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Project to digitally record the sounds of Stradivarius instruments for posterity in Cremona

Published: 16/01/2020 By The Abode Team

The people of Cremona are unusually sensitive to noise at the moment. The police have cordoned off streets in the usually bustling city centre and traffic has been diverted. During a recent news conference, the city’s mayor, Gianluca Galimberti, implored Cremona’s citizens to avoid any sudden and unnecessary sounds.

Cremona is home to the workshops of some of the world’s finest instrument makers, including Antonio Stradivari, who in the 17th and 18th centuries produced some of the finest violins and cellos ever made. The city is getting behind an ambitious project to digitally record the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen. And that means being quiet.

A Stradivarius violin, viola or cello represents the pinnacle of sound engineering, and nobody has been able to replicate their unique tones. Fausto Cacciatori, the curator of Cremona’s Museo del Violino, a museum devoted to musical instruments that is assisting with the project, said that each Stradivarius had “its own personality.” But, he added, their distinctive sounds “will inevitably change,” and could even be lost within just a few decades.

“It’s part of their life cycle,” Mr. Cacciatori said. “We preserve and restore them, but after they reach a certain age, they become too fragile to be played and they ‘go to sleep,’ so to speak.” So that future generations won’t miss out on hearing the instruments, three sound engineers are producing the “Stradivarius Sound Bank” — a database storing all the possible tones that four instruments selected from the Museo del Violino’s collection can produce.

"It’ll be physically and mentally challenging for them,” said Thomas Koritke, a sound engineer from Hamburg, Germany, who is leading the project. “They’ll have to play hundreds of thousands of individual notes and transitions for eight hours a day, six days a week, for more than a month.” Organizing the project had also taken a long time, Mr. Koritke added. “It took us a few years to convince the museum to let us use 500-year-old stringed instruments,” he said. Then they had to find top musicians who knew the instruments inside out. Then the acoustics of the auditorium, which was designed around the sound of the instruments, had to be studied, as well.

In 2017, the engineers thought their project was finally ready to get underway. But a soundcheck revealed a major flaw. “The streets around the auditorium are all made of cobblestone, an auditory nightmare,” Mr. Tedeschi said. The sound of a car engine, or a woman walking in high heels, produces vibrations that run underground and reverberate in the microphones, making the recording worthless, he explained. “It was either shutting down the entire area or having the project not seeing the light of day,” Mr. Tedeschi said.

Luckily for the engineers, Cremona’s mayor is also the president of the Stradivarius Foundation, the municipal body that owns the Museo del Violino. He allowed the streets around the museum to be closed for five weeks and appealed to people in the city to keep it down.