In September 2017 I was delighted to be chairman of an international conference held at Oxford University to celebrate 301 years since the “Messiah” Stradivari was made. The conference unashamedly benefitted from the 300th anniversary events of the year before when the Messiah came back to Cremona, but with the passing of a year we were able to take a more considered approach building on many of the lingering questions.
As a result, we interrogated every aspect of the instrument. As suspicions that Jean Baptiste Vuillaume may have made it never really leave the instrument, it was a privilege to welcome Jean-Jacques Rampal to speak about Vuillaume and his business motivations. Bruce Carlson’s in-depth analysis of Vuillaume’s making techniques versus those of Stradivari and the Cremonese school was of great importance in understanding the fundamental divide between the two makers.
We were privileged to examine Brigitte Brandmair’s work on Stradivari’s varnish, and to look further through her presentation at Vuillaume’s approach to varnish and how it differs under Ultra Violet light, whilst John Topham was able to show us the fruits of more than 20 years of dendrochronological research, presenting very firm analytical evidence placing the wood within a group of Stradivari instruments made in the immediate years surrounding 1716.
Gregg Alf’s presentation of the CT Scans of the violin did much to understand the fundamental nature of it. His ability to place the mould used to make the Messiah back into it through electronic means provides yet another level of evidence to give us total confidence in the instrument.
Doubtless the controversy will continue as new generations of violin makers and connoisseurs see the instrument with new eyes. But the year of organising the conference on behalf of the British Violin Making Association created an event to remember. Join the BVMA. This promises to be the first of many conferences we plan to run over the coming years: www.bvma.org.uk