Joseph Nagyvary was born 1934 in Szeged, Hungary. As the most celebrated citizen of this town was Albert Szent-Györgyi, the discoverer of vitamin C and much of the citric acid cycle, he was inspired at an early age to follow a career in natural products and biochemistry.
From 1952-1956 he attended at Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest and in 1957 he went to Zurich to study under Paul Karrer. There he became fascinated by the violin when he had the opportunity to take lessons on an instrument once owned by one of his heroes, Albert Einstein.
In 1963 he went to Cambridge to study under Alexander Todd at the laboratory there. He moved to the United States in 1964 and in 1968 he moved to Texas where he became a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University.
In 1983 he devoted his research entirely to the study of recreating the legendary tone of violins made by the old masters. While working at Texas A&M University as a biochemist, Nagyvary succeeded in making a violin which he described as being somewhere near the quality of a Stradivari.
This was accomplished by leaving the wood to soak in brine. Because of the lack of land in Venice, during that period imported wood(*) was often stored in the seawater of the Venetian Lagoon, where a type of decomposition had a slight effect on the wood. Nagyvary managed to acquire wood shavings from a Stradivarius violin, and under a microscope he found the natural filter plates in the pores between the tracheids were gone. He also treated the wood with a preparation of borax in the manner of Stradivari, who used it to prevent infestation (conjecture - no written record exists of this practice by Stradivari). (*This applies only to the maple, a relatively less important acoustical contributor to violin-family instruments. Spruce for Stradivari's instruments was not likely to have been brought through Venice, as it came from Northern Italy and parts further North. As such there would have been no need for such a round-about journey.)
By late 2003, Nagyvary refined his techniques and produced a violin that was tested in a duel with the Leonardo da Vinci of 1725, an instrument not from Stradivari’s golden period. Both violins were played in each of four selections of music by violinist Dalibor Karvay behind a screen to an audience of 600, from which 463 votes were counted (160 trained musicians and 303 regular concert goers). This was the first public comparison of a Stradivari with a contemporary instrument before a large audience where the audience would cast ballots on the performance quality of each violin. The consensus was that Nagyvary's instrument surpassed the Stradivarius in each category by a small margin. Such curtained showcases have been conducted numerous times during the 19th and 20th centuries, and continue in the 21st. In common with all such tests is that they did not use a double-blind experiment, where the experimenters do not know the instruments as well. All such observations should be interpreted in this light.
- Robert Uhlig (31 March 2001). "Stradivari 'Owes it All to Worms'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
- Article by Nagyvary, Guillemette and Spiegelman published in January 2009 about the results obtained about the chemical substances used in the fabrication of Stradivari violins.
- Kathleen Phillips (22 Sep 2003). "Violin Duel a Draw for Antique Stradivarius, New Instrument". AGNews. Texas A&M University. Retrieved 2008-02-24.[dead link]
- Bio of Joseph Nagyvary 
- Nagyvary's Violin Interest 
- Bio of Nagyvary from Nagyvary Violins 
- More Nagyvary Information (Nagyvary Violions) 
- Chemical secrets of Stradivari unveiled—from the Telegraph 
- Stradivari 'owes it all to worms' -- Telegraph 
- Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Nagyvary