Encounter with a Lady
May 5, 2011 at 12:28 AM
So it’s (again) been a long while since my last blog – has it really been a year? It does seriously feel like time is speeding up somehow…
I have a confession to make. It’s serious, and it could be damaging to my reputation. Last week, unbeknownst to all of my friends and family, and even my wife, I had a romantic encounter with a lady. I’m forced to say that I’m not sorry I did it. If I have any regrets, it’s that it was in all likelihood a one-time occurrence. It’s almost certain that I will never see her again, and I won’t even have photos of our brief encounter to remember her by. But if I want to, I’ll be able to find pictures of her on the Web, close my eyes, and think back to the moment I first saw her.
Here’s a photo. You might recognize her – she’s one of the most famous faces in the violin world:
Those curves. Those eyes. That radiant, smoldering auburn coat. Not to mention the purfling!
As many of you know, the Nippon Foundation has decided to place the 1721 Stradivari known as the “Lady Blunt” at auction with Tarisio to raise funds for the Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. This is historic, for many reasons; first, because of the generosity of the Foundation in trying to help their fellow citizens in this terrible time. But as solemn as the circumstances of the sale are, it’s historic for other reasons. This is a big deal, something that happens once in a generation, if we’re lucky.
The “Lady Blunt” is a crowning jewel of the violin world. One of the best-preserved Strads in existence, its almost untouched condition gives us a tantalizing look at the master’s hand with very little alteration. Violin experts far more qualified than I have already written about the provenance and significance of the Lady, so click here
if you want to know about its journey over the last 2 centuries, tracing back to the workshop of J. B. Vuillaume (who also had the foresight to do the minimum amount of work needed to keep the violin in its amazing state). Instead, I wanted to give my impressions of the Lady through the glass case in the New York offices of Tarisio where I saw her ever so briefly last week.
In case you’re thinking, if this was so important, why didn’t he bring a camera, for crying out loud?!, I can only blame outright stupidity… and Staples. I stopped there to get a memory card for my camera because I’d forgotten to bring one from home, and I bought the wrong type of card, so when I got to New York and popped it in, my camera petulantly refused to work. But the images in my head are still pretty fresh, and hopefully they’ll stay that way for a while. That, and a few enterprising people on that other violin website have managed to be more technologically capable. But I digress…
The first striking thing I saw was the varnish. Charles Beare has said many times that the endless polishing and re-polishing of violins has, in his mind, permanently altered the way that some of the Cremonese instruments look, destroying the texture of the original varnish and replacing it with a smooth, almost lacquered overcoat. Over the years, I’ve seen many Italian violins, and over and over again, the varnish was either polished within an inch of its life (a result of the aethetics of the last century and a half), or was better-preserved, but worn and thin in places. The Lady is different from all the others. The varnish looks new, almost like it was put on recently. After seeing pictures like the one above, I was surprised to see how much more brown there is in the coloring, at least under everyday lighting conditions. But the golden undercoat, especially in the places on the Lady where there is some wear to the color layers, is fiery and shimmers with the changing angles of light.
The other thing I noticed was the woodwork of the master. It was still crisp! It’s something of a cliché to say that Stradivari was a meticulous maker, unusual for an Italian. He obviously was, with precise working methods consistently adhered to. But the genius of the man shows in that precision is never put above aesthetic. The violin is not completely symmetrical (as is the case with many other Strads and Cremonese instruments), and that ever-so-slight asymmetry gives an organic feel to the violin. And the ff’s, the arching, the edgework, the purfling all carry this same careful spontaneity. It gives the instrument the look of being strangely alive somehow; almost as if it would pulsate under your touch if you were to place a finger on it.
Am I waxing poetic? Maybe. But there’s a reason. As I said, I’ll probably never get to see this violin up close and personal again. And other than the “Messiah” of 1716, the Lady is the closest thing we have to seeing the original concept and work of the man who reached the pinnacle of violinmaking almost 300 years ago.
So I hope that my wife can forgive me this one indiscretion. It won’t happen again – unless the Lady decides to visit New York sometime in the future.
Fantastic!!!!!!!!!! Too bad for you that you couldn't try that lady of course...
What am I saying there...that has to be violin taking control of my brain : )
Great blog! Beautiful artwork
From John Cadd
Posted on May 5, 2011 at 10:52 AM
Michael ; "Do you mind if I try you out?"
Lady; "How dare you!---Oh , go on then".
Loved reading this!
From John Cadd
Posted on May 5, 2011 at 6:04 PM
Bill Oddie gave the more authentic short version.
Celia Johnson: "Oh, I`ve got some grit in my eye."
Trevor Howard: "Would you like me to get it out?"
Celia Johnson: " Best not, I`m already Married. Oh, there`s my train.-- Goodbye!"
Not only with Lady Blunt...so many violins have people's name!
Now I understand why some violin tryouts contests are screened : )
A marvelous post that's so well written with obvious affection! The film "The Red Violin" for some reason came to mind while reading it and seeing the lovely photo. Thank you for sharing this with us.
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