The Value of String Instruments at the End of the 18th Century

There is, in the National Archives of the French Republic, a document of exceptional interest for the history of the violin trade: the inventory of musical instruments seized by the revolutionaries in Paris in 1792. 1792 was the apex of the French Revolution, the year of its desperate fight to survive on a path to self destruction, the year when “the fatherland was threatened” by an onslaught of outraged neighboring monarchies following the execution of King Louis XVI and his Austrian wife, Marie-Antoinette. Continue reading

Categories: History, Marketplace |

Great Expectations in the String Instrument Trade? A Matter of Margins and Guarantees

Consumers are frequently shocked by gross profit margins that are normal for retailers. A downtown department store buys a pair of socks from an overseas factory for 15% of the eventual full retail sales price. Your local specialty coffee shop pays less than 25% of the retail price for its coffee and the big chains pay far less than that! Continue reading

Categories: Marketplace |

Der Doppelgänger: A Work in Progress

I first encountered Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger in college, right at the beginning of my vocal studies. Immediately I knew I was handling fire. Continue reading

Categories: Music, Performance | Tagged: , , |

Music in Ancient Greece

Music meant something different to the Ancient Greeks than it means to us today. It was not simply sound or performance on an instrument; it was, in addition, an entire artistic collection of song, poetry, and dance.

Music also sounded very different to the Ancient Greeks than it does today. Their system of organizing pitches, scales, and melodies is foreign to many of our basic concepts of music. It is probable that we would barely be able to appreciate Ancient Greek music because the way they heard music and were educated in musical art is so different from our own. Continue reading

Categories: History, Music |

An American Family: A Reminiscence by C.F.C. Arensberg

Conrad Frederick Covert Arensberg purchased a handsome Gemunder violin in the summer of 1890. It still remains in the possession of his family. As the history that follows indicates, the Arensbergs may not be a “typical American family,” but their history parallels that of many of the immigrant families in America, past, present, and hopefully to come: a vague and obscure past in a far-off land, followed by resettlement, prosperity, contentment. Continue reading

Categories: History |

A Violin by George Gemunder (with Its Original Bill of Sale)

The Arensberg Gemunder violin, complete with receipt from the firm of George Kappel, Pittsburgh, June 2, 1890 is a rare example of unbroken provenance for a fine art object. We can presume that the 1890 sale of this Gemunder in Pittsburgh was the first retail sale of this violin with a label dated 1889. Continue reading

Categories: History, Makers, Marketplace | Tagged: , , , , |

Rethinking the Concert Program: Toward a New Paradigm

In the last three decades, the once anomalous summer chamber music festival has become the most common venue for chamber music performances in the U.S. While fiscal exigency has forced regular season series in major cities to scale back or in some cases discontinue their programs, summer music festivals have sprung up and flourished in many seasonal, bucolic vacation spots, and in nearly every western ski town of note. Continue reading

Categories: Performance | Tagged: , |

Photographing Violins: The Switch to Digital

As people become more comfortable with computers in their homes, more and more photography is being done with digital cameras, in spite of the additional initial cost of digital equipment. The advantages are immediate feedback, the potential to do all processing and printing at home, easy distribution to friends and commercial audiences through email and the web, and the total elimination of expensive film and processing costs. However well-suited digital photography is for normal uses, its greatest shortcoming is its quality limitations. Continue reading

Categories: Workshop | Tagged: |

Hoax or Howler? Musical Analysis in Huxley’s Point Counter Point Examined

Chapter 37 of Aldous Huxley’s 1928 novel contains an often quoted description of the slow movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in a minor, op.132. Like Thomas Mann’s lyrical passage on the final movement and final measures of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, op.111, Huxley invokes Beethoven’s music as a metaphor for larger thematic issues in his novel. Unlike Mann, who enlisted the help of the noted German theorist Theodore Adorno in preparing his analysis, Huxley, seemingly on his own, gets it wrong where the actual music is concerned. Continue reading

Categories: Music, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , |

How to Try a Violin, Part 2

I am frequently contacted by string players needing help with tonal issues in their search for an instrument. Many string players have trouble sorting out what tonal criteria are important in the process of selecting an instrument. Problems arise most often when string players attempt to objectify issues of tone. A player’s interface with an instrument is largely a subjective matter, and as such it is best dealt with using subjective criteria. Continue reading

Categories: Marketplace, Players |