While I’ve never had the opportunity to hear one in person, nearly anyone involved in the world of music is aware of the near-legendary quality of the instruments created by Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari. It appears that scientists may have narrowed down one intriguing factor in what makes a Stradivarius sound the way it does — it’s all in the wood.

…a tree-ring dating expert at the University of Tennessee and a climatologist at Columbia University offer a new theory — the wood developed special acoustic properties as it was growing because of an extended period of long winters and cool summers.

[…] Grissino-Mayer at Tennessee and Dr. Lloyd Burckle at Columbia suggest a “Little Ice Age” that gripped Europe from the mid-1400s until the mid-1800s slowed tree growth and yielded uncommonly dense Alpine spruce for Antonio Stradivari and other famous 17th century Italian violinmakers. […] “I think it is very, very interesting, and it seems to me a valid observation,” said Helen Hayes, president of the New York-based Violin Society of America, which hired Grissino-Mayer to examine “The Messiah.” “But on the other hand, nobody in this field … would ever say that if you put the best wood in the world in the hands of a mediocre maker that you would get a good instrument,” she said. “So it is never a complete explanation. Nor is the varnish nor any of the other things they have talked about. I would dare say there is no one piece of the puzzle.”

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p>(via Marginal Revolution)