This past week has been a whirlwind – for us both (it may not appear so thus far, but the truth is that the Violin Maker’s Wife also has a Life, i.e. work, three kids – one of whom is a teething baby – a dog, laundry, and so forth…)
In addition to finishing his sister’s viola and fixing a double bass for an orchestra, Yonatan managed to cut the four instruments according to the ribs he prepared on the forms, and to almost complete the carving – or gauging – of all four external arches (a process called in English Roughing, but I of course love the Italian name better; they call it “sgrossatura” – read sgro-sa-too-ra – with the accent on the “tu”).
As you can see in the pictures below, this is extremely hard, physical work, as the violin maker has to put all his weight behind the gauge and push through the maple and spruce wood. The shavings (trucioli, remember?) are rough indeed at the beginning of the process, then they become smaller and more curved, and finally, when the general shape of the external arch is reached and the surface needs to be smoothened, they become thinner and more paper-like.
What the pictures can’t show you is how this back-and-forth gauging movement of the man-and-chisel-duo looks like a rather beautiful dance, with the growing mountain of golden trucioli as testament of progress made. Of course there are those who use electrical tools to speed up this phase, especially when building the larger instruments, but not my Very Own Violin Maker! He loves the feel, smell and texture of the wood, and even though his hands, arms, shoulders and back hurt (who do you think is asked to massage them at the end of the day?!?), he would have it no other way than to work on every detail manually. Oh well.
Honestly, I must say that even though I have been a nature lover – and obsessive tree climber – from early childhood, I never knew there was so much to wood. At the Stradivari school in Cremona, Yonatan studied not “only” the technical aspects of making a violin (and viola and the rest of them), but also about the properties of the wood used for this purpose, and how the special trees are grown in a few select locations in northern Italy and the Balkans, in very specific conditions and under the supervision of expert rangers (yes, yes, that’s who they are!). To make a long, complex and pretty amazing story very short: the trees are intentionally grown in very harsh conditions, to make sure that they grow only slightly thicker from year to year, so that the rings in their trunks are close together, giving the resulting wood the necessary qualities of strength and flexibility. So the trees suffer harsh winters, viciously competing for light, water and soil, and we receive a material that can be shaped into a playing instrument – when it vibrates it sings.
Wow – I got a little sidetracked … back to the Quartet :) So now the instruments are no longer blocks of wood glued together, but are actually taking the shape of two violins, a viola and a cello. You can see that in addition to carving the external shape, the contour of each instrument is flattened, to prepare for one of the most challenging phases… but I am getting ahead of the process again.
’till next week!