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A world of violins

A World of Violins

August 13, 2014Next

Violins hang everywhere in the world of Jean-Pierre Faivre - or to be more precise, in his atelier. He has neatly lined up 27 instruments on a steel cable along one wall.

This 44-year old is Mallorca’s only violin-maker. “There are a few businesses that carry out repairs”, says the Frenchman, who arrived in Mallorca seven years ago. But to construct violins, in that he is alone. For 20 years he has practised this craft. His workshop is located diagonally opposite the Conservatoire in Palma.

It takes from two to four weeks to complete a violin. The top always consists of spruce, the base of maple. The wood must be 25 or 30 years old in order for it to be fit for use. Faivre buys it from France or Canada. In the work of a violin-maker precision is demanded. When the violin-maker, for instance, assembles and glues together the halves of the top, everything must fit exactly otherwise the instrument might break up later under tension. To begin with, the musical-instrument-to-be consists of wooden blocks. Then Faivre carves and planes the wood, until finally everything is brought into the characteristic shape, until the bow and the thickness of the wood are correct. As a final touch, in accordance with violin-maker tradition, his name is burned into the wood on the inside: Jean-Pierre Faivre. The price for such a hand-crafted piece lies between 7 000 and 15 000 Euros.

How does he know if the violin sounds right when the work has been concluded? “I happen to be a violin-maker with a lot of experience and I am also a musician”, he replies briefly. Even so, his private life does not revolve around the stringed instrument. He plays percussion.

There are a good many moments when Faivre particularly loves his occupation. Those are the occasions, namely, when customers stand at the door cradling an old violin in their arms. It is almost like a game for the master to correctly determine the country of origin and the age of the violins straight off. In the meantime he has acquired such a high reputation that even owners of violins from the mainland come to him in Mallorca. Sometime ago, a married couple travelled from Barcelona in order to have him examine a violin of the legendary Italian Antonio Stradivarius (1644-1737).

All the papers documenting the lawful acquisition of the valuable instrument they had with them. However, worldwide there are only some 650 to 700 original instruments of Stradivarius still preserved, each one of which is worth millions. Just one look of Faivre’s was sufficient for him to make a certain judgement: “that is a beautiful instrument. But it is not a Stradivarius. This here comes from France.” There were certain details in the workmanship of the resonating body that caused his decision to be so unambiguous.

However, Faivre does not always have to disappoint his customers in such a manner. Damaged instruments – violins as well as violas, cellos and double basses – he loves to repair and “to restore to musical life” as he puts it himself. Sometimes it is a matter of extensive improvements, when, for example, it is a matter of closing a hole that a mouse had nibbled in an instrument that was kept in a loft. Sometimes it is a matter of small details such as the replacement of the strap or the stringing of a bow.

This ‘extension of the hand’ is incidentally a science in itself. The stringing of the bow consists of horse hair. Not any old hair of course, this is hair from the tail, exclusively from the male of the species. There are good reasons for this: “The stallion urinates forwards”, is the explanation of this expert. “The mare, on the other hand, backwards. The uric acid renders this hair completely unusable for the violin-maker.” The material comes from wild horses in Mongolia. A kilo of horse hair costs around 800 Euros. The grey is used for violin bows, the black on the other hand for double bass bows.

Do old violins always sound better than new ones? “More often than not”, says Faivre. “The older the wood, the better the sound.” However, sometimes there are also surprises. Thus, a customer had bought a violin that sounded good. This joy lasted two years then it passed abruptly. “The violin - by the way it didn’t come from me - no longer had its sound. This is something that may happen but cannot be explained. However, that’s precisely why this job is stimulating. It is not possible to control everything completely”.


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