Carleen Hutchins, the world-renowned violin maker who died one year ago, committed what amounted to blasphemy for many music traditionalists. She claimed that, with the help of science, she could make a violin that rivaled ones made by the fabled Stradivarius family, whose instruments are among the most prized possessions in classical music.
As far as some musicians and instrument makers were concerned, she might as well have claimed that, with enough study, any painter could reproduce the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci.
"The old-time violin makers hate my guts," Hutchins told a reporter in 1999. "I've been at it since 1947, and there's a camp that still won't accept it. I'm putting numbers on their mystique."
She insisted that science, particularly the study of acoustics, explained what made a Stradivarius a Stradivarius, and that it could make her creations just as good. She put this theory to the test on more than 400 string instruments in her career.
Hutchins also was the innovator behind the violin octet, a set of eight instruments ranging from the tiny treble violin, which is tuned an octave higher than a standard violin, to a deep-voiced 7-foot behemoth. The octet shook the classical music world, which until then was accustomed to quartets and their more limited range of notes.
For more about the master violin maker, read Carleen Hutchins' obituary that appeared in The Times.
-- Michael Farr
Photo: Violin maker Carleen Hutchins, center, is flanked by Joe McNalley and his mother, Sharon, after the inaugural performance by the Hutchins Consort on Jan. 18, 2000. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times