Carleen Hutchins must have seemed like an unlikely candidate to upend the world of violin-making. Not only was this New Jersey mother only an amateur at viola, she already had a day job as a grade school science teacher. Nevertheless, between 1948 and 2009, Hutchins crafted nearly 500 instruments and published more than 100 technical papers, bringing new scientific rigor to the art of violin-making. Furthermore, Hutchins fulfilled a centuries-old dream of luthiers—she crafted a set of instruments that maintain the timbre of the violin over its entire range, thereby creating a true violin family.
Author Quincy Whitney tells Hutchins’ story in her new biography American Luthier: The Art & Science of the Violin. She joins Ira to talk about Hutchins’ landmark invention—the violin octet—and some of the experiments Hutchins conducted in her basement lab.
It was composer Henry Brant who challenged Carleen Hutchins to create a family of violins that could span the tonal range of a piano. When Hutchins delivered with her violin octet, Brant composed “Consort for True Violins” to showcase the possibilities of her new violin family.