Sound of Strings: Bring on the Violinists

Happening Issue 68 Jul, 2010
Text by Roshan Gurung

Anyone with a keen interest in violins will know what a Stradivarius is. There may not be many  in Nepal, if any. These exceptionally good violins were made by members of the Stradivari family, especially by Antonio Stradivari, the founder who was born in Italy in 1644. Antonio set up his business in 1680 and his early violins did not cause much of a stir. But between 1698 and 1720 they were considered the best in the world. A Stradivarius made in the 1680s or during what is known as the Stradivari’s Brescian period (1690-1700) could fetch several hundred thousand dollars or more at auction today. And if you were to auction one made during Stradivari’s “golden period” (1700 to 1720), depending on condition, they can bring in several million. The record price paid for a Stradivarius (or any musical instrument) at public auction is US $3,544,000 and was sold on May 16, 2006. This instrument was made in 1707 (golden period). But it is known that in private sales these instruments have been sold for even higher prices. It is believed that there are fewer than 700 genuine Strads left in existence, and the fact that most are accounted for, leaves little chance of finding another genuine article.

The Strads have been prized over all other violins and fetch exorbitant prices. But, recently in a BBC program, a man who has researched endlessly and experimented exhaustively compared his hand-made violins with some original Stradivariuses. He played to an audience of very knowledgeable musicians and other’s from the industry. He played a Stradivarius and also one of his own instruments without letting them know which was which. When asked which was the stradivarius, the select audience couldn’t tell them apart.The violin has been used as a string accompaniment in countless Aadhunik (modern) Nepali songs since the 1960s; an influence of classical western music which composers like Gopal Yonzon and Ambar Gurung listened to and appreciated. As a solo instrument, it has also found a place in country and western music, while Bob Dylan used extensive violin accompaniment in his very popular album ‘Desire’ in 1976. It is hard to forget the violin solos in the protest song, “Hurricane”.

Walking past Galaxy School the other day, I heard a bunch of kids practicing on the instrument. During the last decade, the younger generation in Kathmandu has shown a liking for this instrument. Many teenagers are seen with the unmistakable violin case slung across their backs and a surprisingly large number of them are girls. The new jazz band ‘Inner Groove’ also includes a violinist in their line up. With its growing popularity, may be one day we will see a large string section on stage. There’s nothing like the deep moaning sounds and the high wailing notes on a violin; they can touch your soul.

In the October 2006 issue of ECS, we had featured Aapa (Ph. 5525404) who teaches the violin. Rabin Karki, seen above has been teaching at the Do Re Mi Music School (Ph. 4225555) in Jamal. One can also learn how to play the instrument at Nepal Music Center,  (4465463).