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Probing the secrets of Stradivarius

Two Swedish researchers are hoping to unravel the secrets behind the unique sound of a Stradivarius violin.
This rare Stradivarius violin, one of some 600 that survive, dates from 1725. Thousands more copies also exist.AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two Swedish researchers are hoping to unravel the secrets behind the unique sound of a Stradivarius violin, an acoustic mystery that has enthralled music lovers and perplexed scientists for centuries.

Mats Tinnsten and Peter Carlsson of the Mid-Sweden University in the northern city of Ostersund are using advanced computer models to analyze the famed instruments created by Italian luthier Antoni Stradivari some 300 years ago.

Their goal is to build a replica with the same acoustic properties as Stradivari's violins.

"We feel we are well under way," Tinnsten said. "We hope it will be possible to play a Stradivarius duplicate within a couple of years."

Stradivari built more than 1,100 violins in Cremona, Italy, and some 600 survive. The Italian craftsman was copied by many, so thousands of violins bear his name, some produced years after Stradivari's death in 1737.

"His craftsmanship is still unsurpassed. After his death, few have been able to produce anything that even comes close to his best works," Tinnsten said.

The researchers are applying advanced mathematical formulas to determine how to design a violin that sounds like a Stradivarius.

However, experts said using the scientific findings to build the instrument would require finding the right materials — some suggest the secret to the violins' rich resonance lie in the age of the wood or special varnishes or wood treatments. It would also require the deft touch of a skillful craftsman.

"There are so many parameters involved that it will be very difficult to put the computer findings into practice," said Roland Nilsson, a violin builder in Malmo, in southern Sweden.

A Stradivarius violin was sold at Christie's auction house in New York last year for just over $2 million, the most ever paid for a musical instrument at auction.