Stewart Pollens is an expert on historical musical instruments. His work includes restoration, analysis, and scholarly publication; and it embraces keyboard instruments (the harpsichord and fortepiano) as well as historical stringed instruments such as the violin and cello. Andrew Manze has called him "one of the world’s foremost authorities on musical instruments."
Life and career
Stewart Pollens was born in New York in 1949 and trained as a violin and keyboard-instrument maker. In the 1970s, he apprenticed with harpsichord builder John Challis and studied violin-making with Mittenwald faculty at the University of New Hampshire. From 1976 to 2006 he served as the Conservator of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His work there included the restoration and maintenance of the museum's encyclopedic collection of over 5,000 instruments, as well as research, writing, and lecturing on the collection.
After leaving the Metropolitan Museum, Pollens formed Violin Advisor, LLC, a consulting firm that authenticates and evaluates fine violins. In addition to his work there, Pollens restores stringed and early keyboard instruments for private collectors and museums (including an early New York piano for the Merchant's House Museum, an English bentside spinet for the Van Cortland House, and a Viennese fortepiano for the Morris-Jumel Mansion). He has done keyboard restoration and recording preparation work for Leonard Bernstein, Paul Badura-Skoda, John Browning, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Byron Janis, Igor Kipnis, and many others. Among the more unusual instruments that he has restored are an accordion once owned by Alice "In Wonderland" P. Liddell and a tambourine painted by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Throughout his two careers as museum conservator and independent conservator and consultant, Pollens has carried out extensive historical research (see sections below for his books and a list of scholarly articles); and he is a contributor to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The Strad.
Pollens is married to the concert violinist Stephanie Chase.
Pollens's research findings include the source of the design for the decorative inlay of Stradivari 's "Greffuhle" violin  and a chemical analysis of Stradivari's violin varnish. In 1999, Pollens challenged the authenticity of the world's most famous violin, the Ashmolean Museum's Messiah Stradivarius, in a series of articles published in the Journal of the Violin Society of America. The controversy initiated by these articles and presentations at the Violin Society of America and the American Federation of Violin Makers was widely reported.
The Violin Forms of Antonio Stradivari (1992) contains life-size photographs of all of the extant wood forms and patterns used by Stradivari in the construction of his violins, violas, and cellos, and includes an analysis of their geometry. It was described by one reviewer as "the standard work on the evolution of Stradivarius's designs."
Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1994) features 200 life-size color photographs taken by Pollens and complete technical documentation of the twenty-five Guarneri violins that were displayed in the "Masterpieces of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù" exhibition held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994. Containing newly discovered biographical and historical information, this is the most thorough study to date of this great maker and his work. Pollens contributed the chapter on dendrochronology, a scientific procedure used to determine the age of the wood used in making violins.
The Early Pianoforte (1995) traces the history of the piano from its invention up to the mid 18th century. It offers thorough coverage of the career of Bartolomeo Cristofori, widely acknowledged as having invented the piano in Florence around 1700, but rather contentiously suggests that Cristofori should not be called the instrument's inventor. In support of this claim it carefully goes through the threads of evidence that can be found for the existence of piano-like instruments dating as far back as 1440. The book examines the work of makers including Henri Arnaut de Zwolle, Cristofori, Giovanni Ferrini, Domenico del Mela, Henrique Van Casteel, Joachim José Antunes, Francisco Pérez Mirabal, Gottfried Silbermann, and Christian Ernst Friederici.
In François-Xavier Tourte: Bow Maker (2001) Pollens and co-author Henryk Kaston provide a technical description of Francois Tourte's working methods and offer new biographical facts based upon previously unpublished documents discovered in French archives.
Stradivari (2010) includes new biographical information and detailed analyses of Stradivari's workshop materials preserved in the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona.
The Manual of Musical Instrument Conservation (2015) is the first comprehensive guide to the care and maintenance of historic instruments.
Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.
Awards, profiles, and interviews
- American Musical Instrument Society's Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize, 1997 for The Early Pianoforte.
- Profiles of Pollens have appeared in Sinfonica (March, 1999), City Journal (Spring, 1995), Continuo (April, 1989), and American Lutherie 20 (Winter, 1989).
- In 2002, Pollens was featured playing the world's oldest surviving piano, the Cristofori piano of 1720, on WNET television.
- 2011 Choice "Outstanding Academic Title" award for Stradivari.
- "What Exalts Stradivarius? Not Varnish, Study Says", New York Times, December 4, 2009
- "Why Cellos Sound Lousy in Bad Weather", Slate, January 26, 2009.
- Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming
- The Manual of Musical Instrument Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- Stradivari. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- With Henryk Kaston. François-Xavier Tourte: Bow Maker. New York: Machold Rare Violins, 2001.
- With Carlo Chiesa, John Dilworth, Roger Hargrave, Duane Rosengard, and Eric Wen. Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu. London: Peter Biddulph, 1998.
- With Roger Hargrave. Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri: The Library of Congress Violins. London: Peter Biddulph, 1997.
- The Early Pianoforte. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; second printing 2009.
- With Carlo Chiesa, John Dilworth, and Duane Rosengard. The Violin Masterpieces of Guarneri del Gesù: An Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Maker’s Death. London: Peter Biddulph, 1994.
- The Violin Forms of Antonio Stradivari. London: Peter Biddulph, 1992.
- Forgotten Instruments. Katonah: The Katonah Gallery, 1980.
- "Transitional Violin Setup." Journal of the Violin Society of America. Forthcoming.
- "Dendrochronology and the Dating of Violins." In Proceedings of the International Workshop on Diagnostics and Preservation of Musical Instruments. Ravenna, 2010. Forthcoming.
- "The Care of Musical Instruments." In The Care and Handling of Art. New York and New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press. Forthcoming.
- "Soler's Temperament and his Acordante." In Nuevas perspectivas sobre la musica para tecla de Antonio Soler. Garrrucha, 2016: 17-38.
- "In Focus: The 1751 'Brodsky' Guadagnini Violin." The Strad vol. 127, no. 1517 (September, 2016): 67-69.
- Review of American Luthier: Carleen Hutchins-the Art and Science of the Violin by Quincy Whitney. The Strad vol. 127, no. 1515 (July, 2016): 93.
- "The Restoration of a Fortepiano by Conrad Graf, ca. 1838, in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Chopin et son temps: Actes des Rencontres Internationales Harmoniques, Lausanne 2010. Berne, 2016: 216-226.
- "The Hole Truth." (Critique of MIT study of the f-hole.)The Strad vol. 126, no. 1500 (April, 2015): 29.
- "Historical Metrology in the Service of Organology: Some Caveats." Unisonus Musikinsrumente erforschen, bewahren, sammeln. ed. Beatrix Darmstaedter and Ina Hoheisel. Vienna, 2014: 510-537.
- "The Appliance of Science." The Strad vol. 124, no. 1485 (January, 2014): 54-58.
- Review of Before the Chinrest by Stanley Ritchie. Performance Practice Review 18/1 (2013): 201318.01.06.
- Review of "Librem Segreti de Buttegha: A Book of Workshop Secrets" by Andrew Dipper. The Strad vol. 124, no. 1481 (September, 2013): 116.
- "Bartolomeo Cristofori in Florence." Galpin Society Journal 66 (March, 2013): 7-42.
- "Form and Function." Strings vol. 27, no. 8 (March, 2013): 51-53.
- "Introduction" in Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini by Francois-Joseph Fetis. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2013: ix-xiii.
- "Introduction to the Dover Edition" in Anthony Stradivari the Celebrated Violin Maker by Francois-Joseph Fetis. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2013: vii-xvii.
- "Introduction to the Dover Edition" in The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers by Ernest Doring. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2012: 5-8.
- "House of Cards." The Strad vol. 122, no. 1460 (December, 2011): 46-54.
- "Some Thoughts of the Tuning of the Early Three-String Violin." Galpin Society Journal 64 (March, 2011): 61-66.
- "Remembering Henryk Kaston: The Last Renaissance Man." Strings vol. 25, no. 6 (January, 2011): 58.
- "Some Misconceptions about the Baroque Violin." Performance Practice Review vol. 14 (2010), 1-13.
- "Cleaning and Retouching Violin Varnish, with a Discussion of Colour Theory." In The Conservation, Restoration, and Repair of Stringed Instruments and Their Bows. Montreal: IPCI, 2010: 664-694.
- "The Pianoforte in the Performance of Scarlatti's Sonatas." In Domenico Scarlatti en Espana: Proceedings of FIMTE Symposia 2006-2007. Garrucha, 2009: 301-311.
- "Cristofori and Erard." In Musique, Images, Instruments 11. Paris, 2009: 75-81.
- "A Proposal for the Conservation of the Rediscovered 1690 Cristofori Spinetta Ovale and a Few Remarks." In Restauro e conservazione degli strumenti musicali antichi: la spinetta ovale di Bartolomeo Cristofori. Florence, 2008: 133-136.
- "The Instruments and Music Depicted in Caravaggio's Apollo the Luteplayer." In Caravaggio (New York, London; 2007): 45-46.
- "Ornamental Ornithology." (Origin of the inlay pattern of one of Stradivari's most beautifully decorated violins).The Strad vol. 118, no. 1410 (October, 2007): 34-40.
- "Michele Todini's Golden Harpsichord: Changing Perspectives," Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography vol. 32, nos. 1-2 (Spring-Fall, 2007): 142-151.
- "Beethoven's Pianos," Piano Today 1 (Fall, 2006), 7-8; 2 (Winter, 2007), 20-21; 3 (Spring, 2007): 24-25.
- Review of Violin and Lute Makers of Venice 1640-1760 by Stefano Pio. Journal of the Violin Society of America: VSA Papers vol. 20, no. 2 (Summer, 2006): 219-222.
- "The Schumann/Brahms Conrad Graf Piano." The American Brahms Society Newsletter vol. 24, no. 1 (Spring, 2006): 1-4.
- "Salmon, Stefkins, Visconti, and Stradivari: An Unlikely Collaboration." Viola da Gamba und Viola da Braccio: Tage Alter Musik in Herne 2002. Munich, Salzburg: Musikverlag Katzbichler, 2006: 57-68.
- "A Viola da Gamba Temperament Preserved by Antonio Stradivari," Eighteenth-Century Music vol. 5, no. 1 (March, 2006): 125-132.
- Review of "Bach and the Pedal Harpsichord: an Organist's Guide by Joel Speerstra. Eighteenth Century Music vol. 2, no. 2 (September, 2005): 337-340.
- "An Eye for Detail." (Biography of bow maker Henryk Kaston). The Strad vol. 116, no. 1383 (July, 2005): 30-36.
- "Venetian Debate." (Discussion of violin making in Venice) The Strad vol. 116, no. 1379 (March, 2005): 7.
- "Conserve the Cannon." (Discussion of history of Venetian violin making) The Strad vol. 115, no. 1376 (December, 2004): 1271.
- "Antonio Stradivari: Maker of Lutes in the French Style." Musique, Images, Instruments: Review française d' organologie et d' iconographie musicale (Paris, 2004): 28-46.
- "The Hill Bass Bar Collection." The Strad vol. 115, no. 1369 (May, 2004): 498-503.
- Review of Italian & French Violin Makers" by Jost Thöne. The Strad vol. 115, no. 1369 (May, 2004): 548.
- “Softly, Softly.” (Interview with violin restorer and maker Horacio Pineiro.) The Strad vol. 114, no. 1353 (January, 2003): 44-49.
- Review of Italian Violin Making in Argentina, by Pablo Alejandro Saravi. The Strad vol. 114, no. 1361 (September, 2003): 1021.
- Review of The Violin of David Oistrakh: Stradivari "Conte de Fontana" 1702 by Danilo Prefumo. The Strad vol. 114, no. 1358 (June, 2003): 677.
- "Antonio Stradivari and the Baroque Guitar." In The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, edited by Victor Anand Coelho, 207-28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
- "The Gatti-Kraus Piano Action Ascribed to Bartolomeo Cristofori." Galpin Society Journal vol. 55 (April, 2002): 269-78.
- "The Claviorgan by Lorenz Hauslaib, Nuremberg, 1598." In 600 Jahre Cembalobau in Osterreich, edited by Alfons Huber, 247-67. Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 2001.
- “Messiah Redux.” Journal of the Violin Society of America vol. 17, no. 3 (2001): 159-79.
- "The Messie: A Panel Discussion." Journal of the Violin Society of America vol. 17, no. 3 (2001): 181-222.
- “‘Messiah’ on Trial." The Strad vol. 112, no. 1336 (August, 2001): 854-58.
- Fifteen catalog entries in The Still Lifes of Evaristo Baschenis: The Music of Silence, edited by Andrea Bayer, 62-65. Milan: Olivares, 2000.
- "5000 Instruments, One Conservator: Conservation Practices and Policy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Instruments pour demain: conservation & restauration des instruments de musique. Champs-Sur-Marne: SFIIC, 2000: 47-53.
- "Christoph Gottlieb Schröter: Inventor or Fraud." Early Keyboard Journal vol.18 (2000): 139-53.
- "A Pantalonclavichord by C. Kintzing of Neuwied, 1763." In De Clavicordio IV; Proceedings of the International Clavichord Symposium, Magnano, 8–11 September 1999, edited by Bernard Brauchli, Susan Brauchli, and Alberto Galazzo, 203-13. Magnano: Musica Antica a Magnano, 2000.
- "Le Messie." Journal of The Violin Society of America" vol.16, no. 1 (1999): 77-101.
- "The Man Behind the Bows: François-Xavier Tourte." The Strad vol.110, no. 1308 (April, 1999): 402-9.
- "Early Alterations Made to Ruckers, Couchet, and Grouwels Harpsichords in the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Kielinstrumente aus der werkstatt Ruckers: Schriften des Händel-Hauses in Halle 14. Halle an der Saale: Händel-Haus, 1998: 137-170.
- "Flemish Harpsichords and Virginals in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal 32 (1997): 85-110.
- "Curtains for Cremona." (Profiles of the violin copyists Joseph Curtin and Gregg Alf.) The Strad vol. 106, no.1267 (November, 1995): 1160-1167.
- "Parley with Francais." (Interview with Jacques Francais about the work of Guarneri del Gesu.) The Strad vol. 105, no. 1254 (October, 1994): 973-979.
- "The Violin Forms of Antonio Stradivari." Journal of the Violin Society of America vol.13, no. 3 (1994): 87-120.
- "Interview with Daniel Phillips." The Strad vol. 104, no. 1243 (November, 1993): 1072.
- "Chasing the Authentic Sound." (Interview with violinist Stephanie Chase about the use of period instruments and original text sources in the first recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Romances on Classical Instruments.) The Strad vol. 104, no. 1243 (November, 1993): 1060-1064.
- “An Upright Pianoforte by Domenico Del Mela.” Galpin Society Journal vol. 45 (1992): 22-28.
- "Three Keyboard Instruments Signed by Cristofori's Assistant, Giovanni Ferrini." Galpin Society Journal vol. 44 (1991): 77-93.
- "Michele Todini's Golden Harpsichord: An Examination of the Machine of Galatea and Polyphemus." Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 25 (1990): 33-47.
- "Curt Sachs and Musical Instrument Restoration." The Musical Times vol. 130, no.1760 (October, 1989): 589-94.
- Review of Piano Information Guide by Robert Palmieri. The Musical Times vol. 131, no. 1766 (April, 1990): 203-204.
- Review of The Piano (New Grove Musical Instrument Series) by Philip R. Belt. The Musical Times vol. 131, no. 1764 (February, 1990): 93-94.
- "Early Nineteenth-Century German Language Works on Piano Maintenance." Early Keyboard Journal vol. 8 (1990): 91-109.
- Review of The Violin Makers of the United States, by Thomas James Wenberg. The Strad vol. 99, no. 1183 (November, 1988): 930.
- Review of Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salabue translated and edited by David Woodrow and Andrew Dipper. The Strad vol. 99, no. 1179 (July, 1988): 573.
- "Young Master." (Profile of the bow maker and restorer Yung Chin.) The Strad vol. 99, no. 1175 (March, 1988): 207-11.
- "The House that Jack Built." (Profile of violin dealer Jacques Français and a discussion of his system of violin identification.) The Strad vol. 99, no. 1183 (November, 1988): 879-89.
- "Historic Lute and Violin Varnish Formulas: 1500-1800." Journal of the Violin Society of America vol. 8, no. 2 (1987): 31-40.
- "The Bonafinis Spinet." Atti del XIV Congreso della Societa Internazionale di Musicologia, Study Session: Cembali, e cembali che fanno il piano e il forte edited by Eva Badura-Skoda. Bologna: International Musicological Society,1987: 286-287.
- "The Bonafinis Spinet: An Early Harpsichord Converted into a Tangent Piano." Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society vol. 13 (1987): 5-22.
- "Violins on View." (Preview of the 1987 Stradivari exhibition in Cremona.) The Strad vol. 98, no. 1169 (September 1987): 685-87.
- "Cremonese Reincarnation." (Documentation of Samuel Zygmuntowicz copying the 1733 "Kreisler" Guarneri del Gesù.) The Strad vol. 98, no.1171 (November, 1987): 835-45.
- "Prodigious Celebration." (Review of the 1987 "Capolavori di Antonio Stradivari" exhibition in Cremona.) The Strad vol. 98, no. 1172 (December, 1987): 957-61.
- Review of The Herbert Axelrod Stradivari Quartet by Jacques Francais. The Strad vol. 98, no. 1155 (July, 1986): 201-202.
- Review of From Violin Making to Music: The Life and Works of Simone Fernando Sacconi edited by Franco Feroldi. The Strad vol. 97, no. 1154 (June, 1986): 131.
- "Gottfried Silbermann's Pianos." The Organ Yearbook vol. 17 (1986): 103-21.
- "Travelling Apprenticeship." (An account of Rembert Wurltizer's early years and travels through England and the Continent as revealed by letters to his family.) The Strad vol. 97, no.1160 (December, 1986): 559-64.
- “Fine Tuning.” (An interview with Jascha Heifetz’s lifelong luthier, Benjamin Koodlach.) The Strad vol. 96, no. 1150 (February, 1986): 781-2.
- “Morel Responsibility.” (Interview with violin restorer René Morel.) The Strad vol. 97, no. 1154 (June, 1986): 102-4.
- "First Class." (Profile of the violin maker David Burgess.) The Strad vol. 97, no. 1159 (November, 1986): 487-90.
- "Knotty Problems." (Profile of the violin bow maker William Salchow.) The Strad vol. 46, no.1147 (November, 1985): 487-490.
- "The Early Portuguese Piano." Early Music vol. 13, no. 1 (February, 1985): 18-27.
- "The Pianos of Bartolomeo Cristofori." Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society vol. 10 (1984): 32-68.
- Comment from Manze's review of Pollens's book Stradivari, from Early Music (2011)
- "The Talk of the Town," The New Yorker, November 24, 2008
- "Ornamental Ornithology," The Strad vol. 118, no. 1410 (October, 2007): 34-40.
- "Recipe for Success," The Strad vol. 120, no. 1429 (May, 2009): 34-38.
- These include The Wall Street Journal (March 11, 1999), The Times (London) (March 15, 1999; October 27, 2000; November 11, 2001; November 26, 2001), Le Figaro (December 7, 2000), La Stampa (March 28, 1999), The Strad (August, 2001), Attache (September, 1999), Money (June, 2002), Forbes.com (April 22, 2002) and Metropulse.com (February 17, 2001).
- Giles Whittell, The Times, October 27, 2000