Click on here to look at the Oxford Philharmonic’s efficiency of music by Bach and Rameau, introduced by Marcus du Sautoy, College of Oxford Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science
On the latest Oxford Philharmonic live performance that I curated and introduced, and is now obtainable free to view, we have been blessed with not one, not two however three Stradivari violins.
The live performance explored the arithmetic of the Baroque and past and featured music from two of the greats of the interval: Rameau and Bach.
Each had a love of concepts mathematical and as Rameau as soon as wrote: ‘Not withstanding all of the expertise I’ll have acquired in music from being related to it for thus lengthy, I have to confess that solely with the help of arithmetic did my concepts turn into clear.’
The Bach Double Violin Concerto confirmed off the devices within the live performance: certainly one of our soloists, Tamás András, was taking part in the ‘Circle’ Strad, which bears a nice and unique label dated 1701. Its identify refers back to the mysterious compass arc scribed within the higher bout of the again. The reasoning behind the origin of this mark continues to be unknown.
Our different soloist Charlotte Scott, performed the ‘Gagliano’ Strad, made in 1685, although with a entrance plate by one other nice Italian maker, Alessandro Gagliano.
The final piece in our live performance, Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, with soloist Alicja Smietana, supplied the prospect to listen to our third Stradivari violin in motion. The ‘Braga’, made between 1726 and 1728, is the one guitar-shaped Stradivari violin in existence. It’s in a superb state of preservation with extraordinary wealthy varnish.
However as a scientist I’ve at all times been intrigued to know: what makes these violins so particular and why can’t we replicate Stradivari’s expertise in the present day?
An attention-grabbing speculation pertains to a singular local weather, referred to as the Maunder Minimal, that existed between 1645 and 1715. This was a interval with decreased photo voltaic exercise that led to decrease temperatures, which in flip prompted bushes to develop extra slowly, maybe producing wooden with the superior sound high quality we assosciate with Stradivari. Such weather conditions have been distinctive to the time and haven’t occurred once more since Stradivari’s ‘golden interval’.
Nonetheless, latest chemical evaluation of Stradivari’s wooden has thrown up an alternate suggestion that may really be reproducible. Scientist have found that Stradivari handled his wooden with advanced preservatives containing aluminium, copper and zinc.
Such a chemical seasoning was an uncommon observe that was unknown to later generations of violin makers. In its present state, the wooden of Stradivari’s violins has very completely different chemical properties to that utilized by the maker’s trendy counterparts. This evaluation opens up the potential for resurrecting the seasoning Stradivari used for our devices within the twenty first century.
One of many different placing questions in regards to the violin is why the field ought to make a lot distinction. In spite of everything, isn’t it the strings which can be vibrating? And why did violins find yourself because the unusual form we see in the present day, relatively than a easy rectangular field?
It wasn’t till the tip of the 18th century that we actually understood why form was so essential. It was the wonderful experiments and performances of scientist Ernst Chladni that exposed that there’s wonderful symmetry hiding within the sound of issues vibrating.
Chladni found that if he sprinkled sand on prime of a sq. metallic plate and vibrated the plate with a violin bow, he may arrange probably the most extraordinary and sudden symmetrical patterns within the sand.
His performances of those symmetries in sound have been so in style that audiences throughout Europe flocked to witness the unusual shifting shapes he may produce. Napoleon even rewarded him with a present of 6,000 Francs. As a part of our live performance we determined to recreate Chladni’s fantastic experiment, not with only a single plate vibrating however an entire tessellation of them.
I’ve helped to arrange a brand new centre on the Royal Northern School of Music in Manchester known as PRiSM – Observe and Analysis in Science and Music – and collectively we’re exploring the potential for creating a brand new musical instrument that makes use of these plates to make a sort of sonic Alhambra.
The Chladni plates are a two-dimensional model of the one-dimensional harmonic collection you generate with a vibrating string. If you vibrate them, sand collects at locations that stay nonetheless and kinds curves referred to as ‘nodes’. In another way formed plates generate completely different patterns that seem at completely different frequencies, or ‘modes’.
So that’s one cause why the form of the violin issues. Every vibrating field has its personal resonant frequencies, and plainly Stradivari and his colleagues hit on the form that helps the vibrating strings to sound as fantastic as they did within the Oxford Philharmonic’s efficiency.