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Musicians especially appreciate old instruments that reveal subtle notes, almost impossible to reproduce with contemporary instruments. Recently, an Italian team recorded the mysterious “third tone” created when playing a two-note chord on a violin. Understanding what produces this mysterious note will surely provide the keys to reproducing it in modern violins.
When it comes to ancient instruments and especially violins, Stradivarius is one of the most recognizable luthier names in the world of classical music. It is believed that there are only about 650 Stradivarius violins left in the world. They were all built in the workshop of the Italian Stradivari family in the 17th and 18th centuries, by Antonio Stradivari. From 1666, he signed his instruments with the Latinized form of his name, ending the designation of the creator and his creations.
The instruments are famous above all for their sound quality, which is reflected in their high prices. In addition, after 78 years, the famous “Lauterbach Stradivarius” may have been found in France after being stolen from a Polish museum by the Nazis during World War II. The skill continues.
Recently, Italian scientists have discovered that some of these ancient musical instruments “really” produce a strange sound. These combined tones are louder and more audible than normal tones. These are called “ghost” tones. Unfortunately, not everyone can hear it. This is done when two musical notes are played simultaneously. The study was published in the journal The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
The tones of Tartini are real
The most popular of these combination tones are the Tartini tones. They are named after the Italian composer and virtuoso violinist Giuseppe Tartini, who discovered them in 1714. third sound “, or third sound, hitherto considered ” a subjective phenomenon generated by the listener’s cochlear nonlinearity “, as Italian researchers wrote in an article in 2010. The cochlea is a spirally wound part of the inner ear, with the ends of the auditory nerve (organ of Corti). In other words, the sound is generated by the resonance of two notes, which are played together, in our ears, and not in the instrument itself.
Thus, Giovanni Cecchi of the University of Florence in Italy and his colleagues wanted to understand their origin and try to explain this mystery. Is it the violin or our ears that make us hear this sound? So they studied different violins and the production of these combined sounds.
Specifically, the team recruited a professional violinist to play a series of two-note combinations, called dyads, on five different violins: a Tononi violin dated to 1700, an unknown Italian violin from the 18th century; a 19th-century instrument made by Henry Lockey Hill in London; a handmade violin dating back to 1971; and a modern factory-made instrument.
As reported New Scientist, the team found that all violins produced harmonious sounds, but the oldest instruments produced the loudest ones. The size of the most important combination tone for the oldest violin, made in Bologna in 1700, is about 75% larger than the modern, mass-produced instrument.
The third voice, heard by all?
The authors also wanted to know how clearly listeners could hear the combined tones produced by the three highest-quality violins. They then asked 11 professional and amateur musicians to listen to recordings of the violinist, some of which had been stripped of digital tones.
The team then explained that the possibility that these sounds could be detected outside the ear was significant. In fact, listeners could hear the difference almost every time: the least accurate heard it 93% of the time, while the most accurate listeners heard it every time.
Giovanni Cecchi told the magazine The Strad : ” Until recently, the combined tones produced by the violin were considered too small to be heard, and therefore not important to music. Our results change this view by showing that the combined tones generated by high-quality violins are easily audible, affecting the perception of intervals. “.
However, the team refutes the idea that only old violinists can do this. Future work will focus on analyzing a larger number and variety of violins to determine the precise physical components responsible for generating these sounds. With modern and precise manufacturing technologies as well as higher quality raw materials, it is likely that these phantom tones can be recreated, just like the oldest instruments.