Fungus-treated Violin Outdoes Stradivarius

By | September 16, 2009

At the 27th “Osnabrücker Baumpflegetagen” (one of Germany’s most important annual conferences on all aspects of forest husbandry), Empa researcher Francis Schwarze’s “biotech violin” dared to go head to head in a blind test against a stradivarius – and won! A brilliant outcome for the Empa violin, which is made of wood treated with fungus, against the instrument made by the great master himself in 1711.

September 1st 2009 was a day of reckoning for Empa scientist Francis Schwarze and the Swiss violin maker Michael Rhonheimer. The violin they had created using wood treated with a specially selected fungus was to take part in a blind test against an instrument made in 1711 by the master violin maker of Cremona himself, Antonio Stradivarius. In the test, the British star violinist Matthew Trusler played five different instruments behind a curtain, so that the audience did not know which was being played. One of the violins Trusler played was his own strad, worth two million dollars.

The other four were all made by Rhonheimer – two with fungally-treated wood, the other two with untreated wood. A jury of experts, together with the conference participants, judged the tone quality of the violins. Of the more than 180 attendees, an overwhelming number – 90 persons – felt the tone of the fungally treated violin “Opus 58” to be the best. Trusler’s stradivarius reached second place with 39 votes, but amazingly enough 113 members of the audience thought that “Opus 58” was actually the strad! “Opus 58” is made from wood which had been treated with fungus for the longest time, nine months.

Biotech wood, a revolution in the art of violin making

Violins made by the Italian master Antonio Giacomo Stradivarius are regarded as being of unparalleled quality even today, with enthusiasts being prepared to pay millions for a single example. Stradivarius himself knew nothing of fungi which attack wood, but he received inadvertent help from the “Little Ice Age” which occurred from 1645 to 1715. During this period Central Europe suffered long winters and cool summers which caused trees to grow slowly and uniformly – ideal conditions in fact for producing wood with excellent acoustic qualities.

Horst Heger of the Osnabruck City Conservatory is convinced that the success of the “fungus violin” represents a revolution in the field of classical music. “In the future even talented young musicians will be able to afford a violin with the same tonalvia Fungus-treated Violin Outdoes Stradivarius.

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