The Singing Woods of Paneveggio
By Sofia Brigadoi
The forest of Paneveggio, located in the Province of Trento in northern Italy, contains a special type of tree called the resonance spruce (in Italian, abeti di risonanza), trees which are sought after by luthiers (people who make and repair stringed instruments), from around the world for their amazing quality and technical aids. It was this precious spruce wood that was preferred by the most famous violin maker of all time, Antonio Stradivari of Cremona.
Around the beginning of the eighteenth century, Stradivari went in the forest of Paneveggio to personally choose the suitable wood with which to create his violins. The Latin form of his surname, “Stradivarius” is often used to refer to his instruments. Using the wood from these trees, Stradivari made more than 1,100 instruments, about 650 of which survive today. The highest price paid at a public auction for a Stradivarius – the “Kreutzer Strad” – was $1.6 million at Christie’s in London in 1998.
The best time to cut wood from the resonance spruce is in the winter, in the days following the new moon in December. For this reason, this special cut of wood is also called “Mondholz,” meaning “moon wood.” Also of importance is the moment that the tree is cut, a moment which must coincide with its vegetative rest, since the porosity of the wood is reduced and the trunks are poor of sap. These are the trees that fall at the right time, whose wood maintains full value and partly reserved for the production of soundboards for musical instruments.
This ancient wood-cutting ritual is one that is mysterious and fascinating and has its roots in the past. It is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation, one that the woodcutters of the natural Park of Paneveggio passionately followed. Every year an abatement plan is drawn in which mature plants are cultivated. They are the best in terms of sound, thanks to a consistent diameter that also provides the raw material for many luthiers.
There are primarily two wood types used for the making of violins, violas and cellos: maple wood, used to build back, ribs and neck, and the “belly” of resonance spruce. The characteristics of these two kinds of wood produce the best acoustical performance. The age and density of the wood is also very important to obtain the optimal quality of sound. Yet wood alone is not all that is needed to create a suitable instrument; the skilled hands of an artisan luthier are also necessary.
The spruce in the natural Park of Paneveggio make up 90 percent of the trees, many of which are centuries old. The remainder of the trees include silver firs, pines, sycamore, maples, willows and alder whites, while the undergrowth is restricted to an expanse of cranberry, bilberries and elderberry. The flora is extremely rich and includes several orchids, some of which are very rare.
Hunting was not allowed in the forest until the 1930s, which greatly reduced the animal population. Yet thanks to new systems of preservation and planning and to several projects of reintroduction, the forest is once again filled with marmot, deer and antelope. The bird life is extremely rich, with three-toed woodpeckers, black woodpeckers, owls, goshawks, eagles, partridges, wood grouses and falcons.
The forest is considered by experts to be a rare example of ecological harmony.
Location of the Natural Park of Paneveggio
The Park is situated in the eastern section of the Province of Trento and is characterized by three different geographical and landscape units. The northern section is covered by Paneveggio Forest, almost 6700 acres of spruce fir woodland. The south-eastern section includes part of the Dolomitic chain of Pale di San Martino and the western section is represented by a part of the porphyritic chain of the Lagorai.