Steffen Nowak, Maker of fine Violins, Violas and Cellos in baroque and modern style


Viola after Antonio Stradivari 'Tuscan' of 1690 16 1/4 '' (413mm).

The original Viola is part of  the unique collection of musical instruments in the Library of Congress in Washington.

In this new interpretation I choose again very well seasoned wood: a 1 piece sycamore slab back, able to produce warmth and depth to the sound as well as matching ribs and a front very close in keeping to the original. Staying with Strads design I made the head with a cello style shouldered peg box (but fitted with a double nut for easy fingering in half positions).

The model is elegant with the drooping shoulders enabling higher left hand positions with ease. The varnish is highly transparent of a light orange golden colour. The high quality rosewood fittings are  by Harald Lorenz, Germany.
The sound of this Viola is free, even and very responsive.

Some thoughts on making an 'unfashionable' Strad Viola:

There has been a long debate over the suitability of Strads design for the need of a modern Viola player. His unique and in my eyes very harmonious design has been developed in the 1690's, the period where the master also created his long pattern violin. The latter was abolished some 9 years later but the Viola design stood firm until the last surviving model of 1734 - 'The Gibson'.
His output accounts for only 10 to (an optimistic) 18 existing Violas, even the experts aren't sure how many exactly have survived. And can you include an instrument in that count if substantial parts of it have been made by someone else (the term 'composite' is often applied here)?
Strad's output and achievement of classy work and original designs has been documented in many sources, but surely the 1690's have to be credited with him achieving his possibly highest standard as far as pure beauty and craftsmanship is concerned. In the latter years his growing list of clients meant his sons participating to a large extend in his production as well as even other possible co- and outworkers.
The sound of Strad Violas is often criticized for not being 'Viola' like - whatever that might mean. The main reason for it  could just be a lack of comparison. The number of  Strad Violas  heard live today in the concert hall is very small, or on recordings you need to know who played which instrument at the time.
Some comments I encountered from makers are  'too narrow in the waist' - 'ribs too shallow' - 'sounding too much like a violin'.
Just listen to recordings of the Amadeus Quartet with Peter Schidlof playing the 'MacDonald' Stradivarius of 1701 or some of the Lindsay string quartet recordings with Roger Bigley on the RAMs  'Archinto' Viola of 1696 to put your mind to rest.
There has also been a certain fashion amongst makers for models by the Brescians Gasparo and his pupil Maggini (though many of their instruments have been cut down to a more manageable length - so far from an original model anymore) as well as Strads early contemporary Andrea Guarneri.
Nothing wrong with that but for the often cited streamlining or standardizing of violin models towards a Strad and del Gesu model, only now creating a reverse trend in the Viola world by overseeing the wonderful design and tonal concept the Strad Viola model offers.
It obviously doesn't lend itself to a maker who tries to excuse rough work and inept varnishing technique with 'working in the spirit' of del Gesu or da Salo ( and even these poor fellows are far too often  treated unfairly for alleged 'rough' or 'crude' work).

So is a modern Strad Viola holding its own against the favoured models of the other makers?
I certainly think so: a clear, balanced sound with good projection and easy response seem to point in the right direction.

click on photos for larger images (will open a new window)


Available in Paris (please enquire) -  Disponible Paris (consulter)                                                                  

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