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Some Violin Questions Answered

M. C.—Jean Baptiste Vuillaume was the greatest of a famous family of Frence violin makers. He was born in 1798 and died in 1875. He early removed from his birthplace at  Mirecourt to Paris, where he resided mostly until his death. He ranks with the very greatest of modern makers. His models were for the most part the masterpieces of Stradivarius and Guarnerius, and some of his copies were marvelous imitations of the original. He spent many years of his life trying to fathom the secrets of the early Italian violin makers. In 1855 he purchased the great Tarisio collection of 250 violins and other string instruments, including the famous Stradivarius violin known as “The Messiah,” which afterwards became the favorite violin of the great violinist Wilhelmj. He paid 80,000 francs for this collection, a remarkably low price considering the present prices of Cremona instruments.

Vuillaume was made a member of the Legion of Honor, and received many medals at European expositions for his work. Owing to his fondness for trying experiments in drying wood, etc., his instruments are somewhat unequal in quality. His price was 300 francs ($60) for a violin and 500 francs ($100) for a cello. His instruments are worth much more at present. A leading American violin dealer catalogues various Vuillaume violins at from $175 to $800, according to preservation and quality, and these figures give a fair idea of the range of prices in America. In Europe they can be bought somewhat cheaper.

Vuillaume’s daughter married Delphin Alard, the famous violinist. Vuillaume at his death left a collection of 3,000 violins and other string instruments. He made a fortune making violins. Many violinists who are unable to afford Cremona violins use violins by Vuillaume and Lupot, the two makers who stand at the head of French violin makers of the nineteenth century.

2. Benoit Fleury, who made violins at Paris in the latter half of the eighteenth century, ranks well among the lesser French makers. His violins range in price from $100 to $300, according to quality and preservation.

H. E. C.—Your violin is evidently the product of some obscure French maker of no special note. However, it may be an excellent instrument for all that. There are thousands of violin makers entirely unknown to fame, some of whom have occasionally made excellent instruments.

G. H. S.—You are correct. Many authorities on violin playing hold that in playing up the scale, the open strings should be used when possible, and in playing down the fourth finger should be used, instead of open strings.

A. R. B.—You would probably get more pleasure out of learning to play the violin than the clarinet, although the violin is the harder of the two to learn to play artistically. As an instrument to play in the home circle, accompanied by the piano or organ, the clarinet has little to recommend it. Its proper place is in the orchestra or band, or in ensemble work.

N. McN.—Many violins of the lower grades have the disagreeable qualities you complain of—lack of brilliance, and a muted quality of tone. Proper ad

justment of the sound-post and bass bar, a new bridge the proper heighth, and other necessary changes will often give a violin increased brilliance, and better quality of tone. It would be impossible to say whether your violin could be so improved without seeing it. If it is worth spending a reasonable amount on for repairs, you might send it to a skilled repairer.

It would be much better to have the two cornet players in your orchestra play, one the first cornet part, and the other the second, than to have them both play the same part. I would be unable to advise you in regard to your seven violin players unless I knew the combination for which your music is written. If you are using ordinary orchestra music in the style of that used by the theatre orchestras in this country, it would be better to have four of your violin players play first and three second. It would be better still if one of the violin players could learn to play viola. You would then have three firsts, three seconds, and one viola. If your orchestra is composed of amateurs, a good deal would depend on the abilities of the respective players as to how they should be grouped. All you can do is to make the best of your material.

A very good preparation for cleaning violins without injuring the varnish is as follows:

Raw linseed oil………………8 parts

Oil of turpentine…………1 part

Water……………………5 parts

As the oil and water will not mix, the bottle containing the mixture must be shaken vigorously before using. Pour a little on a cloth and rub the violin with it; then wipe off with another cloth, and finally polish with a fine piece of cheese cloth. Where the rosin has eaten into the varnish, it is often impossible to remove it without removing the varnish with it. The mixture given above will not attack the varnish.

N. F.—If you are a beginner, you can tune the violin roughly by tuning the different strings to the notes of the piano. You should lose no time, however, in learning to tune in perfect fifths by ear. Tune the A string with the piano; then tune the E with the A of the violin, then the D with the A, and finally the G with the D. Draw the bow slowly over two strings when tuning, as in no other way can a perfect tuning be made.

J. W.—The best known violin makers by the name of Hopf, were Johann Hopf, who lived in the middle part of the nineteenth century, and stamped his name on the back of his violins, and Christian Donac Hopf, who lived at Klingenthal, in Saxony. Both makers did some fair work, but their violins, even if genuine, are not especially valuable. There is an immense number of Hopf violins, all duly stamped on the back, which are not genuine; in fact such large numbers of Hopf violins have been turned out by the trade fiddlemakers in Europe, that the name “Hopf” has got to be more of a name or trade-mark than anything else.

M. McG.—The fact that your friend was offered a good sum for his supposed Stradivarius violin, is no proof that it is genuine, unless the offer was made on the advice of a real expert. It is doubtful if there are more than a dozen experts in the United States who can tell with’ a degree of certainty whether a violin is a genuine Cremona or not.


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