V.com weekend vote: Do you know who the former player/owner of your current fiddle was?
May 11, 2013 at 9:13 PM
If violins could speak, what stories they might tell!
I wonder -- ardently -- who played my Italian violin before me. I know that it was in a state of great disrepair when my luthier restored it, that it came to him from England, but no more. It did not come with a long paper trail, just a beautiful voice that can't speak any language or tell me about anything but music. It's about 200 years old, and clearly it was played before I had it. But by whom? And where? And what did they play on it?
I ponder these questions, having dived deeply this week into the well-documented history of the violin Frank Almond plays, the 1715 Lipinski Strad. That violin went everywhere, played so many things and touched the hands of all kinds of famous people from our history books!
Of course, a violin's story doesn't even have to be anything so high-profile as this in order to still be fascinating. I found it very interesting, for example, when I went to a concert at my daughter's high school and discovered that an old velvet fiddle case I'd donated to them was being used to collect donations for the school district. There it was, with my maiden name and childhood address, still on a little metal plate! And I also discovered that one of my former students had lent her violin to another former student that I'd started in a school program -- she was still playing and needed a nice instrument. Glad she got it!
It's a small world, full of real stories that are so much wackier than fiction. Do you know who was the former owner of your fiddle?
I am honored to be the third owner of my violin. It was first owned and played by my great-grandfather, then my aunt, and now me. I love that it's been in my family since it was made in 1905.
Since losing my old Vuillaume in a divorce settlement some 20 years ago I've taken an interest in new violins. Having encountered many "nearly new" ones that have been spoiled already by being thinned out, I felt I'd rather trust unreconstructed instruments direct from makers, and have not been disappointed.
However, I did buy one "nearly new" Lucci violin, and because a dealer warned me later about the number of fakes in circulation, and because the maker's certificate had gone missing, I tracked down the previous owner who confirmed from photos that this really was the violin Lucci had made for him in 1974. One careful owner !! Also, the phrase "genuine reason for sale" applies - this musician needed a lighter instrument more suitable for baroque-era music.
It just so happens that the new violins I bought (and kept) were made in Italy and though I wasn't able to stand over the makers whilst in the process of making them I'm pretty sure they are "genuine"! My personal contact with the luthiers concerned has enhanced the retail therapy experience enormously.
I think it's rare for an old violin to have a provenance going way back through distinguished collectors & named players; when that applies the price escalates.
My violin was purchased new by my wife for me in 2010, three months before we got married. It's a 2008 Capri Maestro. My wife doesn't play so she asked the luthier she bought it from to play it along with a few other older instruments. She liked this one best for its tone. No one has spent more time with this particular instrument than me, but I'm sure others had to have played it if for no other reason than to try it out.
My old violin came from a old women, whos already dead husband had played it. One could see heavy signs of usage and also there must have been a pretty heavy damage sometimes. Inside, theres a sign wich sais "repaired in 1914" So it must have been around some time before. I felt very honored as I was getting the instrument in my youth as my first full size violin. It actually developed a nice sound, but it always was a little unreliable because of all the cracks. I thought about reselling it, but the money I could sell it for isn't equally to its value to me and its potential when repaired and resetuped (?). So I keep it until there is a opportunity to give it away or more likely until I have money to repair it and then use it as a second instrument.
My new Violin was build in 1948 as I remember and if the label is correct. I don't think it was played too much before and its basically crackfree and in very healthy condition. It was in the hands of a collector before, so I guess I have waken it up. Feels nice to imprint yourself on a beautiful instrument. All the seen usage is mine and one can see, that later in the violins life will tell someone else storys about me.
My violin was new and made by a local luthier but I found it in a string instrument shop. I had bought (partial trade-in) a violin there previously and needed to replace it. They had a 100% trade-in credit I proved the worth of that policy by 'buing up'. Apparently, I was the first person to try the instrument in the shop - but its likely that others tried it at the Luthiers before he put it on consignment.
Not only did I get a violin I also became friends with the luthier, John Newton, and that opened up a whole world of chamber music and delicious violin 'immersion therapy' which I have enjoyed ever since.
I'd like to think that my playing will become a part of the sound of the instrument - and that its time with me will be Chapter I in its player-ownership saga....
The violin I am playing was donated to my instructor. Someone had found it in a closet. It's a German instrument dated 1986 and has a fair amount of damage on the C-bouts from beginner's bowing (previous to my use), and a number of nicks and dents. Despite the rather bedraggled appearance of it, it has a decent resonance, and really opened up once I started playing it. I like to think it was some middle schoolers beloved starter instrument, abandoned once they graduated to a full size.
I have an excellent new violin, made for me in 2011 made for me by an outstanding luthier, and two older German "factory" fiddles. One of these was purchased for me by my parents in 1956 when I was fourteen years old; it is a good quality instrument of its kind, and had previously belonged to a local violin teacher. I am probably its third owner. The other one is a totally cheaper kind of fiddle but it has a much more interesting story for me. It was owned by a cousin of my grandmother's named Milton Dingwall, who ran a general store in rural Prince Edward Island, and used it to court his future wife. He was an eccentric local character and an amateur fiddler in the Scottish tradition. He purchased the fiddle in 1901 from Eaton's Catalogue for the princely sum of $3.00. Mail order was the main route by which violins found their way into such remote rural areas. Its label proclaims proudly "Antonio Stradivarius, Made in Germany". Milton's widow passed it along to me in 1955, and my dad had to crawl through a hatch into her attic to retrieve it from the place where it had rested for the previous two decades. It has no corner blocks and the scroll is stamped "Conservatory Violin". I recently spent much more than the instrument is worth to have it set up properly, its seams re-glued, and its cracks patched, but it has great sentimental value for me. It actually sounds way better than most modern Chinese violins. A hundred and twelve years have improved its tone, I guess. I sometimes use it when I'm fiddling, especially when cross-tunings (or scordatura) are called for, since it resonates so well under those conditions. It's not so good for classical playing however. When I'm no longer able to play, I intend to donate it to some young aspiring fiddler from Milton's community, with the full story of its origins.
It can be fun and exciting to know even some of the provenance (the ownership history) of your instrument. Most of my violins are contemporary. I have 6 that I directly commissioned. I focused on 2 of them in my last blog, "A Tale of Two Fiddles". There's a special satisfaction in commissioning a new instrument, where the provenance starts with YOU! But there's a different kind of satisfaction in learning something about the history of an old instrument.
One of my violins is indeed pretty old - made in Mirecourt, France in 1854, by Desire (NOT Derazee!). It's a Brescian model, with fleur-de-lis carvings in each corner, plus an elaborate carving in the top part of the back, along with double purfling and an extra purfling design on the lower back. Tonally, it is a power-house, dark but focused, and with fine quality.
I've had it since 1986. I acquired it from a collector in the Westchester NY area whom I occasionally worked for as a consultant, playing on his instruments and giving him my opinion - not a bad gig! To me, this fiddle was the pick of the litter and I eventually negotiated a good deal for it. This gentleman, since passed, said he had acquired it some years before that point from a collector in the Cape Cod area who in turn had bought it from his teacher. The trail ends there.
Speaking of pick of the litter, I got a beautiful kitten a few years after this fiddle, and I named her after it, calling her Desi for short. At the time I used to say that my 2 favorite things were both named Desire. I just had to make sure sometimes that the often rambunctious furry Desire stayed away from the defenseless wooden Desire!
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