Monday, October 3, 2011

The Messiah Stradivarius

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

Antonius Stradivarius is easily the most renowned violin maker in history. His name has a magical quality that makes it recognizable to people who have never picked up an instrument or seen an orchestra perform. It is not uncommon to get a call here in the violin shop from someone who thinks they have found a "Stradivarius" in their basement and wants to know if they found the real deal. Although highly unlikely, turning up a genuine Stradivarius in your basement would be akin to winning the lottery - this past summer the Lady Blunt Stradivarius sold at auction for an astounding 16 million dollars. When it was auctioned the Lady Blunt was called "the best preserved Stradivarius to be offered for sale," and this was certainly true, but it isn't the best preserved Stradivarius in existence. That title belongs to the "Messiah" Stradivarius, which many people call "the consummate violin" for its astounding craftsmanship and perfect preservation.

File:Messiah Stradivarius.jpg
The Messiah Stradivarius of 1716

The Messiah was made by Antonius Stradivarius at his shop in Cremona, Italy in 1716. It remained, unsold, in the shop until Stradivarius' death in 1737. Stradivarius' son Paolo sold the Messiah to Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775, and famed collector Luigi Tarisio purchased the violin from the Count in 1827. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris purchased the Messiah upon Tarisio's death, and the violin eventually made its way to the Ashmolean Museum of London where it remains to this day. As the Messiah passed from owner to owner, it remained relatively unplayed, which is why it is in such spectacular condition today.

Front view of the Messiah Stradivarius
Soundhole of the Messiah

The back of the Messiah
Side of the Messiah

The scroll of the Messiah
Scroll of the Messiah

Unlike the Lady Blunt, the Messiah Stradivarius has remained a pristine museum piece, unplayed and safely hidden behind glass windows. Strict violin preservationists believe that a violin of this caliber should remain on display, but here at the violin shop we believe that instruments are meant to be played, and a violin as beautiful as the Messiah should be in the hands of a world class violinist. Stradivarius violins are celebrated for their beautiful sound, and the Messiah, as the consummate Stradivarius, certainly has a lot of sound to share with the world. Let us know your opinion on whether the Messiah should remain unplayed or not in the comments!

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  1. it should remain unplayed

  2. It is really pity that a so extraordinary violin is not played by a violinist of world level. He{*it*} is not moreover certain that sound quality of Messiah is not distorted{*altered*}, this one not having been played enough.

  3. Because of how rare it is and the fact that it's in such pristine condition and has never been played it should probably remain that way.
    I'm a musician myself and agree an instrument of such fine quality should be making beautiful music, however this is a bit different. We are talking about a historical artifact that is also an instrument that has never been played so it has no damage to it from being played.
    If it were to be played even in the hands of a master it would undoubtedly receive damage and wear. The more it's played the more the wear and tear on the instrument.
    There are many examples of Strad's being played today but those instruments have always been played and so the wear and tear on the instrument is already there.
    Once that line has been crossed there is no going back. There may never be another in this type of condition discovered again so it literally is priceless!

  4. Even though it is a very important artifact, I think that it deserves to be played.

  5. How would we (they, of course) select which "master" gets to play the Messiah? By lottery? By committee deliberation? By leaving the choice to a wealthy donor to the Ashmolean? Likewise, what limits might we (they) place on the style of music, the allowable dents and dings, the type and amount of rosin, for that matter the maker and owner of bow, and so forth to a ridiculous degree. But, every single point noted above, plus potentially myriad others, would be up for debate and controversy should the decision be made to release the violin, even for a brief period, to the hands of a "master" (and remember that some "masters" play masterfully and with extreme feeling, but also with significant brutality to the instrument). Since the tradition of the Messiah is to leave it pristine and virtually unplayed, I see nothing to be gained, and a lot to be lost, by changing that tradition. I'd also point out that the tone and response of a wooden instrument that has lain dormant that long is likely to disappoint, at least initially. If the "master" played the violin long enough to awaken it, that must become the tradition from then on, to the likely detriment of the Messiah.

    Sean Barry (not anonymous)