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Two famous composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert, died in Vienna while still in their thirties. Mozart died in 1765 at 35, and Schubert died in 1828 at 31.  Both Mozart and Schubert died leaving unfinished work. Mozart and Schubert undoubtedly are not the only composers to have left unfinished work at their deaths. But Mozart’s and Schubert’s unfinished works were not forgotten. Mozart’s Requiem (which another composer finished after Mozart’s death) and Schubert’s…
Most people know that string instruments make a sound when the bow hair is pulled across the string. The type, quality, length, and condition of the bow hair impact the sound produced. Yet, rarely does anyone other than a string player pay any attention to the bow hair itself.   Nearly all bows use horse hair. There are a few synthetic products, but they aren’t suitable for any but the youngest of beginners.   Bow hair comes in…
Anyone can see that violin strings are held up by the bridge, an unfinished, carved piece of wood that sits between the end of the fingerboard and the tailpiece. What is not obvious to the observer is how critical the bridge’s shape and placement is to the violin’s sound.   Violin bridges are removable; they are held in place only by the downward pressure of the strings. It is critical that the feet of the bridge properly fit the…
There are many famous books about how to play the violin. The titles of two have always intrigued me: The Art of Violin Playing by Carl Flesch and the Science of Violin Playing by Rafael Bronstein (who taught my teacher). These two books highlight the dichotomy whether playing the violin (and music generally) is an art or a science.  Nearly everyone would agree that music is an art. It involves creating beauty and moving people’s…
In music, a written C on the score doesn’t produce the same sound for every instrument. Unlike string instruments, many wind instruments aren’t in the key of C. In high school I also played B-flat (alto) and E-flat (soprano) clarinets.  String instruments and pianos are non-transposing instruments. The note that sounds when the musicians play those instruments is the same as the note written in the music. Many woodwind and brass instruments are transposing instruments
The tuba is the largest instrument in the brass instrument family. It can weigh as much as 35 pounds. It also is the lowest pitched musical instrument, consisting of 16-feet of tubing curved into the familiar oblong shape with which we are familiar. The similarly-shaped trumpet has only about nine feet of tubing and weighs two to two-and-a-half pounds.  There may be several tubas in a concert band. Marching bands also may have several sousaphones. The…
Earlier this year I needed to update the appraisal for my violin for insurance purposes. My violin was made by a maker from a family of well-known luthiers, and its value depends on proving its provenance back to that maker.    Fortunately, I have a certificate of authenticity from renowned Philadelphia violin dealer William Moennig & Sons, from whom I purchased the violin many years ago. Not only is a Moennig certificate respected in the violin community, but I understood that Moennig had obtained my instrument directly from the luthier who made it. That makes the certificate all that more valuable…
Recently, I sent my violin to New York for adjustment by a well-known luthier. When the violin came back, I looked at it closely before trying it and asked about the adjustments.  One of my questions related to the tailgut, which attaches the tailpiece to the button on the bottom of the violin. The tail gut is rarely noticed. It usually hidden under a chinrest and lies against the violinist’s neck when the instrument is…
In 1967, violinist David Margetts lost the Duke of Alcantra Stradivari violin, a valuable instrument which was made late in Stradivari’s life for the Duke himself. Margetts did not own the violin. Rather, it was on loan from UCLA. Margetts didn’t recall whether he left the violin on the roof of his car and drove off or whether it was stolen from his vehicle while he was buying groceries. Nevertheless, he joined a surprisingly large group of musicians who have misplaced instruments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. …
When writing How Holdbacks Affect Music and Real Estate Transactions, I shared my idea to use the musical terms describing holding back of tempo with a musician friend. In response, she told me she would have used a fermata as the musical example.  The typical fermata is a symbol that looks much like an upside down letter U with a dot in the middle of it (musicians also call fermatas “birds’ eyes”). b A fermata above a note  indicates that the note is to…