Almost three centuries after his death, Antonio Stradivari is still a legend for the sound of his instruments, from the rich depths of his cellos [cello sound] to the soaring clarity of his violins [violin sound]. Theories are often been put forth that Stradivari must have used a secret ingredient that made his instruments special, perhaps in the varnish.
Now researchers have performed spectroscopic and microscopic examinations on the wood and varnish of five Stradivarius violins and think they have uncovered Stradivari’s secret. The study appears in the German chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie. The first layer of varnish is an oil comparable to that used by painters of the era. The next layer is a tinted oil and common resin mix. The researchers found no unusual proteins or gums. And they found no mineral-rich layer, which some earlier examiners thought might be there. So Stradivari employed common materials in broad use in his time. Which leads the researchers to conclude that Stradivari’s true secret?: his incredible artistry as an instrument builder.
[The above text is an exact transcript of the audio in the podcast.]