Headline of article in today's Cleveland, Ohio Plain Dealer,
sub-headlined, Experts trace it to Mother Nature's 'Little Ice Age'
Knoxville, Tenn.- The secret of a Stradivarius violin's heavenly sound
may actually have celestial origins.
For centuries, experts have debated whether special varnishes or wood
treatments were the secret to the instrument's rich resonance.
Now a tree-ring dating expert at the University of Tennessee and a
climatologist at Columbia University offer a new theory- the wood
developed special acoustic properties as it was growing because of an
extended period of long winters and cool summers.
" It just amazed me that no one had thought of this before," Dr. Henri
Grissino-Mayer said. "The relationship between the violins, the trees
that they were made from, the climate that existed when the trees grew
and how it affected wood density to create a superior tonal quality."
Grissino-Mayer at Tennessee and Dr. Lloyd Burckle at Columbia suggest a
"Little Ice Age" that gripped Europe from the mid 1400s until the 1800s
slowed tree growth and yielded uncommonly dense Alpine spruce for
Antonnio Stradivari and other famous 17th-century Italian violinmakers.
The ice age reached its coldest point from 1645 to1715.
Stradivari was born a year before this period began. and he produced his
most prized and valued instruments as the period ended- his "golden
period from 1700-1720.
Burckle, who studies global climate change through the lives of tiny sea
creatures at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observation in Palisades,
N. Y. compared the dates and wondered if there was a connection.
He contacted Grissino-Mayer at Tennessee's Labortory of Tree-Ring
Science, who two years ago authenticated the world's most venerated
Stradivarius violin, known as "The Messiah" in England.
Grissino-Mayer developed a 500-year chonology, from 1500 to the present,
for 16 high-elevation forests of larch, spruce and pine in five
countries from western France to southern Germany. He discovered an
unprecedented period of slow growth from 1625-1720 characterized by
compact, narrow tree rings.
Grissino-Mayer and Burckle noted that "narrow tree rings would not only
strengthen the violin but would increase the wood's density."