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Digital Subscriptions > The Strad > November 2019 > VIEWS ON THE BRIDGE

VIEWS ON THE BRIDGE

In the second of two articles on set-up, Joseph Curtin investigates the acoustical role of the violin bridge and the interconnected relationships between mass, frequency and resonance

BRIDGES

TOP PHOTO PAULINE HARDING. ALL OTHER PHOTOS, GRAPHS AND DIAGRAMS JOSEPH CURTIN

The bridge and soundpost are ground zero for set-up. Where the post is a simple, timeless design – a spruce rod whose important parameters are mainly its length and position, the bridge is a complex structure whose design has changed dramatically over the centuries, and whose important parameters are, after several decades of scientific research, only now becoming clear. This article outlines some of the experiments done at the VSA/Oberlin Acoustics Workshop, and the light they shed on both the evolution of the bridge and the possibilities for optimising violin sound via ‘bridge tuning’.

Because they are so often replaced and then discarded, there is scant evidence charting the bridge’s evolution. That said, the five bridges depicted in Figure 1 suggest a line of development. Comparing the Stradivari bridge (1a) with the Hill bridge (1e), the upside-down heart set beneath the waist of the former has become the upright, blunted heart above the waist of the latter. The Baroque design has, in effect, been inverted – the way the subject of a fugue might be. François Tourte did something similar when he inverted the camber of the Baroque bow and gave us the modern stick. The inversion of the Baroque bridge design allowed the modern bridge to have a relatively narrow waist with a relatively large amount of wood above it. The acoustical implications of this will be a central focus of this article.

Unlike the modern bow, no single maker can be credited with inventing the modern bridge. In the late 1700s, makers in Italy were evidently rethinking the bridge, and came up with so-called ‘transitional’ models (such as 1b and 1c). Although we don’t know the maker of either, the former has an unusually glamorous provenance, having been fitted to Paganini’s ‘Cannone’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’. According to Alberto Giordano, one of the violin’s caretakers (The Strad, October 2004) Paganini seems to have favoured this bridge, for it remained on the instrument after the neck was reset and the fingerboard replaced. A similar bridge from the museum of the Conservatoire de Paris has a tag that attributes it – albeit unverifiably – to ‘Guarnerius del Gesù’.

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About The Strad

Sarah Chang discusses her passion projects and we explore the lives of Chicago's early bow makers. Joseph Curtin examines bridges, there's a look at Brazil's classical music and Alisa Weilerstein reveals her Sentimental Work. Plus David Kim on sautillй.