Monday, January 02, 2012

Oops! Double-blind test shows concert musicians can't tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a modern violin

Say it ain't so, Joe!

According to a story on the website today, a double--blind study indicates that musicians prefer modern violins to 17th-century instruments valued at more than a million dollars. While the sample is small, the study appeared in a reputable journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it replicates other studies.

Ian Sample of The Guardian sums up the study like this:
... it appears that concert violinists cannot tell from the sound alone whether they are playing a 300-year-old Stradivarius or an instrument made last week. And, for playing quality alone, the virtuoso will opt for the modern one when asked which fiddle they would like to take home.

These discordant findings emerge from experiments by Claudia Fritz, a researcher at the University of Paris, at an international violin competition in Indianapolis in 2010. She asked 21 musicians to play six different violins, three modern instruments and three by Italian maestros – one made by Guarneri del Gesu around 1740, and two made in Antonio Stradivari's workshop around 1700.
The Guardian also contacted a luthier, who said the study confirms other findings:
Kai-Thomas Roth, secretary of the British Violin Making Association, said that double blind tests, where neither experimenter nor musician knows which violin is played, had already shown people cannot distinguish a modern violin from a priceless work of art.

"There's some myth-making that helps old instruments," Thomas said. "If you give someone a Stradivari and it doesn't work for them, they'll blame themselves and work hard at it until it works.

"Give them a modern violin, and they'll dismiss the instrument straight away if it doesn't work for them. That's the psychology at work. Modern violins are easily as good, but even a good maker can make an instrument that doesn't work out."

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