Stradivarius: Considered the most perfect instruments in the world, Stradivarius violins are objects of veneration among musicians not only for their musical quality and incomparable sound, but also for their high market value, being auctioned off at international auctions for values never lower than US$ 10 million, about R$53 million.
Recently published in Angewandte Chemie, Germany’s leading chemistry journal, a survey finally succeeded in confirming the hypothesis of a professor at the University of Texas A&M (TAMU). For Joseph Nagyvary, the secret of the unique sound produced by violins manufactured by Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri “del Gesù” in the 17th and 18th centuries lay in a treatment with chemical products.
The identification of these chemicals, however, caused an even greater surprise, as it proved another theory of Nagyvary: that the products used by manufacturers were a kind of insecticide to fight a termite infestation.
The findings of the international team led by Professor Hwan-Ching Tai, of the National Taiwan University, revealed that the chemical components used by Stradivari and Guarneri are borax, zinc, copper and potassium alum, together with lime water. Co-author of the new research, Nagyvari explains in a TAMU statement that “borax has a long history as a preservative, going back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it in mummification and later as an insecticide.”
For the professor emeritus, these chemists indicate a partnership between the luthiers (violin manufacturers) and the apothecary and the local pharmacist at the time. What the current study reveals is that Stradivari and Guarneri had their own unique method of treating wood. “They may have noticed that the special salts they used to impregnate the wood also gave it some beneficial mechanical strength and acoustic advantages,” says Nagyvary.
As there were no patents at that time, the materials and methods used were kept secret. The mystery has remained over time, as a simple visual inspection of the product reveals nothing. Only now, with the use of spectroscopic, microscopic and chemical techniques of Cremonese sound cards, it has been possible to clarify the issue.
Nagyvary, who learned music on a violin that belonged to Albert Einstein, said he spent much of his 87 years researching the Stradivarius, and that the biggest difficulty he encountered was obtaining samples. After all, taking a cone out of a tens of millions of dollars object shouldn’t be an easy task.