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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Saturday, December 3, 2005

'The search for the why of a tone.'

One of the all-too-rare pleasures of trawling news services and newspapers is that we sometimes find out about people who otherwise would have remained unknown to us, and whose very existence makes us feel a bit better about the rest of the human race. Today, we discovered luthier Étienne Vatelot, one of the world's foremost violin restorers. Given that we're a fiddler [albeit a middling one at best], we're embarassed that we'd never heard of Vatelot until tonight.


French luthier Étienne Vatelot

Luthier Étienne Vatelot. [Photo: Ed Alcock/NY Times]


Vatelot comes from a family connected to the making of musical instruments: his father made violins and his great-great grandfather was a guitar maker. Vatelot studied his craft in the French violin center of Mirecourt and in the New York lutherie of Rembert Wurlitzer. He learned well and, by the early 1950s, was known for his 'keen ear for the qualities of a violin and a physician's diagnostic skill for analyzing what may be wrong with it.' As a result, Vatelot became the 'doctor' for the instruments of soloists such as Pablo Casals, Yehudi Menuhin, and Isaac Stern.

Vatelot has also had a role in the revival of the craft of violin restoration in France. He established a school for young luthiers in Mirecourt, which has since produced 200 students and graduates. He also founded a foundation that gives scholarships to apprentice luthiers from disadvantaged families.

He believes there is a tonality that fits the violinist's personality, so he tries when possible to hear the violinist in concert. (In fact, he still maintains his lifetime practice of attending violin concerts virtually every night of the week.) Failing that, he will have the violinist play in his workshop and, on occasion, will play the instrument himself.

"I may find the instrument is whistling a bit, or is not quite in form," he said. "It can be due to several things. First of all the humidity, if the instrument is too dry, or too humid. In Indonesia, for example, there is very high humidity. Secondly, if the tone is bad you do various tests."

He may order the violin cleaned or, if there is damage to the wood, repaired; the finger board, usually made of soft ebony wood, may be uneven and in need of being sanded down. He may adjust the tension of the strings, the angle of the bridge, the tiny wood piece that supports the strings. He may adjust by fractions of an inch the sound post, the slender wedge of wood inside the violin that the French call l'âme, or the soul, of the violin, for its crucial role in creating the tone.

Mr. Vatelot has often compared his activity to that of a physician, diagnosing an illness and prescribing the remedy. "You are like a doctor doing a verification of the health of the instrument, to see if all is in place," he said. "In general, a soloist is like other people: he doesn't want to change doctors. He chooses a violin maker and keeps his confidence in him."

In 2000, Strings magazine ran a nice piece about Vatelot on the occasion of his [partial] retirement from his restoration business. You'll find it here.

Via NY Times.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink




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