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Had a fantastic time in Oxford at the Stradivarius Exhibition yesterday. The exhibition was made up of two rooms, and you could get an audio guide. There was an introductory film before you went in, which gave you a brief history of violin making and a few sneak peeks of the instruments. You are allowed to take photographs, but not use flash.

The first room had a reconstruction of part of a violin making workshop (set up by Oxford Violins), with displays showing how violins and other stringed instruments are made. Many of the tools used in Stravari's time are still in use today.

There were patterns for scroll decoration, tools, some wooden templates, and I was particularly excited by the piece which showed how to mark the position the Cello f-holes with the aid of a pair of compasses...

In this first room there was also a big wall display showing the stages in making and varnishing a violin - interesting to see that a clear "sealing" coat goes on first, then the tinted coats which are built up gradually to provide the right colour. There was also a fabulous (but unfortunately silent) video showing someone making an instrument inspired by the Cipriani Potter (the one in the first image). It was fascinating to see how they create the decorative purfling.

The second room was full of Stradivarius instruments in glass cases, including the famous "Messiah" which is normally held by the Ashmolean. It was wonderful to see several Stradivari Cellos and to hear them played via the audio guide. I was disappointed that there was a mistake on the audio guide - with one of the cello pieces they said they were playing "Allegro Appassionato" by Saint-Saëns, but it was actually "Elegie" by Fauré! I did tell the staff, but they said they knew!

This is "The Messiah", which is in the Ashmolean's Collection. If you'd like to see more of the instruments let me know and I'll post up pictures of them after the exhibition has ended ...

The exhibition guide (£5) is good, with clear photos and lots of information. There is also a posh glossy book to accompany the exhibition, but it costs £60 and only covers the instruments in the exhibition rather than a wider range of Strads, so I decided to give it a miss.

I did buy the previous month's copy of The Strad (magazine), which was great to read on the train on the way home - Nice to see Raphael Wallfisch on the cover - his mother-in-law (Marianne Maxwell) was my first cello teacher!

I always feel a bit sorry for musical instruments in glass cases, but at least with these I knew that some of them were going home to be played again at the end of the exhibition.

Stradivarius is on at the Ashmolean Museum until 11th August. Go and see it if you can!


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September 2015



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