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Stradivari, violins, tree rings, and the Maunder Minimum: a hypothesis

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Instruments produced by the master violinmakers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries are reputed to have superior tonal qualities relative to more contemporary instruments. Many hypotheses have been proffered to explain this difference in sound quality, but all hypotheses were found wanting. We propose an alternative hypothesis based on the unique climate situation that existed between AD 1645–1715 known as the Maunder Minimum. This period of reduced solar activity was noted also for its lowered temperatures, which therefore caused reductions in tree growth rates. We hypothesize that the longer winters and cooler summers produced wood that had slower, more even growth, desirable properties for producing higher-quality sounding boards. During Stradivari's latter decades, he used spruce wood that had grown mostly during the Maunder Minimum. These lowered temperatures, combined with the environmental setting (i. e., topography, elevation, and soil conditions) of the forest stands from where the spruce wood was obtained, produced unique wood properties and superior sound quality. This combination of climate and environmental properties has not occurred since Stradivari's “Golden Period.”

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New YorkLaboratory of Tree-Ring Science, Department of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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