The Melody of Saint-Michelle

A melody rises above the crowded streets of the Hungarian city of Budapest. The year is 1937. Young Yules clings to his mother’s hand, as she drags him from shop to shop. The music grows louder as they approach the Violin maker’s shop. As they walk by Yules stops, enthralled, to watch the fluid movements of the violinist. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. Music seemed to flow from his fingertips, along the body of the violin and out the door, over the many roofs of the city. It was at this moment that Yules knew this was his future.

As he grew up, Yules Saint-Michelle continued to pursue this passion wholeheartedly. The older he got, the hotter the desire for the violin burned. He devoted his life to the study of violin making. The restoration, history and appraisal. He found himself especially interested in the sonority and varnish of the instrument.

When the USSR revolt began, Yules found himself on a ship to Quebec, Montreal specifically. Once there he began an apprenticeship with the renowned violin maker, or luthier, Antoine Robichaude, where he stayed for five years, before opening his own practice in downtown Montreal. He remains to be one of the soul violin fabricators in Canada and one of the most respected in the world.

The crafting of a violin is a tedious and highly precise task. A skilled luthier must have an abstract eye, a very steady hand, and an abundance of time. It takes Yules about a month and a half of full time work to complete a piece. For this reason hand crafted violins often start at about six thousand dollars and can reach fifty thousand quite easily.

There are three main parts of a violin. The scroll is the top piece and generally the craftsman’s trademark, typically made of maple. Then the neck of the violin, where the musician places his fingers, is made of maple and the fingerboard, ebony. But the most crucial part of the instrument is the body. The back and sides (ribs) are made of dry, hard wood, often maple. The curlier the maple, the higher the beauty of the instrument is appreciated. The front, or belly, is the real indicator of quality. This is because the spruce is inlayed around the exterior with a thin double boarder of ebony. The quality can be assessed by the meetings of the boarders in the corners.

The violin has a lengthy and beautiful past with ancestors from all corners of the world. The first bowed instrument is suspected to have been invented by King Ravanon of Ceylon in the third millennium before Jesus Christ. The first modern looking violins were crafted in the early 16th century before the age of the great violin makers of the late renaissance and baroque eras.

There are four styles of violin, based of the models of the four greatest craftsman of all time. They are Amati, Guerneri, Stradivari and Micheli. To the untrained eye they seem very similar or perhaps the same but the differences are found in the sonority and dimensions of the instrument. Now all violins are modeled after one of the four.

The violin is not only an instrument. It is a way to harness emotions and express them in one of the most beautiful and tangible ways. The violin can be a joyous fledgling beating its wings for the first time, or a mournful mother suffering the loss of a child. It echoes the feelings of the musician, but I believe that each violin very much has a personality of its own.