When you couldn’t afford a Stradivarius, you called Samuel Stochek:
In the 17th and 18th centuries, and even into the mid-19th century, the world’s most exclusive violin makers sourced wood felled in the south slopes of the Alps that their dealers floated down the Po River to the Italian town of Cremona. Antonius Stradivarius and Giuseppe Guarnerius, Cremona’s most prominent luthiers, famously bought wood sourced from the Swiss Alps and the Carpathian Mountains.
New York violin maker Samuel A. Stochek had a different approach. In the 1940s, his tonewood came not from renowned European mountain ranges, but from 19th-century New York buildings and houses under demolition during the Great Depression. Though his sources were unorthodox, his success was undeniable. Stochek’s floorboard violins were played in Carnegie Hall by the world’s most famous violinists.
I’ve been involved in classical music since I was 17, but I had never heard of Samuel Stochek until I came across this piece in Atlas Obscura. Then again, I’m a pianist, so…
Stochek was a rising star in the violin community in 1940 when the legendary New York beat reporter Meyer Berger interviewed him in his midtown store for the New York Times. “Stochek prowls around old buildings,” he wrote. “He will kneel in a deserted dwelling and he will examine the floorboards. He will appraise supporting beams with his sharp eyes.” Stochek himself, then 36, was no less poetic when describing how he saw his violin-making materials. “People have lived with this wood. People have died with this wood,” he said. “They have sat by the fire and they have loved and they have quarrelled … Ahhh! Someone will play and the wood will tell these stories.”
But what became of those improbable violins, each a portal to another century? And who would tell their stories?
Read the fascinating piece by Laurie Gwen Shapiro at the link above. And maybe listen along to this while you do: