The feeling you get as you as you walk into the “Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker” exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum is one of complete reverence. Like when you walk into a cathedral or other hallowed place.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that you are about to see instruments that are hundreds of years old—the wood itself it emanating the energy of so many hands performing beautiful music—or the fact that you are about to see the “greatest.” People often refer to the Stradivarius as the highest achievement of perfection, even when comparing non-musical instruments. To say something is the “Stradivarius of its kind” implies the best.
When you enter the exhibit, the first violin that greets you is the Carlo IX made in 1566 by Andrea Amati (1505-1577). It’s stunning to look in the case at this 450-year-old instrument—with its intricate design on the back worn off in places—and wonder how many people have heard its beautiful tone.
Another rare violin in the exhibit is the “Prince Doria,” crafted by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesu,” one of 200 left on the earth today.
The instrument that most visitors will want to see, stands off t0 the side: the Artot-Alard violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1728, on public display for the first time in the U.S. The biggest treat happens as you approach the violin and the headset you are wearing is triggered to begin playing the haunting music from this masterpiece. The audio headset is an extraordinary asset of any visit to the MIM and enriches this exhibit even more.
There are more historical instruments, and some modern ones too, but the area I found myself drawn to displayed the tools and design elements used by Stradavari. These pieces rarely venture from their home in Cremona and it is humbling to see the case of tools that created such gifts of art.
When I was leaving the exhibit, I stopped to watch a video about the Il Bosco che Suona or the Musical Woods, located in the Fiemme Valley where the wood was harvested by luthiers like Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari. Each summer, world famous musicians enter these forests and chose a tree that they connect with by knocking on them and listening to the spruce’s “tone.” The tree will then be assigned a number. If you walk among these trees, you can download an app that allows you to listen to a performance track that the musician has dedicated to “their tree.”
That is the beauty of these antique masterpieces. They hold the history of the wood within them. Wood from trees in a forest that is still held with the highest respect from musicians today.
MIM Stradivarius exhibit: what you need to know
- Dates: 9am-5pm through June 5
- Tickets: $10/person; exhibit only or $27 adults, $22 ages 13-19, $17 ages 4-12, 3 & under free; includes museum admission
- Location: MIM, 4725 E Mayo Blvd, Phoenix
- Contact: 480-478-6000 or mim.org