Violin by Anthony Wrona, Buffalo, NY, USA, 1959
Description — Ingenious
"What an inspired violin!" was my first reaction seeing this instrument by Anthony Wrona. It's totally aflame, all around, including the belly and all sides of the scroll. The top's vertical annual rings appear wavy, as if heat from the horizontal flames made them flicker. Second-choice wood (bearclaw-marked spruce, maple with faint figure and knots) is transcended into this magnificent work of art. Flames seem to propagate from the belly, through the ribs, to the back where smoke forms clouds in a tormented landscape. The f-holes — whose wings have been exquisitely fluted — are quite upright and set far apart.
Varnish — Spotlighting Wood
Should the ideal varnish draw attention to itself or to the underlying wood? In our case, the latter option was tastefully achieved. The overcoat is discrete — transparent, thin and supple, neither too brown nor too orange — while the undercoat's honey-yellow brilliance highlights the depictions of the wood. A third dimension emerges from the wood's freckles and flames. The contrast is such that the violin looks antique, with points of varying colors next to each other. On stage, it looks like a seasoned old violin; up close, it looks like a fascinating modern one.
Acquisition — We Met on the Internet
I purchased this outstanding violin at Tarisio.com in their June 2014 sale. The auction was "Speculative, Restorable & Trade" (even though this instrument and many others were absolutely fine); there was an error in the label transcription (#190 instead of #19); and the wood of the top does look weird on photo. Maybe that's why people didn't fight for it. Anyway, what a blessing! The final price was only 5,100 US dollars. I'm going to anger dealers... There are in fact splendid, soloist instruments, in perfect shape, available on the Web at very reasonable prices.
Tone — Omnipresent
Wow, this violin has opened up so much! Its tonal possibilities feel infinite. The notes just burst out, ethereal, oily and shining, very complex, broad and resonant like in a cathedral. I keep finding new layers of sound. The tone isn't particularly sweet nor full, rather has a nasal quality that makes it heard strikingly well from far. I'd even say it sounds somewhat hollow, which actually helps with projection, because the volume release after the attack defines an accent that attracts attention to each note. (On the opposite, violins whose tone is too solid tend to sound mumbling from far.) And this Wrona doesn't hurt my ears at all. Amazingly, the sound is indirect — it seems to come not from inside the violin, but from outside — as though someone else was playing in the hall and you can't quite pinpoint where.
Playability — Articulate
Response is so quick and crisp that I can play faster than on any other of my violins. Some violins are quick but superficial, this one is both crystal clear and warm. This is the instrument my colleagues and I have chosen to play second violin in our string quartet. The middle range cuts through with precision; everyone can hear the second violin part.
Strings — Tone Development
This fiddle arrived with Pirastro Obligato strings which sounded dull (worn off) with the E string too hard for the set. I played Pirastro Wondertone Solos for a few months, enjoying their sensitivity to bow nuances, but felt after a while that this Wrona's acoustic qualities could develop more with strings that push it in a different direction. I tried Larsen Virtuoso for a while and enjoyed them tremendously. Their slow speed didn't matter on this fast instrument. I then switched to Thomastik Dominant, to smooth off the rough edges and add body to the tone. After a few weeks, finding it started sounding small, I tried higher-tension strings, Pirastro Evah Pirazzi, to widen its scope. But then I missed some sweetness to the tone, and musical dynamics became difficult. The new Pirastro Tonicas (with strong E) sounded good. Their high-tension G string beefed up the low register nicely. As of 2018, it's mounted with Larsen Il Cannone (regular version) and I love their sweet, sharp tone. I'll change strings again when sensing this violin has exhausted their potential and needs a new start.
More about Anthony Wrona:
Measurements & Data
Maker: Anthony T. Wrona (1926-2000)
Made in: Buffalo, New York, USA
Back Length: 354 mm *
Upper Bouts: 169 mm *
Middle Bouts: 108 mm *
Lower Bouts: 208 mm *
Stop Length: 197 mm
Rib Height at Neck: 29 mm *
Rib Height at Endpin: 31 mm *
Thickness of the Top: 3.2 mm
Thickness of the Back: 3.9 mm
F-hole Length: 76.0 mm *
Distance Between F-holes: 42 mm *
Distance Edge-Purfling: 3.5 mm
Scroll Width: 42 mm *
Weight: 408 grams
Buffalo N. Y. 1959
Brand: Stamped "WRONA" to the bridge.
Condition: Mint. No cracks, borders and varnish impeccable (except at chinrest). Every part looks original, including the fittings.
* measured with a caliper