by John Marchese
published by Harper Collins
© 2007 by John Marchese
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From Publishers Weekly
Celebrated Brooklyn violin-maker Sam Zygmuntowicz recently accepted
a challenging commission from violinist Eugene Drucker of the Emerson
String Quartet: to make a new violin that would equal Drucker's beloved
Stradivarius. Marchese (Renovations: A Father and Son Rebuild a House)
documents their collaboration. He follows Zygmuntowicz through the exacting,
scrape-by-scrape process of trying to transform a block of wood into
an exquisitely wrought vibrating box that somehow captures the inexpressible
sonic essence the finicky Drucker longs to hear. Along the way, Marchese
goes on a pilgrimage to Stradivarius's hometown of Cremona and delves
into the secrets behind the maestro's incomparable sound. Was it the
wood? The varnish? The nap-time transmigration of his spirit into the
violin under construction? Zygmuntowicz's example, Marchese finds, suggests
a more prosaic, if no less marvelous, possibility—that the genius
of craftsmanship resides not in magic ingredients or arcane techniques,
but simply in taking infinite, exhausting pains with the work, in "caring
more and more about less and less." He also broaches a more inflammatory
corollary: that modern violins actually sound just as good as Strads.
The result is a beguiling journalistic meditation on the links—and
tensions—between art, craft and connoisseurship.
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