Great Designs in Wood (62) - The Violin...and the Secrets of Stradivari

A couple of years ago now we looked at the violin, and its magnificent design, in GDiW (39) and GDiW (43). In those posts, we naturally enough focused on the wood component of the violin, and how the species and wood specimens used impact the tone of the instrument.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual Penn State Private Forest Landowners Conference, and my presentation topic was "The Wonderful World of Wood". In it, I skimmed very lightly some of the most popular wonders of wood from around the world, and one of those topics was the marvelous design of the great Italian violins. However, I was limited to only a few minutes on the topic, as always, and predictably, I could tell the audience would have liked to know much more about these great violins.

So, for those folks, and for the rest of you Go Wood readers who love the topic, I have found a lecture by violinist Rose Mary Harbison and Professor William Fry given in 2009 at the Boston Museum of Science. Professor Fry does an excellent job of describing the physics of the violin, and how they are achieved, in a way that we non-physicists can easily understand, sort of...and Mrs. Harbison illustrates the principles as Dr. Fry explains them on several great violins.

This video is about an hour and a half long...and it seems like half that. We learn that the selection of the wood was not the only key to the violins, and perhaps not even a significant one...but that the secrets lie in the scientific artistry of the construction techniques. So, for the rest of the story, watch...

Unfortunately, Dr. Fry left us in 2011, but his legacy as a great researcher and teacher is cemented in history in this video. And what a legacy he left. From his obituary...
"During World War II he was a commissioned naval officer, stationed at the Naval Research Laboratories in Washington, D.C., where he led the research on jamming devices for guided missiles. Then on to the White Sands, New Mexico rocket site, where he was in charge of researching German V-2 rockets. Dr. Fry was Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin from 1952 to 1998. He was an experimental high energy physicist at the University and pioneered the astrophysics program. He also established physics programs at the University of Padova and Milan University in Italy in 1957. He was a Guggenheim Scholar and Fulbright Lecturer and served as a consultant to the International Atomic Energy Commission. He spent over four decades in violin acoustical research, uncovering the secrets of Stradivarius. His accomplishments in violin research are recognized in books and film, and are detailed in a scientific video book he completed last year. Jack was an avid historian who collected Italian manuscripts from the 12th century through the Fascist period during his extensive travels in Italy. He donated over 40,000 books and documents to the University of Wisconsin library, making the largest collection of Italian Fascist-era documents available to scholars worldwide. He was a man with an astonishing range of interests and passionate curiosity, and his many accomplishments too numerous to mention here. Jack always remained modest to a fault, and was a dignified, generous, and fine friend to all who knew him."
Thank you, Mrs. Harbison, and to the Boston Museum of Science for introducing us to the wonderful work of Dr. William (Jack) Fry, and to the Secret of the Stradivarius.

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Carla said…
Chuck, your posts never fail to inform and uplift.

-Carla Harper
Chuck Ray said…
Thank you for continuing to visit and read, Carla.

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