'Macdonald' Stradivari Viola Fails to Sell for $45 million

June 25, 2014, 7:18 PM · The 1719 "Macdonald" Stradivari viola failed to sell for the record-breaking asking price of $45 million on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

Macdonald viola
The "Macdonald" Strad viola, Sotheby's

The viola was offered in a sealed bidding process by Sotheby's and Ingles & Hayday. Over the last three months the viola was shown in New York, Hong Kong and Paris and received major publicity for its extraordinary asking price, which is considerably higher than the approximately $16 million that the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu, currently played by Anne Akiko Meyers, was rumored to have fetched.

Below, violist David Aaron Carpenter demonstrates the Macdonald viola. The video also includes some historic footage of Amadeus Quartet violinist Peter Schidlof, playing it. Schidlof, violist in the Amadeus Quartet, performed on the instrument from 1964-1987. According to the New York Times, the viola had been sold in 1964 for $81,000, to Philips, the Dutch electronics company, which owned the Deutsche Grammophon record label and bought the instrument for Schidlof to play with the Amadeus Quartet, which recorded on the label. The instrument remained with Schidlof's family after his death in 1987, according to Ingles & Hayday.

In the video, Carpenter says that the "Macdonald" is one of 10 violas made by Antonio Stradivari, and the best-preserved. (Some sources put that number at 11 violas) Carpenter said the other violas are in museums or foundations, and that the "Macdonald" is one of the only violas Stradivari made during his "Golden Period." (It appears to be one of three from that time period).

The viola is generally accepted to have been made around the year 1719; the high-end instrument website Tarisio/Cozio lists a few other possible years for its creation, though all years from all sources would put it in Strad's "Golden Period" (1700-1720): "According to him (Schidlof]: 'It is generally accepted that it was made in 1701, but Charles Beare thinks it's 1718, and he seems pretty sure about it.'"

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Here is another a nice video, and a bit less of a commercial for the instrument: David Aaron Carpenter plays Shostakovich Romance on the "MacDonald" Stradivari viola:


June 26, 2014 at 01:53 AM · Good. Justice was made. Who in their right mind would spend half of a lifetime's income to get a piece of wood?

Simply mind boggling, on par with that stamp which sold for 9.5 million dollars in New York.

Guess they had nothing better to do with their money.

June 26, 2014 at 04:40 AM · Ovidiu,

With all due respect to your opinion, this instrument is NOT just a piece of wood any more than the Mona Lisa is just a piece of painted canvas... The viola is in incredible structural and cosmetic condition for its age, a piece of art representing the apex of the skill of the most celebrated instrument craftsman in the (Western) world. Rare and irreplaceable, therefore precious and desirable. This is indisputable. Period.

I will admit that one can possibly get a different instrument that is, say, more projecting, or sweeter, or deeper sounding, etc., for A LOT less. But this is subjective preference.

HOWEVER, people offering fine art of any kind for sale (paintings, manuscripts) as well as prospective buyers in this obscene range regard it purely as an INVESTMENT. As such, the sellers simply failed to make their case successfully. That this viola didn't sell is only a failure of salesmanship to the right prospects, and NOT a reflection of the piece's uniqueness.

I suspect that before the year's end, it will be sold to either an oligarch / banker / industrialist / oil magnate, someone that was not made aware of its sale the first time 'round... You pick! The letters of introduction have already been crafted, I'm sure.

Then, it will be paraded accordingly, while being entrusted for a while to Mr. Carpenter, perhaps, for being played and recorded on (I hope so!). A well-publicized but failed attempt to steal it in a couple of years will raise its value even further. Finally, in twenty years' time, it will again be sold for double the money, making it a pretty sound (!) investment...

Everybody wins: seller, buyer, insurer, player, us - what's not to like?!? The premium fine instrument market has long been unavailable to us mere mortals, anyway, and none of us controls what happens to these instruments. Stradivari's glory lives on, regardless...

June 26, 2014 at 04:43 AM · LOL, they tried so hard advertising it. Alas, sanity wins.

June 26, 2014 at 08:07 AM · Lovely playing - beautiful sound. Ridiculous price for the instrument though, even if it is pretty unique.

I wouldn't think any penniless musician can aford such prices.

June 26, 2014 at 09:39 AM · Nice white jacket . Now why can`t Nigel Kennedy dress like that . Time to make an effort young Nigel .

June 26, 2014 at 01:05 PM · Why does he play the tutti sections like they don't matter, with his instrument drooping on his chest? Would y'all teach your students to do that? Also I don't care for the white jacket. Are the pockets and vents even functional?

The monetary value of the instrument is defined very simply by what someone else is willing to pay. It's not worth $45 million, only because nobody else bid that high, and not for any other reason.

June 26, 2014 at 01:34 PM · Oh don't pick on David Aaron Carpenter, I just saw him play live and he has that wonderful combination of high skill and showmanship and that make for a lovely performance. It's a form of generosity, that kind of performing, whether you like the white jacket or not. I think he's just backing off in the tutti sections, an acknowledgment, "this is the section that does not feature me as a soloist, it features the orchestra."

Regarding the viola, it does sound like a fantastic example of the fine art of Stradivari, from many view points: sound, history, condition, rarity, etc. But $45 million -- that's nearly three times more than the highest-ever price fetched by a Strad. I do wonder how they arrived at the figure.

June 27, 2014 at 12:51 AM · One of Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings just sold for $54 million; 2 years ago another sold for nearly $44 million. If you consider Strad instruments to be unique works of art that can also make beautiful music, they seem severely undervalued in comparison...

June 28, 2014 at 01:58 PM · Tim Ingles and Paul Hayday are highly respected - yet that $45 million starting price leaves me wondering what sort of medication they might have been sampling of late. Did some cunning mystery operator "set them up" ??

I await (eagerly) the discovery of a companion "Burger King" Stradivari viola ....voila !!

June 29, 2014 at 11:43 AM · No viola is worth more than 10$ anyway ...

June 29, 2014 at 11:45 AM · "Nice white jacket . Now why can`t Nigel Kennedy dress like that . Time to make an effort young Nigel ."

Total Bull*** as usual John. Do say something sensible and enlightening.

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