Nicolo Paganini: The 300-year-old most famous violin in the world reveals its “secrets”

Nicolo Paganini’s priceless was scanned by a particle accelerator to reveal his “secrets”. It had been built in 1743 by the famous Kremona craftsman, Giuseppe Bartolomeo Guarneri del Jezu. One of the most famous musical instruments in the world, Il Cannone, the favorite violin by the great Italian composer Nicos Paganini was subjected to a full “medical” check-up, using the most modern technology, in Synchrotron, Grenoble, in southeastern France, where it was scanned from all sides. “A dream” or “fantastic experience”, according to the protagonists who hope to see the condition of the instrument but also understand what it is that makes a violin “excellent”, mainly analysing the structure of its wood. The “canon”, as it was named because of the power of his “voice”, belonged for nearly 40 years to the conductor who bequeathed it to his hometown, Genoa. It had been built in 1743 by the famous string technician of Cremona, Giuseppe Bartolomeo Guarneri del Jezu. Today it is considered invaluable and is the most important exhibit of the Museum of Genoa, where it rarely and always comes out under strict security measures. Among the few lucky ones allowed to touch it and play with it are the winners of the international Paganini violin competition held every two years in Genoa. This time however the violin reached Grenoble to undergo a “non-destructive analysis” in the European Synchrotron (ESRF), a fourth generation particle accelerator. This technique, called X-ray microtomography, had previously been tested on two other violins, for safety reasons. It provides the ability to reconstruct a 3D image of the violin up to the molecular level of the wood. Analysts can zoom locally at any point, however small, experts who took over the project explained. For this study, conducted at the request of the address of the Paganini competition, the instrument was placed inside a glass tube mounted on a machine, which in turn was also closed in a glass frame, so that temperature and humidity conditions were ideal. That was the greatest concern of the team of scientists. The analysis consisted of “a complete scan at 30 micrometres, to create a map of possible defects and eventually found little,” said Paul Taphoro, the scientist responsible for the “BM18 light line”, the large room of machines where the experiment took place. A very low dose of rays was used X, so that the violin would not run any risk, the paleontologist assured, from whose hands many other valuable objects, such as the skull of Tomois, the oldest known manides, have passed in recent years, but also rare fossils of the winged dinosaur archaeoptera. “The first goal is maintenance. If any repair is needed, we will have all the details” for repairing the violin, Taphoro explained, which is also an amateur violinist. As he said, working with this violin “was like a dream”. The second goal is for scientists to understand better why this particular violin has such sound quality. It will take months before the scan results are fully analyzed. Whatever it is, Alberto Jordano, a maintainer of the valuable instrument in Genoa, recalled that it is important that they handle it with great care to pass unchangeable in subsequent generations. “I am getting old but this remains the same” he joked. “It’s like Dorian Gray’s portrait, remains fresh like a rose”.