AgNews: News and Public Affairs, Texas A&M University Agriculture Program Category Photo

Sept. 22, 2003

VIOLIN DUEL A DRAW FOR ANTIQUE STRADIVARIUS, NEW INSTRUMENT

Writer: Kathleen Phillips, (979) 845-2872,ka-phillips@tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Joseph Nagyvary,nagyvar@neo.tamu.edu

Photos and Graphics

Violin showdown in College Station, Texas
Click for larger images

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 2003.

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 violins.

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 instrument.

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 Stradivarius.

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 tabulation.

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 Philippines.

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 http://www.nagyvaryviolins.com

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."

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