Lackluster history of an illustrious instrument maker.
Even people who can’t tell Bach from Brahms know that Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) was the greatest violinmaker ever. Here, first-time author Faber (former managing director of Faber and Faber) gives us a brief biography of the master craftsman and a history of several instruments he created. Sources on the man himself, Faber states, are scarce, and indeed, the picture that emerges of Stradavari—hard-working, a risk-taker, “a little cheeky”—is a bit thin. Faber walks us through the creation of the instruments, step by careful step: the construction of an internal mould, the cutting of sound holes, the carving of the neck from a block of maple, etc. He then traces the history of several Strads, including the cello known as the Davidov played today by Yo-Yo Ma; the Messiah, a violin that now lives in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum; and the Lipinski, a violin that dates to 1715. Owned for several centuries by great musicians, including composer Giuseppe Tartini, the Lipinski apparently made its last concert appearance on November 30, 1942, when a Cuban violinist borrowed the instrument from its owner and performed the Glazunov concerto with the Havana Philharmonic. Last sold in 1962, the Lipinski has since dropped from sight. The narrative concludes with a rather anticlimactic summary of modern-day scientific studies of Strads (dendrochronological analysis and so forth), the even more anticlimactic reminder that “even Strads can wear out,” and a call for “a new Stradivari.” Throughout, the prose is annoyingly breathless, constantly blaring trumpets and rolling out the red carpet: “It was Girolamo’s misfortune . . . to reach adulthood at the same time as another Cremonese craftsman . . . the greatest of them all: Antonio Stradivari.” Faber’s frequent use of the first-person plural also grates (“it is our fourth violin,” “we left this violin in the possession of the Hills,” etc.); the result is an overly chummy tone.
Ultimately, not an account that does justice to its subject.