‘Violins designed to mimic human voice’

Most of the vowels were of French and English origin and only two were Italian.

Written by PTI | Washington | Published: March 31, 2013 1:48 pm

Master violin makers such as Stradivari and Guarneri may have designed violins to mimic the human voice,a new study has found.

For many years,some musical experts have wondered if the sound of the Italian violin masters Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu’s violins might incorporate such elements of speech as vowels and consonants.

A Texas A&M University researcher has now provided the first evidence that the masters tried to impart specific vowel sounds to their violins.

Joseph Nagyvary,professor emeritus in biochemistry,said of the various vowels he identified in their violins,only two were Italian – the “i” and “e”,while the others were more of French and English origin.

His findings published in the Savart Journal,a scientific journal of musical instrument acoustics,have the potential to change the way violins are made and how they are priced.

“I expected to find more Italian vowels,what experts call the ‘Old Italian’ sound actually has the mark of foreign languages,” Nagyvary said in a statement.

Nagyvary has held for decades that Stradivari and Guarneri produced instruments with a more human-like tonal quality than any others made at the time.

To prove his theory,he persuaded the famed violinist Itzhak Perlman to record a scale on his violin,a 1743-dated Guarneri,during a 1987 concert appearance in San Antonio.

For the required comparison,Nagyvary asked Metropolitan Opera soprano Emily Pulley,a former College Station resident,to record her voice singing vowels in an operatic style.

“It has been widely held that violins ‘sing’ with a female soprano voice. Emily’s voice is lustrous and she has the required expertise to sing all vowels of the European languages in a musical scale,” Nagyvary said.

“I analysed her sound samples by computer for harmonic content and then using state-of-the art phonetic analysis to obtain a 2-D map of the female soprano vowels.

“Each note of a musical scale on the violin underwent the same analysis,and the results were plotted and mapped against the soprano vowels,” he said.

Nagyvary’s 25 years of research on the project proved that the sounds of Pulley’s voice and the violin’s could be located on the same map for identification purposes,and their respective graphic images can be directly compared.

“For 400 years,violin prices have been based almost exclusively on the reputation of the maker – the label inside of the violin determined the price tag,” Nagyvary said.

“The sound quality rarely entered into price consideration because it was deemed inaccessible. These findings could change how violins may be valued,” he said.

The new graphic images of the violin sound could also become an asset in teaching students to improve the quality of their tone production,he added.

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