that that is not how the great antique harpsichords sound unless they have been butchered during 'restoration', which happens too often. For that matter, I also loathe the sound of most harpsichords. My mother was largely responsible for that when she once characterized the sound of a Dowd harpsichord with full 8',8', and 4' being played as sounding like shattering glass, a metaphor that became indelible in my imagination. Still, I reserve my utmost disgust for musical instruments that are either weak, emaciated, feeble, puny sounding or sound like someone talking with their hand firmly clasped over their mouth...that would mean most organs made in America and most modern pianos.
That said, my reason for taking up the challenge of figuring out how the ancient Cremonese violin makers thought about making sound was precisely because I hated the sound of the violin. In his "Elements of Drawing", John Ruskin wrote a highly memorable piece of advice to budding artists, which paraphrased is, "Avoid drawing those things that you love...". Ruskin's reasoning is that people normally draw what they love to draw, which renders them incapable of seeing the truth about what they love, hence they mange never to improve in their ability to see or draw. So to complement my harpsichord making, because I love the sounds of the great antique harpsichords, I chose the one instrument, the violin, that I hated, and which, incidentally, happens also to have posed an almost impossible acoustical challenge to everyone who has set out to to equal the sounds of the great antique violins ever since 1780.
When I began to make violins in 1978, I created a list of traits, properties, structures, behaviors, and characteristics of the sounds of the greatest violins ever made. Every time I made an observation about an important instrument I added it to this list. Because sound is fleeting, to make a single observation might require listening to recorded sounds 50 or 60 times. I listened to recordings several hundred times in order to identify certain unique traits of individual instruments and of each maker.
The Violin used in the above recording that is Pictured Below was made by Keith Hill and Artiom Sinelnikov #3 in 2014
39 Traits and Properties of Great Sounding Violins
by Keith Hill © 2015
1. Carrying Power - to completely fill a very large hall
2. Projection of tone - the sound goes out to the listener;
listeners are not required to strain to hear the violin even at a great distance
3. Great Volume - to play concertos with a large ensemble
4. Ease of Response - ready to sound at the will of the player at all levels and touches
5. Balance of sound across the strings
6. Directness of sound - creates the feeling of immediacy in the sound
7. Evenness of sound up and down the fingerboard
8. Depth of tone - to create the effect of Paradox
9. Intense Resonance - to fully support the softest sound produced
10. Clarity of tone - to be easily heard in a complex texture
11. Penetration of tone over large distances without loss of quality
12. Breadth of tone - to surround the ears of each listener
13. Flexibility of response -reflects the bow's slightest motion
14. Subtlety of tone - mirrors the soul of the player
15. Brilliance - to excite or stir the player and listener
16. Color - conveys every timbre and affect intended by the player
17. Tonal Reserve - a sound that keeps on giving, never caving in or reaching a ceiling
18. Strong Sensation of Pitch - makes playing in-tune easy
19. Ringing tone - gives the effect that the instrument is singing
20. Intensity of tone - creates a feeling that the instrument is alive
21. Sweetness of tone - to gratify the player as well as the listener
22. Focused or Centered tone - creates a solid core to the sound
23. Buoyancy of tone - a lightness of effect...the sound floats
24. Velvetiness - the effect that the sound is integrated and smoothly blended
25. Resiliency of tone - sound appears to bounce, when needed
26. Stability of tone - the tone/pitch holds steady on long slow bow strokes
27. Personality - the voice of the instrument feels human
28. Fullness of tone - the ears and mind are filled with the sound
29. Strength of timbre - the sound color is clear and powerful
30. Ease of producing harmonics
31. Each note begins with a Cercare dela Nota (pronounced: chair-car-eeh - a 17th century Italian technique in which a lower note rises suddenly and silently to a main note)
32. Overglow-the effect of the sound continuing to sound into the next note creating a seamless gesture of notes...otherwise known as legato in music...technically speaking the effect of overglow is also called elision as one tone elides to another in a very connected manner.
33. Distortion Resistance - strings resist being distorted
34. Powerful Upper Register - imitating the high notes of a singer
35. Ease of making a good sound when bowing Close to the Bridge
36. Able to generate full resonance even using a very slow, soft bowing stroke
37. Tonal flexibility imitating the expressiveness of the speaking human voice
38. According to violinist, Ole Bull, "the violins of Gasparo da Salo and Guarneri have the sound of a trumpet, horn or flute; the violins of Stradivari have the sound of an oboe and clarinet; and those of the Amati family, of the English Horn and the Human voice"
39. The sensation when bowing is smooth like touching silk
The violin in the above recording was made by Keith Hill Opus 462 in 2014
When I ran across an observation made by a violin specialist, while reading the available literature on the violin, it too was added to the list. This is when I made the unhappy discovery that almost nothing had been written on the sound and tone of the great violins. A comment here or there was all I could find. This actually made the job of figuring out what I was hearing all the more difficult because so much of what passes for observation regarding the violin is really personal opinion or some nonsense having to do with visual details. So I was obliged to ferret out the useful observations from the useless opinions. The dearth of literature about violin sound only meant, to me at least, that clearly no one knew anything about it. Hence violin specialists writing about the violin avoided the realm in which their expertise failed them.
Furthermore, I do not play the violin at all, which made the task of recreating the sound of the great antique violins a daunting prospect. Nevertheless, I was undeterred. I knew it was going to take a lot of time and experiments before I would be able to make a credible sounding violin. The more I became acquainted with the sounds of the violins of Stradivari and especially of Guarneri del Jesu the more I loved hearing them and, consequently, the more I realized that when it came to sound, I have clearly been ?blessed/cursed? with a highly refined sense of distaste. My hatred problem was clearly not with the great sounding antique violins, but was instead directed towards all the mediocre whiny wannabes that made the sound or timbre of a violin but were devoid of the tone quality of a real violin, qualities which make a great violin to sound like a human voice singing. I have to say, there is nothing worse than a violin that sounds like a violin, or a harpsichord that sounds like a harpsichord. The great harpsichords sound like an interesting person speaking expressively about something important, not like a tinker toy or a bad upright piano with tacks in the hammers. The great clavichords have the sound of thought (the better the clavichord the more profound the thought), not of a cheap version of a bad harpsichord. Great pianos sound like a great singer or actor speaking expressively. Pianos that merely sound like pianos are dull as doodledust. Another factor not in my favor was that although I have always had a strong interior sense or imagination for what a great piano, harpsichord or organ should sound like, I had no such sense or imagination for what a great violin should sound like. For me to build an imagination I had to rely almost entirely on recordings and comments made by my trusted critics...another serious problem.
Players learn very quickly the rule: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all! They learn the painful lesson and avoid negative criticism of instruments to their makers. Instrument makers all want to believe that they are God's gift to the world and what they hath wrought is sacrosanct. The fact that they aren't God's gift and that their instruments are ladened with problems of an acoustical nature is the cause of their hypersensitivity to criticism. The fact is when you don't know how to fix a problem, which is normally the case in the musical instrument making business, hearing someone point out a problem that you can't fix is deflating. Hence egos tend to be extremely tender and easily assaulted by any hint of something wrong. On the contrary, my attitude is: The only way to fix a problem is to know about it in no uncertain terms. I love it when someone has something negative to point out to me because it means the potential for yet another problem solved. The more problems solved the better the instruments that I make will be. Indeed, one important violinist and my most trusted critic once told me that I was one of the rare instrument makers who could actually make use of criticism. And when I really want the truth from a player who isn't being forthcoming with it, I tell them that there isn't anything that they could possible say that could insult me with a negative criticism because to be insulted one must actually have an ego, and, that learning to make sound is too complex, dimensional, and difficult a business that there is absolutely no room left for an ego's hurt feelings. Those who have such room in their lives for having hurt feelings very clearly aren't going to get very far in the business of making a sound worth listening to, life is too short to indulge even one hurt feeling if one is to succeed.
The Violin used in the above recording that is pictured here below was made by Keith Hill Opus 425 made in 2009 and acoustically upgraded in 2014
Listening to recordings and wading through the endless visually oriented literature was of necessity a round about way of getting at the truth behind the acoustical thinking of the ancient musical instrument makers. Fortunately, my recourse was the harpsichord. When I correctly intuited an underlying principle in my harpsichord making, I immediately tried to apply it to making a violin, and vice versa. By this approach I eventually figured out how the ancient musical instrument makers thought about making a sound, such that their instruments “naturally” turned out appearing as they do to us today. Having figured out how the ancient musical instrument makers thought about making sound meant I needed to reinvent the techniques that they must have developed over centuries in order to be able to produce time after time one great sounding instrument after another, such as would have been the story in the Amati or Stradivari or Guarneri workshops. The first of my instruments to yield to this approach was actually the fortepiano, followed by the harpsichord and later the clavichord.
The most challenging instrument has been the violin…which is why, as I said, I took up violin making 37 years ago. The reason why the violin has been so challenging is that the mystery about how the sound of the great 18th century violins was created has attracted thousands of fans, hence, it has been subjected to a plethora of nonsense speculation and pseudo-science that has appeared in print, most of which has obscured the reality behind that sound or has deluded violin makers into thinking that all that pseudo-science was necessary to swallow in order to sell their instruments. I had to discount that obfuscating “stuff” before I could puzzle my way through what came to be, as I subsequently discovered, 24 layers of discreet observable tuning systems applied to the two plates and the 134 acoustical adjustments that must be applied to enhance every part of the violin before coming to the results I present here today. What is missing with all the violins is that they have not been played in except what Matthew Lammers needed to make the recordings.
About Playing-in Instruments
Playing-in a stringed instrument or harpsichord tends to follow a specific pattern of changes in the sound and quality of play of an instrument, changes that "playing-in devices" can't duplicate. A violin at the beginning is like a person who never exercises, stiff and reluctant to move. Playing-in is an exercise regime. A person starts out really stiff and sore and as the muscles become accustomed to the stress of motion and inertia and mass, they become stronger and more ready to respond to the varieties of movement the person wishes to develop. Ditto for the violin. As the person gets accustomed to exercise on a routine basis, motion becomes more facile and flexibility of movement becomes freer and more articulate. Ditto for the violin. Then comes increased endurance and speed. Ditto for the violin. Finally a person experiences an openness to respond to any activity he or she wishes to engage in. Freedom of action becomes unconstrained. Ditto for the violin. Where the violin departs from this analogy is that all the time the playing-in is changing the sound and play, the whole instrument begins to develop greater integration of all the sounding parts which results in greater depth, resonance, and intensity in the sound. When and if playing-in causes the sound quality to deteriorate, it merely means that there was no real quality of sound in the violin to begin with. For most of the last century, such deterioration was normal so players learned to be suspicious of any violin that was new and especially good sounding because it would quite predictably deteriorate when played-in. Violin makers learned to counter the dulling effects of this deterioration by purposely making their instruments harsh and bright sounding...what to my ears sounds raw and abrasive, hence grotesquely ugly. These instruments invariably end up sounding covered and abrasive when played-in. My violins, even the earliest violins of mine, always improve with playing-in, becoming more resonant, deeper, more brilliant and easier to play. You can find read my articles on Area Tuning the Violin under the ARTICLES heading (at the top) to learn more about my approach to constructing the sound of my violins.
About the Parallel Recording
It so happened that five years before I began serious research into violin acoustics (as it was practiced by violin makers in the city of Cremona, Italy before 1750) the well known virtuoso violinist, Ruggerio Ricci made a unique recording titled: THE GLORY OF CREMONA. In this recording Mr. Ricci played a variety of different pieces from Baroque to the Post-Romantic styles, using 15 different violins made by the greatest violin makers of all time--Stradivari, Guarneri "del Gesu", Amati, da Salo, and Bergonzi. I bought the Ricci recording and listened to it in order to analyze the sounds.
This Violin Heard In The Above Recording Is Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 6 0 In 2 0 1 4
When I wore out my first Glory of Cremona LP, I bought another copy and listened to that until I wore that second copy out, then bought another. And so on. Slowly I observed more and more about the sounds of the great antique violins. At a certain point, I would get an idea about how to produce a specific property or trait and immediately built a violin to see if I had captured the observed trait in my own violin. Because I don’t play the violin at all, I was obliged to find violinists who were willing to play my violins and give me precise, direct, and useful feedback.
Here again, separating opinion from observation was tricky. When a violinist says that a violin is too hard to play, what does he mean exactly by that comment? Does it mean that the strings are too close together so sounding individual strings is difficult, or does it mean that the arch of the bridge is too flat, or maybe that the strings don’t want to produce the sound the player wants to hear. (I once showed a violin of mine to a player who owns an Amati violin and had it strung entirely in steel core strings. This person wouldn’t even pick up the violin I brought to show him because it wasn’t strung in steel core strings.) Could it mean that the bow skates on the strings or that the strings are higher above the fingerboard than what the player is used to so it is physically more difficult to press the strings to the fingerboard? Sorting out personal preferences and habits of playing from plain simple observations involved a huge amount of guesswork on my part.
This Violin Heard In The Above Recording Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 6 7 In 2 0 14
At the beginning, most of my violins were uninteresting. Linking specific effects or properties to specific causes in a musical instrument is difficult because the nature of a wonderful sound is that it appears simple and straightforward but is in actual fact extremely complex…the result of layer upon layer upon layer of effects each of which has its own specific cause, all of which conspire to create such a sound. And each of the properties and traits in my growing list was the result of 5 or 6 unique causes. Yet, failure to produce a compelling violin sound never ever bothered me because I made my living by making harpsichords, fortepianos, and clavichords. I wasn’t obliged to sell any of my violin sound experiments. However, Shigetoshi Yamada, one violinist who took a serious interest in my experimental approach said he would like to show my violins to some players who needed better instruments than they currently owned. That began his relationship with me as my de facto “agent”.
As my violins got better and better sounding, and as they became easier and easier to sell, I invested that income directly back into the research. I knew that at some point, I would make a recording of my own which highlighted the sounds of my violins.
Meanwhile, during a visit to England, I visited the collection of antique Italian violins at the Royal College of Music in London. There, to my delight, was being sold another recording in which the violinist, Xue Wei (a professor at the Royal College), had used 11 of the antique Cremonese violins from the Royal College Collection. The recording was titled: The Romance of Cremona. I bought the CD and wore that one out with repeated listenings. All the while, my list of traits, properties, structures, behaviors and characteristics continued to grow. And my understanding of the precise causes behind each specific property also increased. As they developed, my ability to build these qualities into my violins improved.
This Violin Heard In The Above Recording Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 6 1 In 2 0 14
At a certain point, I decided to teach all that I had learned to other instrument makers. What I had developed over a life time’s work was what I have come to call my "acoustical technology," a technology that was relatively teachable to others who shared a sense of rightness in the approach I had carved out 35 years earlier. One of the violin makers who asked me to teach him my acoustical technology was a man from Kiev in the Ukraine named Artiom Sinelnikov. As it turned out, Artiom did not have the financial means to travel to the US to study with me, so I taught him over the internet using Skype. It turned out that everything I taught him could be heard and learned during our Skyping sessions. Over a period of nine months, Artiom had learned everything I could teach him. I had warned him at the outset of teaching him that I had not yet learned everything needed to produce a violin sound that equaled the sounds of the great antique makers, and suggested that once he had learned all I could teach him, we could collaborate in further research in order to speed up the learning process, a prospect the idea of which enticed him. Artiom, it turns out, is an astonishingly fine acoustical scientist, a quality I came to discover after we collaborated in our research together.
It was during Artiom’s second visit to my shop in Manchester, Michigan in 2014 that things suddenly began to “gel” acoustically speaking. I suddenly found a sense and imagination for what a great violin should sound like. Our joint researches combined to yield violin sounds that exceeded in quality all my, his, and our previous work. Bouyed by these results, I set about to make 11 violins, 1 viola, and a cello in order to confirm these results. It will take time to puzzle out exactly how to make the sound that I now have in my imagination. Its now not a question of whether, only one of when.
This Violin Heard In The Recording Above Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 6 8 In 2 0 1 5
Some Background for this Parallel Recording
In May 2015 I had finished these instruments and it was then, by chance, that I met Matthew Lammers. During a casual conversation with Matthew I suggested that because I had the viola, the cello and 10 violins ready, that I was planning at some point to make a recording in the spirit of the original Ricci recording. It was after hearing him play one of my violins that I sensed that he would be the musician I needed to make the recording, the one I had dreamed of making since first hearing the Ricci recording in 1978. So I asked Matthew if he wanted to make the recording for me. He asked what was involved. I told him and said how much I would be prepared to pay him. He agreed to make the recording. With that, I arranged with Jennifer McGuire to handle the keyboard parts. And that was that, or so I thought.
This Violin Below Heard In The Above Recording Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 7 1 In 2 0 1 5
The next hurdle to cross was that of getting a producer and recordist for my recording project. I had known Wolfgang Rubsam for years because of the award winning CDs he had produced for Naxos with Elizabeth Farr playing my harpsichords, as well as an antique I had restored, and lautenwerk. (http://keithhillharpsichords.com/gpage.html1.html) So I called Wolf and asked if he would be interested in producing and recording my project. On hearing about the nature of my project, he refused to be a part of it, saying that recording music involving violin was treacherous at best because the number of takes and the endless editing would stretch out into infinity, and, “No” he wasn’t interested to do it. I accepted his decision and determined to find another producer recordist for my project. Then, a few days later, Wolf called me back and said he would do the project in exchange for my “Dumpster Buddy”.
The “Dumpster Buddy” was a cello that one of my apprentices had rescued from a dumpster 24 years earlier. It was a late 19th century Czeck made factory cello with machine tuners (like those found on a double bass) which arrived in my shop in pieces except for the ribs which survived only because they were lined by some idiot repairman, probably in the 1950’s, with poplar blocks that were ½” thick by 2” wide and filling the space between the liners completely—all the way around the entire inside of the cello. Obviously, something had to be done back then to the ribs because from the outside they were a patched up wreck. Had that repairman glued 1/32” thick veneers instead of the ½” thick blocks I would have considered him to be competent. As it was, he didn’t, so I had planned to trash the instrument.
Thinking better of that plan, I instead, kind of as a joke, decided to glue the cello back together again and tune the wood according to my area tuning principle. The joke was a lesson in not judging a cello by the wretchedness of its appearance. As it turned out, the cello sounded splendid. (One cellist who played it immediately asked if I could tune the wood on her recently purchased $25,000 cello. I asked her if the maker was still alive. He was. So I declined to alter her cello.) Anyway, during one of Wolf’s visit, which included his wife and daughter, his daughter, a cellist, asked to try the instrument out. She immediately fell in love with the instrument and christened it her “Dumpster Buddy”.
So I loaned her the instrument. After a year or so, I wanted to loan the cello to another cellist in need of a cello while his own cello was being repaired and until he got it back. That was the story about the “Dumpster Buddy”, that is until Wolf brought up the subject again.
Well, Wolf clearly wanted the cello and was willing to produce and record my project in exchange for the cello. Since it had sat unused in my shop for the last three years, I was happy to make that exchange. I now had my lead violinist, an accompanist and my producer.
The Violin Pictured Below Heard In The Second To Last Recording Above Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 6 6 In 2 0 1 5
This Violin Below Heard In The Last Recording Above Was Made By Keith Hill Opus 4 7 2 In 2 0 1 5
At that point, I asked Matthew to find three other players to record Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 18, No.2 movements 1 and 4. Instead he found a quartet that was practicing for a competition in the fall and they agreed to learn the music and play it for the recording using 2 of my violins, my viola and cello that I had just finished. Matthew also arranged with the violinists from the quartet to take two of the pieces, to lighten his load, as the violinists were eager to participate in the project of recording these violins.
What follows are recordings of the 1st movement from the Beethoven String Quartet in G major Opus 18 No. 2 1. Allegro. To compare the sounds of of my instruments with others that are antiques (though of unknown origin) I have supplied tracks from two different professional Quartets that I knew used all antique Italian instruments, the Végh Quartet and the Guarneri Quartet followed by the same movement using my instruments.
Photos of the Hill String Quartet are shown below the audio samples.
All this was really rather spur of the moment as it transpired over a two week period, at the end of which Wolf drove down from his home in Indiana and recorded the music for my project.
Making the Recording.
The rules I established at the outset of this project were as follows. 1. There would be no endless retakes and countless edits…period. 2. Every piece of music would be played only three times during recording and Wolf would choose the best take (tuning wise and musically speaking) from the three. This was important because I know, from having participated in numerous recording projects over the 43 years that I have been a harpsichord maker, that after the first mistake and its consequent retakes for editing purposes the music only became more and more sterile sounding…free not only of mistakes but also of serious musical quality. The more takes were made, the more fearful the players got and the more the music suffered as a result. I did not want that to happen during my recording project. 3. I wanted to keep the players in as “Love Mode” a state as possible and preserve every smiggen of musicality. Furthermore, 4. I wanted all the musicians to use as much as possible as many of the communication techniques (see: www.musicalratio.com) as they could and to take all the liberties with the music they desired to take even to the point of insisting that they play their parts as independently as possible…as though the other part(s) did not even exist. 5. I wanted the quartet players to totally ignore “tight ensemble” because to me “tight ensemble” always led to uptight playing, an effect I consider to be completely unmusical. 6. To quote Giovanni Tosi, from his 1736 treatise on singing: “the singer should endeavor to sing before the beat or after the beat and never with the beat!” That is how I wanted this recording project played, because that is how all the greatest singers and virtuoso musicians played before the “Sterilizing program” that began in the 1940’s. That sterilizing program was instituted by classical musicians to rid themselves of any vestige of what they liked to call “sloppy sentimental romanticisms of a bygone era” from their playing; a movement resulting a highly mannered way of playing that succeeded only in sterilizing or killing off most of the audiences for classical music since that time. It turned out that all those supposed "sloppy sentimental romanticisms of a bygone era" were actually how music needs to be presented in order to be communicated such that it works with the way the human brain makes sense of heard information, the result of which can actually move an audience. Without these "romanticism" (which are actually communication techniques that everyone uses when speaking to communicate expressively with others whom they wish to convince of something) audiences of normal music lovers are blocked/prevented from feeling the music, instead, they are forced merely to hear it, like a boring recitation from a list of zeros and ones. I wanted none of that. Wolf and all the musicians agreed with my guidelines.
What follows are recordings of the 4th movement from the Beethoven String Quartet in G major Opus 18 No. 2 the Allegro Qolto Quasi Presto. To compare the sounds of of my instruments with others that are antiques (though of unknown origin) I have supplied tracks from two different famous professional Quartets, the Guarneri Quartet and the Végh Quartet followed by the same movements using my instruments. Photos of the Hill String Quartet are shown below the audio samples.
The rest is what you can hear in the performances that were created for this recording project. As I said, my intention behind these recordings was to be able to compare the recorded sound of my violins directly with the recorded sound of some of the great Cremonese violins by Stradivari and Guarneri del Jesu, as found in the 1973 LP disc of Ruggerio Ricci titled: The Glory of Cremona, using the same music he used in that recording. As I wrote earlier, the principle defect in the sounds of my violins is that the they have not been played in. All except Opus 425 were made since October of 2014, the last one, Opus 472 having been finished and ready to play on the day the recordings were completed, on May 15th, 2015.
What I have learned from listening repeatedly to the recordings of my violins and from the experience of working closely with fine string players, most especially with Matthew Lammers is what many of the comments about the instruments meant to the players themselves and exactly what they value in a sound. When playing six of the 11 violins, one player, perhaps the most experienced and technically masterful of everyone who has played the violins, evaluated them on the amount of “sparkle” in the sound of each instrument. The violin with the most sparkling sound was the one he liked best. Another player preferred the darker sounding violins. Another characterized the whole group of violins, but some more specifically, as establishing “a new paradigm of violin sound” because of the vocal qualities evident in the recordings. One listener preferred the smoothest, least sparkling sounding violin best because it didn’t grate on the nerves to hear the sound. One of my most reliable critics said that the only thing missing in the sound of these violins, when he played them, was all the beneficial effects of playing-in, which is own Hill violin had acquired in the 13 years that he had been playing one of my violins. His comment reminded me of the quote from the early 19th century violinist, Louis Spohr, who said, when shown a Stradivari violin that had never been played since it was made, that “given 10 years of playing-in it would become a great violin”. One violinist who played Opus 469 was astonished by how much it sounded like a G.B. Guadagnini violin he had known very well, at which I reported that in fact I had used the tuning system I had observed on a Guadagnini violin for which I had made a special shoulder rest last year. A fiddler who visited me to play the violins was taken by how wonderful each violin sounded and how strongly different each one is from the others. He said it was clear that I had passed a milestone in my violin making. His view was shared by another who was also impressed by how different yet sweet sounding each violin was yet how all still sounded like members of the same family, like individual members in a big happy family. The person also found the sound of the whole quartet of instrument to be so perfectly blended yet distinctive and clear…a unique effect he had never before heard in the work of a single maker.
Opus 425 was the one violin of the group used in the recording, which had been played since 2009 and which I acoustically upgraded several times since, that all the violinists immediately responded to as being highly desirable to play. The other of the group that generated the same response was Opus 468. Of opus 467, one player said it sounded of all the most like an antique violin, another found the same instrument somewhat limiting in what he could do with the sound, and another found the “sandiness” of the sound really appealing. I have since converted 467 into a Baroque violin, because of these assessments, and have discovered that what was limiting in that violin, with a modern set up, became more resonant and unlimited when set up as a Baroque violin and tuned to A-415, the original design and pitch of the antique Italian violins.
Violin below used in the above recording was made by Keith Hill and Artiom Sinelnikov #1 in 2014
The least sparkling sounding violins of this batch of violins, opus 460, 462 and 471, I have also acoustically amended and adjusted to raise the “sparkle” factor of each. The one significant favorite of all the violins was the one that was finished and made ready to be recorded on the day before the recordings were made, which was 472. Almost every player who plays on that violin is astonished by the amount of depth, resonance, brilliance, ease of play, volume, ring, charm of timbre, and energy with which the instrument pulsates. I had offered Matthew the loan of one of my violins to thank him for his successful participation in my recording project, and 472 was his instantaneous choice. But second and third to that choice were 471 and 425. For Matt it was a toss up between 468 and 425, but since 468 already likely has someone interested to buy it, 425 became his second favorite along with 471. As for myself, my favorite sounds come from 461 and 470, which Matt chose for playing the Paganini Cantabile and Waltz and the Kreisler Dancing Doll and which also happen to be the most open and sparkling sounding of this group of violins. Because I need to keep 470 around for a while to figure out exactly why that violin is so incredibly powerful and sparkling sounding yet flexible and subtle, that violin was out of the lineup when Matt made his selection.
Beginning with 466, I had changed several of my techniques of acoustical adjustment which resulted in a significant increase in volume, power, resonance, and brilliance, and at the same time enhanced both the flexibility of color and pathos of the sound. My aim for the future is to continue down this path until I am able to optimize every single violin I make, of which 470, 471, and 472 are a prelude to that work. Meanwhile, all these violins including the viola and the cello are currently for sale to anyone interested.
ON MY PATH TO MUSIC AS A PROFESSION
by Matthew Lammers
While music has played an integral role in my life since the age of three, when my parents enrolled me in Suzuki violin lessons following advice that it would draw me away from picking the cuticles on my fingers, it has been the subject of my professional dedication for only a bit more than three years. I was fortunate to have been exposed as a player throughout my pre-college life to fine teachers, inspiring mentors, and exciting opportunities and collaborators (most notably in chamber music). These experiences instilled in me an irresistible urge to grow as a player and musician that I, in retrospect, perhaps underestimated.
In an effort to balance my desire to play music with a drive to satisfy my academic proclivities, I found myself in Vanderbilt University’s College of Arts and Sciences studying Chemistry for a year, throughout which I was in denial that music needed to be more than a casual hobby. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for and join the studio of Christian Teal as a non-major, and my studies with him grew from weekly lessons, to a minor in performance, to a second major in performance in the Blair School of Music. He became an important mentor and musical influence, and at the end of my first year with him something struck me the evening before an infamously impassable calculus exam: I didn’t care about that exam and what it meant to my future in chemistry. It was irrelevant compared to how desperately I wanted to be practicing the violin, and this prompted another realization: I could never make music on the level I wanted to and was capable of as long as my musical energy was necessarily deprioritized to anything less fulfilling. I was good at chemistry, but I could never be a chemist worth anything knowing how much more music meant to me than I was willing to acknowledge. I made Blair School my "home" and kept Chemistry as a second major. I was at last able to devote myself to studying the craft of violin playing and the art of music making, and the opportunities and insight this has allowed me have been tremendous.
Violin used in the preceding recording was made by Keith Hill Opus 469 a small pattern violin in 2015
Why I Took On the Parallel Recording Project
I found Keith’s proposal for this project, even before I’d ever played any of his instruments to any extent, exciting and compelling for two reasons. Playing different instruments and the ability to move successfully between them on demand require a high level of technical understanding and flexibility. I strongly believe that, while it is subservient to musical communication and a means to an end, strong and precise technique is required in revealing the widest array of reliable musical effects and in producing the desired effect in the most complimentary way. Elements of my technique that are successful on my instrument may fall short on another, which reveals room for improvement that wasn’t otherwise immediately obvious. In short, different instruments present different sets of challenges that train one’s technique to perform more eloquently on any instrument. Having thirteen instruments through which I could view and scrutinize my technique was a valuable opportunity. It also shed light on the intentionality and procedural knowledge required to reproduce technique reliably and most eloquently.
I observed, for example, that the position of my left thumb extended at fingerboard level was preventing my fourth finger from rotating comfortably to play in tune on the G-string of an instrument with a neck wider than I was used to. Releasing it to a position further under the neck, where the span between thumb and fourth finger across the palm was narrower and had the capacity to stretch and reach, allowed troublesome notes to be hit much more easily. While it’s likely I would have made this adjustment subconsciously when playing that instrument, mindful consideration of why the adjustment was helpful taught me that bringing the thumb under and/or up (towards the bridge), regardless of the instrument, produced greater flexibility outside the hand’s standard position.
A second reason I found the project compelling came from the search process for my current violin. I found the process incredibly difficult because I was accustomed to the sound of my old violin and had trouble coming to grips with the fact that instruments with different sound qualities were giving me the characteristics I desired despite the discomfort and unfamiliarity with such new sensations under my ear. I eventually realized that learning to appreciate, manage, and become accustomed to a new sound quality wasn’t the same as learning to cope with something I disliked. I wasn’t experiencing dislike. I was experiencing something I didn’t yet understand how to use to my liking. Learning to play a variety of instruments was an opportunity to expand my portfolio of sound qualities I’ve experienced and can manage, and in doing so I knew I would learn to recognize and exploit any degree of any particular quality in any instrument. It would broaden the range of colors I could produce and enhance on an instrument, whether or not it had that quality in spades.
On Setting Up the Instruments
Before I took the instruments home to practice on and acclimate to, Keith and I spent a substantial amount of time setting up the instruments. This process was critical to making the instruments as responsive/playable as possible and to making them sound as good as possible. While Keith was able to hear aspects of the instruments’ sounds he wanted to change, there were a number of variables with respect to responsiveness that required my observation and description for him to address. Some examples include:
· String height (the feel of string resistance and depth of movement in the left hand)
· Wolf tones that wanted to be eliminated
· Pitches noticeably weaker than those around them that needed strengthening
· Covered sounds that wanted to be more open
The process of honing the instruments down to their most playable and responsive condition was one of repeated adjustment and testing. In many instances it took multiple adjustments to an instrument to alleviate a problem I was experiencing, and in many cases it wasn’t a matter of modifying the instrument. In the majority of cases, as a matter of fact, Keith’s ability to instantly determine the cause immediately and fix a problem more precisely increased as my ability to improve my way of describing it to him. We found that in some cases our interpretations of a descriptor were different such that I needed to search for clearer, less impressionistic, and more scientific language to communicate in a way that interpretation wasn’t necessary. As I developed the ability to do so and lighted upon successful descriptors, we ended up compiling a language that made our set up time more efficient and successful. There was, however, yet another difficulty intrinsic in this process: a difference in expertise that needed to be bridged. Take, for example, an instance in which I observed that the bow felt as though it were being thrown out of the string. There isn’t a component or dial on the instrument that controls bow-in-stringedness. Another level of deduction and inference, finding the cause of the problem, was necessary. As our process of adjustment and testing led us through surmise to successes in addressing these problems, however, I found myself able to guess what the likely cause was, and Keith as well was able to make quick connections between problems and causes.
We ultimately spent between one and three hours together at work going back and forth testing and tweaking each violin. After the initial set up session I would bring the instrument home and find that after a day or two of playing it would need further adjusting; violins as new as these are in constant motion trying to settle into stability, so the vast majority of these instruments went through two or more adjustment sessions.
The violin heard in the recording above was made by Keith Hill and Artiom Sinelnikov #2 in 2014
On Acclimating to the Instruments
To invoke an age-old cliché, every violin is like a snowflake – completely unique not only in sound, but in proportions and responsiveness as well. While many of these variables had no appreciable effect on the experience of playing the instrument, like ff-hole dimension for example, some of them required a lot of intention and repetition to adjust for in my technique and approach. The most outstanding of these were:
· Length from nut to body (affecting landmark pitch where hand shifts into contact with body)
· Neck diameter (see above)
· String height (affecting incisiveness required in left hand articulation)
· Width of body where it meets the neck (affecting palm span needed to reach across strings in high positions)
· Threshold of bowed sound production (affecting the amount of weight and speed required of the bow to produce any given quantity of sound)
· Ideal sounding point (affecting the distance from the bridge at which a healthy sound of some kind is most easily produced and controlled)
· Tendency to repel bow from string (affecting the control and interference required from player to keep bow in string when a connected articulation is desired and rebounding from the string when a more detached stroke is needed)
Keeping track of and making the most of thirteen sets of these characteristics required patience and an unusual kind of practice. Instead of practicing a single instrument (and therefore single piece) for an hour or so and building momentum with it, as I generally do when there’s a variety of repertoire needing attention in a day, I would spend just fifteen minutes at a time with an instrument before moving on to another. In this way I would play each instrument every day, and time allowing I would return to a couple that gave me particular trouble. In this way I wasn’t so much practicing the repertoire, but the ability to move freely between violins, quickening my technical adaptability, and building recognition of the general technique required by each instrument; number of repetitions becoming comfortable with the instruments was far more valuable than quantity of time spent practicing on them.
While manipulating my technique to accommodate the instruments’ physical and responsive characteristics was very important, my technique was not the only variable in motion; each instrument evolved (in some cases very significantly) over the course of my time practicing with it. Many string players are skeptical, even afraid, of buying a modern instrument because it feels somewhat like playing the stock market. “How will this instrument change? Will its sound improve as it’s played, or will it become an entirely new animal, one I didn’t pay for?” I admit I felt the same trepidation searching for my personal violin a number of years ago, and this is in fact a reasonable concern. Having observed thirteen violins (fourteen, if you include my own from a different maker) undergo change during the most transformative stage of their existence, creation through the first months of heavy playing, I can say with confidence that this concern can be ignored. At least, with Keith's violins, every single one of these instruments retained their characteristics that endeared or identified them to me and, furthermore, settled into FAR more diverse and expansive sound palates than they had at first. Mellower violins became more resonant and developed rounder sounds, and violins with a big natural sound (what I would have described as shouty at first listen) became tremendously more manageable and healthy sounding at softer dynamics and more tempered in their natural sound. Every single instrument became more responsive under the hands and bow as well. In short, I noticed a kind of resemblance in every single instrument to a pubescent adolescent. They began by feeling like teen athletes – arms long enough to swing a baseball bat and perform other tasks with control, but with bones and ligaments growing out of proportion making most coordinated motion impossible. As I played the instruments they grew into their twenties. Bones were finished growing, the brain had a grasp on its body’s new size, and ligaments fit snugly around their skeleton. They felt as though the joints had grown firmly together in proportion to their surroundings, and all the limbs began to function together as a harmonious unit rather than individual misfit parts.
The fundamental challenge in characterizing these instruments, so I could play them at their potential and most appropriately pair them with repertoire, was understanding the difference between how a violin’s sound is perceived under the ear as compared to what it sounds like to a listener. Take, for example Op. 470, the first instrument of Keith’s I played as part of the project. To my ear it sounded quite shrill – perhaps even metallic, but in playing it for others, hearing their reactions and descriptions, and adjusting to this new sound I came to the understanding that the “shrillness” I was experiencing was, in fact, not an unpleasant sound, but one that was simply powerful. I went through similar realizations throughout the set of thirteen violins. A seemingly “flat” sound under the ear was perceived as dark, but not weak, to a listener. A seemingly “dainty” sound was perceived as a focused one by the listener. A seemingly “rumbly” sound is perceived as a diffuse one by the listener.
One might argue that these are examples of player and listener simply disagreeing unknowingly on the meaning of subjective adjectives, but connotation, the general sense of “I like this” or “I don’t like this”, can’t be delegitimized or misinterpreted and allows for the breaking down of this situation into a basic conclusion: an instrument that sounds disagreeable to the player may be completely enjoyable to the listener and vice-versa...a fact of life, I later learned, that every singer of any professional status lives with and must endure for the sake of being able to make a sound that is perceived of as beautiful by the listener, meaning: their voice to them sounds awful which is one reason, perhaps, why they need so much constant reassurance regarding the sound they are making.
I believe the primary reason for these discrepancies is feedback from the instrument. In playing a violin, the musician experiences physical reactions and stimulation from the instrument the listener doesn’t and cannot infer. It’s not at all unlike the experience of a singer as I alluded to above; the sensation of producing a clear tone that projects being extremely unpleasant to a singer thanks to a tremendous amount of intense vibration in the skull and its cavities. While playing the violin could not generally be described as unpleasant, certain responses or lack thereof from the instrument can rob the experience of some satisfaction or create superficial excitement. Either case will heavily influence the player’s impression of the sound. I don’t, however, want to suggest that a violin producing the best sound in the world without sending positive feedback to the player should be chosen unquestioningly over one that replaces a relatively small amount of sound and a higher level of satisfaction. Certain kinds of feedback from an instrument can inspire a level of musicianship that a playing experience void of tactile fascination cannot. I think it would do violinists reading this a disservice to outline some of these sensations, as different forms of feedback are embraced/adored or detested by everyone to a different extent, and you need not be told what reactions suit your playing and physical demands.
On Adjusting the Instruments with Keith
The back-and-forth process Keith and I went through achieving the setup most advantageous to each instrument was painstaking and informative for both of us, as I’ve already related. The process itself is quite involved, though, and worth explaining in more detail.
We’d begin the process by allowing me a couple minutes to draw first impressions of the instrument and get somewhat familiar with its technical requirements. Without an idea of how the instrument responds how would I possibly bring it as near its ideal point of adjustment as possible? How could I even form a vision let alone a strategy of achieving success in getting the instrument to sound and respond its best? These couple minutes usually involved some fairly aimless noodling that took me to every part of the fingerboard at least once. Keith would listen to these moments of first impression as well, hearing his work paired with my technique for the first time, planning adjustments he’d like to make from the listener’s perspective.
At this point things became much more methodical. I began with a simple G Major scale across first position, with the intent of demonstrating how even the sound quality of the instrument was across the strings. I would do the same with a chromatic scale, this time discovering how the instrument’s sound evolved from pitch to consecutive pitch-- zooming in further on its tonal spectrum, if you will. If these different colors, or lack thereof, between pitches/strings inhibited natural or responsive playing I would let Keith know. It’s was Keith's adamant insistence that there be no room at all for me to mince words to protect "the maker’s ego" in this process. Complete honesty was essential, and I soon discovered that spending time complementing his work wasn’t productive. To have these instruments sounding their absolute best and make my input most beneficial I had to be totally and guiltlessly prolific with constructive criticism. To not do so would have undermined our work together and insulted either his ability to control or his understanding of his instruments and craft.
Once I’d shed light (or rather cast shade) on any disjointed pitch connections or notes that weren’t speaking properly in first position, I’d begin working my way up each string chromatically, bottom to top with the same purpose. Severe wolf tones would most often present themselves high on the G-string, and any pitch not sounding smoothly or clearly was mostly likely found nearer the bridge. Keith would address each misfit pitch individually (by locating, shaving or repositioning components for pitch that result in interference vibration) and return the instrument to me after each pitch was addressed for another trial. Each pitch would often take a handful of these exchanges and descriptions of what I was feeling and hearing, and my goal in playing the instrument was to trip it up – to uncover every possible fault in every possible approach to the string in that pitch. Once he and I were satisfied I had the least possible chance of encountering that inconsistency again we’d move on to the next one (most often the same pitch class in a different location).
I always finished the adjustment process by putting the instrument’s playability into some repertoire context. The opening of the Beethoven Concerto is a marvelous way to experience a violin’s evenness across the strings and playability on the E-string, the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo its responsiveness to off-string strokes all around, the opening of the Sibelius Concerto (with a variety of creative fingerings) its playability high on the A, D, and G-strings, and the second half of the second movement of the Beethoven Concerto its ability to connect notes smoothly and sing through long bows and bow changes with clarity. At this point I would give Keith a summary of my impressions of the instrument’s overall strengths and weaknesses, which oftentimes inspired another round of trial and error or more significant adjustments.
On Matching the Instruments with Pieces
Before making any decisions as to which piece would be played on which violin, I needed to establish criteria to follow consistently. The objective of the project was to showcase the instruments in their most compelling element, so I decided that my pairings would be made by making the best matches between the pieces’ desired effects and the instruments’ sound qualities. I was careful to avoid using an instrument because it made a piece compliment my technique and therefore easy for me; if a piece was easier on one violin but displayed the sound quality of another more naturally I chose to showcase the latter instead of my own playing. While the sound quality and impression an instrument gives are difficult to describe, I’ve tried to synthesize recognizable aspects into the following general areas I considered in characterizing the violins:
Criteria used for Understanding a Violin's potential
· Brightness or darkness of sound (Does the sound seem to float up from the violin or burble through you to the ground? Does the sound seem pointed or rounded?)
· Variety of colors available (Can the instrument’s sound be generalized, or do different registers and technical inputs result in a variety of personalities?)
· Similarly, the geography of colors (Does each string come with its own personality? Is the high register one personality and the low another? Do color changes happen pitch by pitch like a continuum, or does each pitch in sequence have its own personality distinct from those around it?)
· Projection (Does the instrument have a sound that readily breaks through thick textures from other instruments?)
· Volume (How great is the maximum quantity of sound the instrument can produce? What is the minimum quantity of sound the instrument can produce with/without good tone?)
· Clarity (How crisply and cleanly can the instrument speak between bow changes or during a stroke? What kinds of articulations and bow strokes speak most cleanly? How smoothly does the instrument join the sounds of two bow strokes?)
On Characteristics of the Violins Individually
Op. 425: Boasts neutral colored sounds; equally at home in light and heavy playing. From this point of departure a wide range of highly controllable colors are available, yet its fundamental voice is consistent, which is what I mean by the term neutral. It’s very “even”, one could say compliant, that is the timbre of the instrument changes on a gradient across the violin. When a color change is desired it can be achieved anywhere on the instrument with very similar input. While its projection and volume are moderate, though not weak, crisp articulations are clear and smooth ones pleasurably amorphous.
Op. 460: Naturally produces a bright, pure, light-hearted sound. The strings feel energetic under the left hand, but the bow feels planted and grounded. The changes in character across the instrument happen dramatically from note to note, making musical playing naturally vivid. While it’s not particularly loud, the bright color allows it to project through textures without more than a little effort.
Op. 461: Produces a brassy, bright, pointed sound that makes incisive playing effective. This quality pervades the entire instrument and makes varying the color somewhat difficult. The instrument has a deep “bottom”, however, meaning the player can lay into it with almost any level of aggression or weight and the instrument will generate more volume and production. Many have described that quality as “sassiness”.
Op. 462: Has a tone that could, perhaps, not be described as bright or dark. I would call it delicate, or evanescent (not to be confused with weak). It seems to float out from the instrument. There is, however, a great variety of characters from note to note within that general quality. Attempts to break through the delicate character, though, may result in a sensation of fragility under the bow when weight is added. On the other hand, the bow can be floated with tremendous control while still producing a healthy sound. As a result of these things volume and projection are limited. Clarity, however, is almost too abundant, as it seems acquired at the expense of some connectivity between notes on single string strokes.
Op. 466: An instrument with a very neutral fundamental tone across all four strings. Like Op. 425, a wide variety of tones, both bright and dark, can be pulled out of it as well. The player is rewarded for playing it with a heavy hand, as a burly sound results, as well as a finely coordinated hand, as an intricate spectrum of feathery characters can be produced. Volume is more readily accessible than projecting power, but an accessible, wide scope of articulations allow it to shine over thicker textures.
Op. 467: An instrument with a very light fundamental tone. I found it difficult to produce a dark or gritty tone on this violin. The evenness of this ephemeral fundamental sound might be described as monochromatic. Similarly, it takes a lot of work to project through textures, and I suspect that it would be equally difficult producing enough sound to reach the back of a concert hall.
Op. 468: The fundamental tone of this instrument is stable and gratifying, yet fleet and agile. While the default tone is deep and dark, the instrument seems to have no preference over other desired colors. Basic, efficient inputs from the bow modify the sound dramatically and predictably. This variety of unique colors is available in all registers of the instrument. In addition, all of them are producible with strong projection and any volume, but darker colors are sometimes fragile at low volumes.
Op. 469: This instrument is very similar in most ways to Op. 467. Its sound is generally fragile and difficult to project strongly and loudly, but incisive articulations are naturally responsive.
Op 470: An instrument with a brilliant fundamental tone. Its tendency is to become metallic, but with somewhat moderate adjustments to the bow’s approach a rounder sound can be produced despite its brilliance. I suspect this will become easier as it’s played over a longer period of time. Its projection an volume are, doubtless, the strongest of the thirteen instruments, but it becomes squirrely when played quietly or tenderly. Articulations at any volume, however, are tremendously clear, and connecting sounds is achievable with only moderate effort.
Op. 471: An instrument without, in the most refreshing way, a strongly characteristic fundamental sound. Any slight adjustment in the bow’s approach influences any sound that results, and this occurs predictably. Additionally, every color feeds back to the player with a unique set of physical reactions. Equally versatile as its color production is its sound production. Blended and projecting playing are easily interchangeable, and its soft and loud sounds are equally stable. Articulations are occasionally difficult to produce incisively, but its legato playability is phenomenal, particularly on the G-string.
Op. 472: Of all Keith's instruments, this violin has the most satisfying balance between ease of response and sound production. Like the antique Italian instruments are said to act, it requires quite a bit of familiarization to predict how it will respond to various techniques, but once acquainted with it very little is unpredictable and the time spent getting acquainted becomes well worth it. It requires the most familiarization in exploring softer dynamics, lighter bow strokes, and hazy tone colors. It's default, though, is a refreshing (not harshly pointed or strident) clarity and eloquence in articulation and sustained sounds that contain a kind of speaking quality; up bows sound and feel under the bow like inhalations and down bows like exhalations linked naturally by smooth connection to what came before them. In short, the instrument produces incredibly fascinating tone colors, tactile responses, quantity of sound, and potential for projection, but the player must be very well and mindfully acquainted with it and invest a fair amount of energy while playing to achieve these results with consistency. 472 reminds me a bit of having a stallion -- it's tremendously satisfying to ride while you're passing everyone else like they're on Shetland ponies, but if you turn your back in the stables it'll kick your head in. In an endearing way (the violin, not so much the horse).
Hill and Sinelnikov #1: This instrument’s default tone is quite gritty. While this becomes a satisfying rumble when played aggressively, light playing results in a lack of responsiveness, as this sound quality is very difficult to avoid. Strong production and volume are easy at the player’s fingertips, but softer ones are far more demanding. While this is the case, connected articulations are as accessible as incisive ones.
Hill and Sinelnikov #2: This instrument’s natural sound is fantastically round and dark. It seems to waft away from the instrument in all directions and surround the listener. While this sound is very pleasant and indulgent, it is troublesome to achieve a variety of other colors. Articulations as round as its sound are just as natural as its dark color palate. Pitches feel as though they melt together, but creating separating articulations takes quite a bit of effort, as do strong projection and volume. Soft dynamics, however, are incredibly fleet and manageable.
Hill and Sinelnikov #3: This instrument, in contrast to the previously described instrument, produces a pleasantly sharp sound. The response, to the ear, seems nothing short of immediate, as the sound reaches the listener with absolute clarity and purity. This sound is somewhat variable, though an entirely dark sound is not easily accessible. Within its sharp character, though, a variety of soaring and grounded colors are available after some time is spent understanding its physical feedbacks. Neither particularly incisive nor connected articulations are easily accessible, though everything in between is easy to produce efficiently and clearly. Projection and volume are most readily produced in moderation as well, and tremendous clarity is achievable at that level.
About Matthew Lammers
Violinist Matt Lammers is a 2015 Magna Cum Laude graduate of the Blair School of Music (Vanderbilt University) from the studios of Christian Teal and Carolyn Huebl, and he has begun his graduate studies with Paul Kantor at the Shepherd School of Music (Rice University). A native of Eden Prairie, MN, he studied with Ray Shows of the Artaria String Quartet as well. As a chamber musician he is a prizewinner at the St. Paul String Quartet, MTNA, and Ravinia’s Discover®, and Fischoff national chamber music competitions and has performed in concert joining members of the Nashville Symphony and Blair School faculty. His performance on National Public Radio’s From the Top with the Malik Quartet is rebroadcast regularly, and his recording of the Barber Concerto for MN Public Radio has also been broadcast on a number of occasions.
As an orchestral musician he is a substitute with the MN Orchestra, has served as concertmaster of the Vanderbilt Orchestra and BLAIR Ensemble, and attended the Aspen Music Festival and Brevard Music Center to study with Paul Kantor and William Preucil respectively.
He was named winner of the 2014 Jean Keller Heard Prize for string performance, the inaugural Christian Teal Award for collaborative innovation in 2015, and the 2015 Michael Rabin Prize for excellence in musical performance following his performance of the Beethoven Concerto with the BLAIR Ensemble and world premier of Jack Coen’s Hyperthymesia (for violin and electronics).
A committed pedagogue, he has served on the faculty of the W.O. Smith Community Music School (Nashville) and as a counselor/coach at the Stringwood Chamber Music Institute. He also believes that exposing those who wouldn’t normally experience classical music to it in approachable, informal settings is vital to the longevity and growth of the art form and has founded and directed a number of chamber music series’ that take place in unlikely venues across Nashville.
VIDEOS OF ANTIQUE VIOLINS
These Videos Below Feature The Sounds Of Excellent 18th Century Mostly Italian Violins, Violas, And Cellos By Important Cremonese Violin Makers
As these videos are all embeded from the internet, a note of gratitude must be made to the performers and to YouTube