A Comparative Study of Power Spectra and Vowels in Guarneri Violins and Operatic Singing

Joseph Nagyvary

Abstract


This paper is the first of a planned series aiming to characterize what could be viewed as standards of excellence in the tone quality of violins played note for note by a world-class player. Here we begin with the most outstanding item in our data bank, the analysis of the Guarneri del Gesù “ex-Sauret”, played by its owner Itzhak Perlman in a 2-octave chromatic scale. The second violin analyzed was the del Gesù “ex-Ole Bull”. The tone quality of these violins is discussed in terms of their power spectra and similarities with those of the female singing voice. We have used a method of speech analysis, LPC with Praat, to determine the formants of vowels sung by a Metropolitan Opera soprano and those of the two violins. All the low notes of the voice and violins were then placed in a form of the IPA vowel diagram designed by Pfitzinger, whereby the vowels could be identified. Each violin has a characteristic distribution of vowels in the Pfitzinger plot, which can serve as identification and provide a basis for quality assessment. Some of the vowels are stable, others have a diphthong character. It appears that famous Cremonese instruments produce notes that gravitate toward certain type of vowels, implying that old masters could have used vowel identification as a means of quality assurance. We suggest that the user-friendly methods described here would be a useful supplement for makers and players in evaluating the quality of their own violins.

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