Strad Viola on block starting $45 million

March 26, 2014 at 02:29 PM · This Strad viola (the 'MacDonald') goes to auction at Sotheby's with a starting bid of $45 Million.

This link gives more information (it's from Sotheby's).

The viola is one of 10 intact Strad violas. Rarer than violins, and so the Cinderella story.

I'm hoping whoever buys it lets it be alive, played, and well.

Nice way to celebrate the 'year of the Viola,'no?

Replies (22)

March 26, 2014 at 02:34 PM · I hear the punch line, "45 million for a viola". How does the joke go again?

Is it, how much does a viola need to cost before it is stored in a bank and never played again?

Cheers Carlo

March 26, 2014 at 03:43 PM · lovely sounding instrument but that price tag is so wrong on so many levels.

March 26, 2014 at 04:39 PM · I suppose you're offering one that is cheaper???

March 26, 2014 at 04:50 PM · The "Burger King" viola will be MORE expensive !!

March 26, 2014 at 07:22 PM · You can listen on youtube to David Aaron Carpernter playing the Stradivius Macdonald viola. I wonder who will play this viola if it is sold? Charles

March 26, 2014 at 07:24 PM · Sorry. Carpenter. Charles

March 26, 2014 at 10:03 PM · William primrose played it, e.g. in Harold in Italy with Koussevitsky, and Peter Schidloff played it in the Amadeus Quartet.

Primrose found it lacked depth......

March 26, 2014 at 10:37 PM · this is really getting out of hand and i am afraid the race of instruments has turned into the race of prices.

March 27, 2014 at 08:14 PM · Adrian. Thank you for posting Peter Schidlof, who played magnificently on the Macdonald Stradivarious viola with the Amadeus Quartet. I have listened to many of their CD's on youtube (they produced 200 CD's). Could find no solos, but the Mozart symphonia concertante, with Peter Schidlof and the Amadeus quartet's first violinist Norbert Brainin was a great find for me. Schidlof died in 1987, at age 65, and the Amadeus quartet disbanded thereafter- after 39 years with the same members. Amazing story. Best regards, Charles

March 28, 2014 at 01:02 AM · If I buy it I'm going to play it.

March 28, 2014 at 04:55 AM · The auction houses are greedy little piggies.

March 29, 2014 at 02:03 AM · What would you expect them to say for $45m?

People even lie or exaggerate for cheap stuff.

March 29, 2014 at 02:30 AM · From a Sothebys ad - "Learn more about the greatest viola in existence, created by Antonio Stradivari in 1719." I have no idea who may have prompted this claim. I don't know if anyone has ever claimed that a particular Strad instrument is the greatest in existence, other than the Hill brothers discussing his last cello, the Ladenburg 1736. (This cello was used by the Tokyo string quartet until 7/6/13). See "Antonio Stradivari, His Life and Work", p 145. I don't know whether a Sothebys ad also said the the Macdonald was the greatest Strad viola. The only other Strad viola that has been played recently, that I know of, is the Paganini Strad viola played by Kazuhide Isomura of the Tokyo string quartet, but there are no solos or duets that I could find on youtube or CD. (The Tokyo string quartet retired after 43 years and the quartet of Strads is still owned by the Corcoran Gallery of Art). Maurice Riley in his two volume great work "The History of the Viola" does not make any judgments about "the greatest viola in existence". Best regards, Charles

March 29, 2014 at 06:24 AM · There is a video of the viola been played. It certainly is not the best sounding viola, but this is not claimed, only the best viola which could be taken to mean the best preserved or the best viola stradivary made.

March 29, 2014 at 08:28 AM · You can judge the sound of instruments from videos????

March 29, 2014 at 08:54 AM · Greetings,

it wouldn`t surprise me if it was snatched up without a blink of an eye by one of the new Chinese nouveau riche. Auction houses have been making a mint from selling off all manner of art to this clique at mind bogglingly exaggerated prices over the last year or two. Sothebys is leading the pack, belching and guzzling with glee.

In the meantime why not instead invest in 10 vintage missile silos in Denver. They only cost $4.5 million each. (correctly researched by the way but you had better get there before the Chinese do.....)



March 29, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Lyndon,

The recording was taken in a resonant room at the auction house using I'm sure the best equipment.

I'm sure the sound engineers made it sound better than it really sounds. It is part of the marketing plan. If it was going to sound poor, I'm sure they would not have posted the viola being played.

March 29, 2014 at 01:30 PM · So, the impassioned player on the video that's on the OP's first live link uses a SHOULDER REST !

We can't allow any thread to max out without bringing up this controversial subject !

Seriously, my 1993 Stradivari model Guido Trotta viola would sound VERY similar if I had a bigger bathroom in which to play it ! The voice is very similar.

Folk wanting a "contralto" viola (rather than a "tenor") might find the Andrea Guarneri model (which has its origins in an earlier Amati design) stronger in the "C" string area - the body is slightly wider, I think. The 1672 Stradivari "Mahler" viola approximates more to the A.G. body dimensions, I gather.

The English maker Wilfred Saunders worked with Peter Shidlof in producing a modified Stradivari viola design, an alternative, maybe, to the "Tertis" model. He told me that P.S. found the "Macdonald" would tighten on the "C" string if put under pressure - so although Zuckerman has produced matchless sounds on the 1690 "Tuscan" instrument many consider the Strad violas to be violinist's instruments, rather than being the real-deal for professional violists. Regrettably, some will think that Stradivari's violas are not his greatest achievements. What a shame Lionel Tertis and Carleen Hutchins were not around to put the great fiddle-maker right !

March 29, 2014 at 02:17 PM · Hi,

Just a couple of notes... The Paganini quartet of Strads played by the Tokyo String Quartet actually belongs to the Nippon Foundation who was lending them the instruments. I know that they have played some concerts using the Archinto Strad viola as well when doing works larger than quartets, but I don't think there are any recordings.

As for prices and other matters related to these instruments, this is a whole other matter, but there is both the prestige and the marketing factor involved now which I think plays a role. There is also a measure of control by middlemen if you wish as well, since musicians no longer acquire or can choose to play these instruments after they have achieved a certain recognition, but rather, someone else chooses who can have the right to play these instruments which is now a starting point for many towards more recognition. I think that this shift which has taken place in the last 20-25 years is quite an important one.


March 30, 2014 at 02:50 AM · From Wikipedia - "When the Paganini Quartet disbanded in 1966, the four Strads reverted to the

"Corcoran Gallery" in Washington, D.C. In accordance with Mrs. Clark's will,

they were never to be separated. Beginning in 1992 they were loaned to the "Cleveland Quartet".

Since 1994 they have been owned by the "Nippon Music Foundation" and continue to be played by the"Tokyo String Quartet" (until 7/6/13, when they disbanded.)

I appreciate the contributions by Christian Vachon, especially the important changes he notes during the last 20-25 years. Charles

March 31, 2014 at 09:17 PM · I recently mentioned the minimum auction price asked of this viola Strad to some violists in my orchestras. Did I get the impression from one or two that they were wondering if that extraordinary $45M (circa £29M) could result in a positive knock-on effect on the future value of their violas?

I would have thought that any such putative knock-on effect would be dissipated long before it reached down to the pricing structure of most instruments found in orchestras.

April 1, 2014 at 07:59 AM · The viola is no longer the last refuge for elderly failed violinists.

Lionel Tertis wrote a book, celebrating his achievement in rescuing the instrument from oblivion and establishing it as a worthy soloist instrument.

He called it "Cinderella no more".

It's clearly made it to the ball now. Let's hope there will be no horrid accidents with the glass slipper; and that Health'n'Safety will prevail.

How will the fairy-tale end ?

Will the auctioneer's hammer fall at midnight ?

Will Tiny Tim say "God bless us, everyone!" ?

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