It was a dark and stormy night. A feeble old man's hands shivered with excited anticipation as he carved away the last curled shaving from the ancient piece of maple.
"Magnifique!" he exclaimed at his masterpiece as he caressed it like a mother with a newborn child. He kissed the smooth wood then gently hung it from a wire attached to a gold-gilded chandelier. The shapely object swayed gently above the master's head. Flickering candlelight danced with the ox-hair brush as the violin received its first of more than twenty fine coats of hot oil varnish.
The violin was completed and labeled at the poignant stroke of midnight on the start of the year 1912 in Lyon, France. The year would later be known for other historic events such as the establishment of the Republic of China, the discovery of the South Pole, and more notably, the addition of prizes to Cracker Jack boxes. All these events are shadowed by the creation of a violin that would someday find its way to me.
My violin's rust-brown varnish had just finished curing when it was wrapped in fine silk and sent away in a wooden case. Due to highway congestion and no available carrier pigeons, French aviator Henri Seimet was asked to deliver the violin and made the first non-stop airplane flight from Paris to London in three hours.
The violin's first owner was the great-grandson of legendary violinist Nicolò Paganini who suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The violin's astonishing tone helped auditioners overlook the player's affliction and earned the him a gig with an 8-man band on a cruise ship. The Atlantic voyage was uneventful, unless you consider that last bit when the "Titanic" stuck an ice shelf and sank.
The violin's last tune with the band that night was a jolly rendition of"Roll Out the Barrel" before it was laid to rest in the coffin case, its owner saying a final goodbye. The ship went down in a fury of bubbles and miraculously the case came up out of the vessel with an infant sleeping peacefully on top. When the rescue ships arrived several hours later, infant Eva Braun and violin were in the care of another survivor on a nearby lifeboat: Margaret "Molly" Brown.
Eva was reunited with her family and would grow up to make poor decisions in politics and boyfriends. The violin, however, belonged to no one and was donated to a music society as a tax write-off. Joe Dawson, an eccentric race car driver, purchased the violin (also for tax reasons, though historians dispute this fact) and won the first Indianapolis 500 race with the violin in the trunk for good luck.
Soon afterwards Dawson lost his bet with Woodrow Wilson that the latter would not win the Presidential election; the winner took the violin. Wilson gave the violin to former ice hockey teammate Igor Stravinsky, who composed many of his best works using the violin. A year later, in 1913, the premiere of "The Rite of Spring" was poorly received and fights broke out in the audience. Stravinsky himself was so upset due to its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, leaving the violin behind in his haste.
Historians believe this is when my violin received extensive damage to the lower bout at the end-pin. The facts that follow are fuzzy due to poor documentation, but it is believed the violin was discovered in the theatre rubble and taken to a medicine man in Cuba who repaired the violin with guar gum and papyrus extracts. The dear violin spent the next forty-nine years passed from village virtuoso to virtuoso, who played for dignitaries, millionaires and other ridiculous people.
This happy holiday in the violin's life ended in 1962 when one village violinist, fearing the worst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, hid the violin in a fall-out shelter behind 200-cans of extra-juicy pork and beans. In 2005 the canned food's expiration date came and as the cans were being disposed of the violin was discovered again.
A compulsive gambler who worked with the fallout shelter's janitorial service stole the violin and put the violin up for auction on Ebay. It was won by my cousin's dog groomer's babysitter's nephew for 50 pesos. I heard there was a violin in the family and traded the guy an old lawnmower (he needed the wheels for a go-cart) for the violin, which is now safely in my possession and care.
Over this past year I have pondered over the mysterious label inside the violin, "Lyone 1912," and the spider-like cracks on the bottom that seem to be so expertly repaired using methods unknown to local luthiers. Hence I took it upon myself to extensively research the history of my violin and learned what little I could about the violin's history, which I have presented here truthfully to you.
Strangely, the people I've shared my flawless findings with have been disappointed as they're only marginally glamourous or mysterious. Sometimes the truth is pretty boring. I wish it could be more than that.
So now when people ask for stories about my violin's past, I lie and say my violin was found in Elvis' grasp in a Vegas hotel bathroom. That'll keep them interested. **
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.