Antonio Stradivari (Cremona, 1644 – 18 December, 1737 Cremona) is an Italian luthier, the greatest and most significant crafter in this field. The Latinized form of his surname called Stradivarius refers to his stringed instruments.
As a son of Alessandro Stradivari, he was born, presumably, around 1644 (between 1643 and 1649) in Cremona, situated in Lombardy (near to the birthplace of many immortal musicians). (Contrary to popular belief, his mother was not Anna Moroni, because she died in 1630.) Between 1667 and 1679, he was studying in the Nicola Amati workshop, and in 1680 he opened his first own workshop at Piazza San Domenico.
Stradivari developed his own style, which was based on the special selection of wood and a new type of scroll, standardizing the plate thickness and arching, furthermore emphasizing the importance of varnish. These all made his instruments definitely different from the Amati’s ones. He knew how to select the wood for his instruments as no one else knew that. He died in Cremona, and was buried in the Church of San Domenico in Cremona. Today it is called Piazza Roma Park, where we can find his simple tombstone.
The secrets of Stradivari
According to Ferdinando Sacconi (one of the most significant luthier in the 20th century) the unique sound of Stradivari’s instruments is due to its special soaking in a mixture of quartz, potassium and sodium minerals; while others focused on the special varnish technique on the instruments. Researchers found another interesting reason for the extraordinary quality of Stradivari’s instruments: it is the Little Ice Age (around the 1400’s) which resulted inconsistent annual growth rings in the healthiest trees. This wood is perfectly free from defects, thus it is characterized by regular and frequent growth rings. Stradivari traveled to Trentino personally, in order to select the most proper pine trees for his instruments. That area is still famous for its trees most proper for making stringed instruments all over the world. In 2006, German luthiers found that in the 17th century, the structure of wood might have been brought to perfection of the highest level by using special fungi.
Stradivari prepared his best instruments between 1698 and 1725, the peak might have been around 1715. These instruments are even more perfect than those he prepared between 1725 and 1730. After 1730, it is likely that his instruments might have been prepared by his sons, Francesco and Omobono. He prepared approximately 1100 instruments, including violas, cellos, harps, viols (or viola da gambas), lyres and guitars. From them 650 pieces survived, but only 50 remained under perfect conditions.
- Charles Beare: Capolavori di Antonio Stradivari, 1987, Mondadori, Milano ISBN 880430873-7
- Simone Ferdinando Sacconi: I "segreti" di Stradivari, 1979, Libreria del Convegno, Cremona
- Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians|The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, 2001, MacMillan