The Ames Strad, stolen from Roman Totenberg, has been returned after being missing for 35 years.
Thank you for an amazing story!
The back looks quite obscure. I can hardly wait to hear the sound.
Philip Johnson was on one of the Goldovsky opera tours that I went on back in the early '80's - and nobody liked him. Not long after that the theft happened and right away there were rumors that he did it!
Is selling it really the best way to "make sure it is in the hands of another virtuoso violinist"? If the three sisters can afford it, would it not be better to set up a trust to loan it to a virtuoso for whom it would be an upgrade, rather than sell it to someone for whom it just be a second instrument?
Mind you, Oscar Shumsky told me the time I met him, "I have a Strad" (I can't remember whether "of course" was actually spoken or just implied in his tone of voice). Note, only one; and I thought that whilst the Rocca violin he had played at that concert was powerful enough, and you could get a lot out of it with pretty slow bowing, its tone lacked both sweetness and brilliance - Didn't say so, of course!
The NY Times article:
If they want a performing artist to buy it, I hope they will sell it for a price a performing artist can afford.
Wonderful that it was found!
Hopefully it still sounds good, and someone will get to play it instead of it being put in a safe or display case somewhere.
Why are they all calling the fiddle "stradivariUS"? It always used to be "stradivari", as far as I remember.
They still say "guarneri", but not guarnerius.
I remember when a girl hearing the word 'Stradivarius' from a violin teacher in 1960, so it's no new thing, at least in the UK. Because it's a Latin ending, I thought for a few years that he was an ancient Roman violin-maker! :)
It's not new at all. We use "Stradivari" when we mean the maker, and Stradivarius when we mean the instrument.
Stradivari R us
No. Actually the "us" is the Latin form of the name, whether maker or his instrument. Stradivari himself, used the "us" suffix in his labels.
Raphael, yes, that's what it says inside my old violin.
Is the photo in the paper the way the instrument was found when it was recovered? Was it really stored for years without the bridge, strings, pegs and tailpiece?
John - your suggestion is a good one. The family will have a while to give this some careful thought since restoring the violin will likely take some time. They will probably be bombarded with suggestions/offers. They are smart folk, and will give all of this careful consideration.
On a personal note, although I never met him, my parents knew Totenberg, and I can recall my mother years ago describing the circumstances under which it was stolen. I also once, in my long lost youth, had a date with one of his daughters, who was a very smart and charming young lady. So, I have every confidence that they will find a good solution to the problem of what to do with the violin once it is ready for prime time.
I wondered if anyone knew this Philip Johnson character. Isn't it a little strange that they were quite certain who it was, and yet the police somehow couldn't uncover that?
It all sounds rather fishy, it does not make sense. Lawyers usually ponder everything from six sides. Cui bono?
Violins are not stolen to be kept by the alleged thief for 35 years without any profit. If any violin or piece of art is stolen, it usually disappears into the private collection and never appears again.
Was there any insurance claim by Totenberg at the time? Was there a feud or agreement between the two violinists?
Pavel - as I recall from the article I posted the link to, there was an insurance claim that was paid, and not the Totenberg family will pay it back.
I like to think of the thief realizing he can't do anything with the violin--can't play it, can't sell it, can't give it back...the ultimate punishment of futility and frustration.
His life was certainly shorter than his victim's. Ironic, poetic justice?
I think one report said that the family are paying the insurance claim back, but I think the original insurance claim, not plus interest. If the insurance company were to demand interest, I think the family could counterclaim a hire fee for the violin.
Yes, it IS strange that with so many suspecting him, they couldn't get a search warrant or something. From what I'd heard about Totenberg, he was just the nicest gentleman.
Not everyone steals a Strad for profit. Another example is the Huberman Strad which was played by the thief for decades and was likewise brought back into the legal world by that violinist's wife.
I'm running into people who actually knew the guy, as he was in the LA area. Sounds like he did continue to play. One article mentioned that he was repairing the fiddle himself, because he couldn't take it to an expert. What a thing to live with for all that time.
Let's hope, we find the Morini strad as well.
How many more Strads are missing? Does anyone know this one?
Everyone have a look in their attic.
Phillip Injeian (who made my wonderful violin) was the 1 who identified this Stradivarius and notified the proper authorities. There's no one who knows string instruments better than Phillip Injeian. This is proof! I'm glad the story had a happy ending and hopefully the instrument will be fixed up and played by a deserving artist.
Just dusted off some of the violin reference books in my library and found the "Ames" Strad listed in "How Many Strads?" There's too much to quote from but one point made was that though the wood is on the plain side, the varnish is rich - something that might not show up on b&w photos.
I've been thinking back again to that tour, where I had the dubious distinction of being briefly acquainted with the soon-to-be thief, Phil Johnson...On one hand, had we a year book from that tour, if there were a category of "most likely to steal a violin" he would have "won" by a landslide. There was just a nasty vibe from the guy. But still, when it happened and the rumors almost immediately began to fly pointing to him, I remember thinking: "but really, would he sink quite that low?" I guess he would and did.
Raphael, your recollection makes me laugh! I'm going through my former orchestras now and trying to come up with my own "most likely to..." characters!
The following things all happened in one of my former orchestras, so any of these lines could have been used...
"Most likely to leap over the counter of a McDonald's to accost the employee in charge of frying the fries"
"Most likely to wait until colleagues left a restaurant, only to return and take the tip money from the table"
"Most likely to leave behind dirty underwear at the end of an international tour (finishing in Japan), only to receive a package weeks later full of washed and pressed briefs"
"Most likely to pocket tour per diem money and sleep in public parks for the entirety of the trip"
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August 6, 2015 at 02:46 PM · Here is the NPR story about it, by his daughter, Nina Totenberg: