The ‘Marsick’ Stradivari, Cremona, 1715
During Stradivari’s ‘golden period’ of 1710–20 we see the master at the height of his powers, using his most lavish materials and achieving an aesthetic and acoustic perfection that became the standard by which all subsequent violin making was to be judged.
The four years at the centre of the golden period in particular were of great importance for Stradivari. Among the violins which left his workshop between 1713 and 1716 we find the ‘Marsick’ played by James Ehnes tonight, the ‘Alard’, the ‘Baron Knoop’, the ‘Cremonese’, the ‘Titian’, the ‘Joachim’, the ‘Emperor’, the ‘Dolphin’, the ‘Soil’ and the peerless ‘Messiah’ – all masterpieces in their own right. Within this four-year range we find the chosen concert instruments of Joshua Bell, Jascha Heifetz, Joseph Joachim, Jan Kubelík, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Itzhak Perlman, Ruggiero Ricci, Pablo Sarasate, Jacques Thibaud and many others.
What made these years so special? Most experts put it down to a confluence of circumstances. After decades of experimentation, Stradivari had honed in on his perfect model, both flat and broad, with an arching that had been refined to perfection. He also had access to the highest-quality wood and varnish, and presided over an organized workshop consisting of his sons and others. Whether he knew it at the time or not, at the age of nearly 70 Stradivari had hit his stride.
Commentary by Jason Price
James Ehnes, Wigmore Hall, Thursday 13 February 2020