Trained as a violin and keyboard-instrument maker, Stewart Pollens served as the conservator of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1976-2006. His work there included the restoration and maintenance of the museum's encyclopedic collection of over 5000 instruments, as well as research, writing, and lecturing on the collection. In 2007 he formed Violin Advisor, a firm that authenticates and evaluates fine violins for prospective purchasers. He is frequently interviewed regarding musical instruments, including for "The Talk of The Town" in The New Yorker.
Stewart Pollens has written extensively on stringed and early keyboard instruments, including, The Violin Forms of Antonio Stradivari (London, 1992), The Early Pianoforte (Cambridge; 1995, reprinted 2009), Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (London, 1998), François-Xavier Tourte: Bow Maker (New York, 2001), The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar (Cambridge, 2003), Stradivari (Cambridge, 2010), The Manual of Musical Instrument Conservation (Cambridge, 2015), Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano (Cambridge, 2017), and A History of Stringed Keyboard Instruments (Cambridge, 2022). He is a contributor to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and writes on a regular basis for The Strad.
Mr. Pollens's book The Violin Forms of Antonio Stradivari has been hailed as "the standard work on the evolution of Stradivarius's designs" (Giles Whittell, The Times, October 27, 2000). This book 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.
In The Early Pianoforte, Stewart Pollens traces the history of the piano back to 1440, nearly three-hundred years before the work of Bartolomeo Cristofori, the harpsichord maker who is generally credited with having invented the piano in Florence around 1700. In 1997, Mr. Pollens received the American Musical Instrument Society's Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize for this Cambridge University Press publication. Cambridge University Press republished The Early Pianoforte in paperback in 2009.
Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù features 200 life-size color photographs taken by Mr. 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. Mr. Pollens contributed the chapter on dendrochronology, a scientific procedure used to determine the age of the wood used in making violins.
In François-Xavier Tourte: Bow Maker, Stewart Pollens and co-author Henryk Kaston provide a technical description of Tourte's working methods and reveal new biographical facts based upon previously unpublished documents discovered in French archives.
The Manual of Musical Instrument Conservation is the first comprehensive guide to the conservation, restoration, and maintenance of historic instruments. It is based upon the work Pollens carried out in his capacity of conservator of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano is the first comprehensive study of the life and work of Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Paduan-born harpsichord maker and contemporary of Antonio Stradivari, who is credited with having invented the pianoforte around the year 1700. Through thorough analysis of documents preserved in the state archive of Florence, Pollens has reconstructed Cristofori's working life between his arrival in Florence in 1688 and his death there in 1732.
A History of Stringed Keyboard Instruments explores the history of keyboard instruments from their fourteenth-century origins to the development of the modern piano. It reveals the principles of their design and describes structural and mechanical developments through the medieval and renaissance periods and eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries, as well as the early music revival. Pollens identifies and describes the types of keyboard instruments played by major composers and virtuosi through the ages and provides the reader with detailed instructions on their regulating, stringing, tuning and voicing drawn from historical sources.
In 1999, Mr. Pollens challenged the authenticity of the world's most famous violin, the Ashmolean Museum's "Messiah," 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 in major newspapers and magazines throughout the world, including 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.
Profiles of Stewart Pollens have appeared in www.staythirsty.com (vol. 110, 2021 and March, 2012), Sinfonica (March, 1999), City Journal (Spring, 1995), Continuo (April, 1989), and American Lutherie 20 (Winter, 1989). In 2002, Mr. Pollens was featured playing the world's oldest surviving piano, the Cristofori piano of 1720, on WNET television.
Mr. Pollens is married to the concert violinist Stephanie Chase and resides in New York City, where his other interests include astronomy, playing the harpsichord, bicycling and cooking.