Sept. 22, 2003
VIOLIN DUEL A DRAW FOR ANTIQUE STRADIVARIUS, NEW INSTRUMENT
Writer: Kathleen Phillips, (979) 845-2872,firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Dr. Joseph Nagyvary,email@example.com
COLLEGE STATION – It was more a beauty contest than a boxing match. And
even better, by night's end both contestants won.
"Some like blondes; some like brunettes. Some like them slim; some like
them hefty," Dr. Joseph Nagyvary contended.
Hefty in this case was the 300-year-old Leonardo da Vinci Stradivarius
violin, valued as high as $5 million, pitted against a slimly played
violin that Nagyvary crafted in just six weeks and completed in August
In all scores from the audience – whether among those who considered
themselves trained musicians or those who are average concert goers – the
new Nagyvary violin ranked slightly higher than the ancient Stradivarius.
"There are shock waves going around in the violin business," Nagyvary
said. "The expectation was a knock-out victory by the Stradivarius."
Nagyvary, a recently retired Texas A&M University biochemist who spent
his career studying Stradivarius violins to the molecular level, willfully
accepted the challenge to compare his with the famous violin. MiraMedia, a
German company doing a documentary on Antonio Stradivarius, organized the
comparison concert, at which a turn-away crowd of 600 judged the two
Both violins were played in each of four selections of music, the order
of playing was selected randomly on the spot, and separate scores were
given for tone quality (beauty) and projection (power) on a 10-point
scale, Nagyvary explained. World-class violinist Dalibor Karvay played the
violins behind a screen so that audience participants could not see the
For those four selections, trained musicians in the audience gave the
Stradivarius an average of 8.03 in tone quality and 8.0 for power while
the Nagyvary violin got and average of 8.1 for tone quality and 8.33 for
power. Other audience participants' votes put the Stradivarius at an
average of 7.83 for quality and 7.8 for power while the Nagyvary got 8.03
for quality and 8.23 for power.
"I consider the results a draw for both the untrained and trained
audience," Nagyvary said. "This was the first public comparison of a great
Stradivari with a new violin in front of a large audience.
In addition to the four blind tests, Karvay played Prokofiev's Sonata
in D on one violin and Waxman's Carmen Fantasy on the other – both in full
view of the audience who got to choose which piece was played by the
Nagyvary said 57 people correctly picked the Stradivarius on the
Prokofiev piece, 290 guessed wrong and 129 were undecided.
"I personally don't think such a test with different music is fair, but
it's worth mentioning," Nagyvary said.
Of the 600 audience ballots, 463 qualified for tabulation (160 trained
musicians and 303 average concert-goers), said Nagyvary, who supplied
MiraMedia with a duplicate set on the night of the concert, prior to
The comparison concert also marked Nagyvary's retirement from Texas A&M
University. Selections were also played later on a 10-year-old Nagyvary
violin by world-class violinist Regina Buonavenura from Manila, The
The researcher plans to continue to make his Nagyvarius violins.
"Antonio Stradivari was at his best in his 70s and 80s," Hungarian-born
Nagyvary said. "I'm 69, so perhaps I'm entering the same stage of life."
Nagyvary began in the 1980s using his knowledge of biochemistry to
study the intricacies of the famous violins made in the 18th century by
Antonio Stradivari. More information is available at
Dr. Greg Reinhart, Texas A&M biochemistry and biophysics department
head, said Nagyvary's research is "more likely to be held up as an example
for 400 years than most of the experiments the rest of us do."