Even so, the distance separating us from Mozart’s day is not only a matter of years but also of perception. While the early music movement has helped illuminate the musical past, it has also made it seem in a way more distant by drawing our attention to the Romantic-era scrim through which we once viewed the Baroque and classical periods. Others have of course read a broader sense of historical disconnection into the more general condition of our modern lives.
Ultimately, the aura of instruments such as these flows not just from their sound but from their physical presence as such, their very thing-ness. They invite us to replace that sense of yawning metaphysical distance with the particulars of provenance, to swap the daunting stacks of centuries for direct chains of ownership, a series of handoffs through the generations.
Or we can simply allow a well-traveled violin and viola to speak in their own modest voices, and hear what we can.
“Time,” as W. G. Sebald wrote, “measures nothing but itself.”
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.