The Messiah Strad: True Messiah, or False Messiah?

October 21, 2006 at 11:36 PM · Possibly the most famous and valuable Stradivari in the world is a violin dated 1716, and known as the "Messiah" Strad. It's unique in its incredible condition - almost like new.

There's just one problem. According to some pretty knowledgeable people it's not an authentic Strad, and may not even be Italian. In the past few years ther's been some heated cotroversy about this.

So, all of you makers, dealers, connoiseurs - and anyone who likes a good debate (debating on Unheard of!) - what do YOU think?

Replies (100)

October 21, 2006 at 11:47 PM · whats a strad


October 21, 2006 at 11:53 PM · I'll go first since I am er ignorant. :)

If this baby is real, how could it be in such mint condition unless Strad could not sell it. That means no one wanted it! Ah, wouldn't it gonna to break so many people's heart to even think of it, let alone put Strad in such spot?

Therefore, all things considered, [i]I[/i] think we should make it fake regardless. :)

Can I have it for 1 million? Japanese yen, of course. It's a fake, folks! :-)


While I was typing my long debate, ilya beat me by 1 second! But then again, that post only has three words. OK, 4 words only!

October 22, 2006 at 12:02 AM · Ilya,

I think it's one of these

October 22, 2006 at 12:54 AM · It's funny how these subjects recycle periodically... To paraphrase (I'll try to get things in correct order):

Pollens said it wasn't Strad due to dendrochronology findings based on measurements of a photograph of the top of the fiddle. Topham & assoc. said it was OK based on direct measurements and expertise. Pollens' dendrochronologist backed off his findings and said he wasn't sure anymore. Pollens said he was pretty sure it wasn't because of some other anomalies present in the fiddle. Beare and others said no, it was OK. The VSA (Violin Society of America) sponsored an independent crew to perform a dendro test (again, by direct measurement) and their finding agreed with Topham's. There was a panel discussion. The debate is pretty much over for now, in my opinion...

Wow... I'm out of breath! :-)

Pretty much all of this information is available on the web and/or published in journals... but one has to be a bit careful to make sure that one gets the available information in the right order to be able to get an idea of how the story unfolds.

Peter, I don't think anyone has done a dendro test on a Strat yet, but maybe one of Jimi's would be worth enough to inspire it... Guitars are on the rise... a Gibson custom electric sold for over half a million at Skinner's auction in Boston last week.


J. S. Holmes Fine Violins, LLC

October 22, 2006 at 12:44 AM · If it's truly a Messiah, doesn't that mean it has to "speak for its maker" ? (ahem...)

So, how does it sound? Worthy of the title, or just an investment for the snoots?

October 22, 2006 at 12:46 AM · Peter, you know that's a strativarius. Or a Giuseppe del Fender.

October 22, 2006 at 01:00 AM · "So, how does it sound? Worthy of the title, or just an investment for the snoots?"

Few have heard it... One great player (Joachim) apparently mentioned his experience with it.

October 22, 2006 at 01:14 AM · Why would anyone think it's a fake?

October 22, 2006 at 01:29 AM · Thanks Jeffrey & David,

I think its the end of this discussion.......

I would listen to them both on this.

Nevertheless, it is more interesting to note how that fiddle got its nickname (clue - J.B.V).

And BTW, the very few who owned the instrument, loved it so, that they never parted with it during their lifetime. After J.B. Vuillaume passed away, the fiddle found its way to England.

And it is true, because it is in such pristiine condition, many have thought (in the past) that it may have been a Vuillaume.

Vuillaume loved it so much that he made some great bench copies of it, which incidentally is what I play (as my main concert instrument).

His best bench copies are usually w/o number but has two labels (1st the Vuillaume label, 2nd "Copie de Le Messie Stradivari.......Comt. Salabue etc"

October 22, 2006 at 02:11 AM · Thank you so much for the informaiton.


And it is true, because it is in such pristiine condition, many have thought (in the past) that it may have been a Vuillaume.


That indirectly supports how good JBV was. I wonder what JBV Hahn uses to perform.

October 22, 2006 at 02:33 AM · I think she uses a copy of the Cannone...

October 22, 2006 at 02:47 AM · Well, since I started this, I suppose I should weigh-in with an opinion. I'm no expert - I just play one on t.v.! But having followed some of the debates on the web, in the Strad magazine, and most especially in the VSA journal, I think that Stuart Pollens cast some convincing (to me) doubt. The denochronological issue aside, which kind of makes my eyes glaze over, he seems to have proven that the instrument that Count Cozio referred to in his collection, which had been identified as the Messiah cannot be the same instrument long since residing in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. Even Charles Beare grudgingly more or less conceded that point in the latest VSA Journal - and there is obviously no love lost between those two gentlemen. I don't know any of the major players in the debate personally, and have no axe to grind. But reading an earlier VSA issue, when the debate was in full swing, it seemed to me that Pollens was really ganged up on. Re Vuilliaume, judging only from photos, it doesn't look as good as many a JBV - or one by David Burgess for that matter! it looks to me more like a Collin-Mezin. But again, no expertise here, just fascination with fiddles!

October 22, 2006 at 04:18 AM · Raphael; I've played one on TV a few times too.

I guess some of what you conclude must be in how you read (interpret) the proceedings... and what effect the details discussed have on the question of authenticity (do Pollens' observations about the Cozio diaries provide you with the conclusion that the instrument is "not an authentic Strad, and may not even be Italian"? Why?).

It may be interesting to note (for anyone still stuck on the "Vuillaume made it" thing) that JBV may not have been the first to reproduce the Messiah model... Rocca seems to have employed the pattern before the violin was acquired by Vuillaume.

I don't think I really have an axe to grind, but I should mention that I am aquatinted with some of the principals... and on the VSA board... and I've participated in more than one discussion like this... so I'll take my leave and watch with my blissful and possibly naive acceptance of the Messiah for now. :-)

October 22, 2006 at 03:17 AM · The thing is, people with high levels of expertise have looked at the violin in question and deemed it a Strad.

So the Cozio glitch (or the Hill glitch if the pegbox thing is still at issue) is just an interesting sidenote which may reflect on the instrument's history, but not on who made it. If the instrument in question were a Vuillaume, but it happened to match the Cozio description perfectly, my bet is the experts would have deemed the instrument a Vuillaume regardless. Apparently Vuilluames don't get mistaken for Strads by experts.

When faced with an issue which requires expertise to decide, those without expertise cannot sensibly expect to evaluate the issue themselves, instead they can only do their best to decide who is a trustworthy expert.

Since Strads aren't primarily authenticated by paper trails and provenance, I don't see any basis for thinking the likes of Charles Beare could be lying about the issue, and there's even less basis for imagining that he's mistaken in his attribution.

October 22, 2006 at 04:35 AM · I can try to look up some details, if anyone is interested. (For example, Andres refered to some details in shorthand that everyone may not be familiar with, which do relate to some of the recent debate. It IS a long story!) Otherwise, for now, I'll also sit back for a while and see how this unfolds. I'm enjoying hearing from some people who are more knowledgeable than I am!

Meanwhile, here is a synopsis that i found online - but it dates back to 2000:

(Hope I got it right!)

October 22, 2006 at 05:12 AM · If you don't mind, I'll help a little, Raphael;

From the '00 Soundpostonline article:

"Clearly questions linger about the "Messiah." For the future one would hope that the Hills will grant independent access to the violin in the hope of laying aside those questions that can be answered by a thorough and direct examination of the "Messiah." "

They did. See below.

click here for a 2001 article

click here for a Soundpostonline interview with Henri D. Grissino-Mayer in '01

October 22, 2006 at 06:26 AM ·

October 22, 2006 at 06:27 AM · wow.........great stuff.

(As I said, end of discussion on that one.)

Glad to know it has been confirmed.

October 22, 2006 at 07:03 AM · His level of confidence might not mean much. It depends on what he's doing. I read in one of these articles that dendrochronology has been slow to be accepted.

October 22, 2006 at 10:50 AM · It looks good but does it sound good ? Why is nobody playing it ?

October 22, 2006 at 11:28 AM · Benny,

Who cares about sound? It's a Strad.


October 22, 2006 at 11:47 AM · It's good that the Messiah isn't being played. If it wasn't for a few fiddles like this, we'd have no idea what a new Strad looked like.

When I worked at Weisshaar in Los Angeles, there was a Strad in excellent condition that was regularly used in an orchestra. I watched it go downhill quickly, and when I saw recent pitures of it (30 years later) I couldn't even recognize it.

Pollens pointed out some ligitimate anomalies in the Messiah.

But the same kinds of things could easily be noticed on many of my instruments (and I brought this up with Pollens). I do things pretty much the same every time.......except when I don't!

For example, one could look at the violin I just completed and say,

"The pins on the back are reversed from where he always puts them", and this observation would be correct. So one needs to look at an instrument in it's totality, not just pick out a few features that are unusual.

Violin makers experiment, and sometimes they change things just because they're bored.

Musicians do the same thing, right?

Someone who knows the performer well can still identify who's playing though.

October 22, 2006 at 12:34 PM · -and the same logic could be applied to a fake:

Let's say Joe Shmoe luthier lived down the street from Stradivarius, during the same time period. He buys a Strad, takes it apart and duplicates it. He likely uses wood and varnish from the same sources (no internet back then) and makes a perfect copy. Heck, maybe it even sounds good. maybe not, but so what?

150 years later, some guy with a masters degree gets his hands on this violin, and what? He's going to say it's a copy?

October 22, 2006 at 12:43 PM · Joe Schmoe wasn't considered a good copyist. Must have been someone else. : )

Seriously, no copy is truly a copy. It's only one persons interpretation, incorporating what they noticed and also what they failed to notice; a little of their own taste; also the differences that might be process inherent.....the use of different tools and methods will yield different results.

Making a copy that will fool the experts (and I don't claim to be one) is more difficult than most people realize.

Back to the musician analogy:

If someone tried to copy Stern or Ricci, wouldn't most experts know that it wasn't original?

Or lets say someone tried to impersonate your mother. No matter how close, is there any way you or those who know her well would be fooled?

October 22, 2006 at 01:21 PM · Are you saying no one could make a copy that would fool everyone? Including cutting down a 250 yr old Italian tree and using wood from 150 rings back:)

October 22, 2006 at 01:36 PM · Thanks, Jeffrey! Re dendrochronology - a splintry word I'd like to abbreviate from now on! - it can prove when a tree was cut down that was used to make a particular violin, right? So if dend. had proven that the Messiah was made from wood cut after Stradivari's death, that would have dealt a knockout blow to the Messiah. But ultimately, that's NOT what happened.

And thank you, David for your ideas re anomilies and experimentation. I would just mention in general, and it may or may not ultimately apply to the Messiah - that experise an knowldge seem to be ongoing processes, from what I've been following. It's certainly true in the Art world. Some big museums have made some very expensive goofs. I have a facinating book on that subject, called "False Impressions" by Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum. It wasn't long ago that a number of Rembrandts were proven fake. And once they were, all of the sudden it was "obvious" to "everybody". I happily await more discussion. Meanwhile I must confess to being still somewhat of a 'doubting Thomas' - again, without any personal expertise backing me up. Who knows - I may yet be 'redeemed' by the Messiah!

October 22, 2006 at 02:30 PM · No Jim, I can't say that it's impossible, only that I think it's unlikely.

In my experience, it's almost impossible not to have elements of one's own personal style and training or habit slip through. Everyone sees things differently. The copyist may not notice these differences (obviously, or he'd change them) but they may be glaringly obvious to someone else.

There was one fairly meticulous copyist whose work I could always recognize at a glance because the ear on the scroll was "his" instead of what was being copied.


Raphael, you're right. Knowlege and expertise are an ongoing process. So far, I haven't seen any compelling evidence that the Messiah isn't genuine, only a lot that it is.

But in the future, who knows?

I guess I'd mostly like to discount the skepticism from those who think the Messiah doesn't look like most of the Strads they've seen.

Superficially, it doesn't. If we put it in the clothes dryer with some rocks and sand for a while, I think there would be greater acceptance.

October 22, 2006 at 03:55 PM · [quote]

When I worked at Weisshaar in Los Angeles, there was a Strad in excellent condition that was regularly used in an orchestra. I watched it go downhill quickly, and when I saw recent pitures of it (30 years later) I couldn't even recognize it.


Wow! Instead of a heated debate, this thread has turned into an interesting learning center for an uninitiated pilgrim of violin like me. :D

If frequent use of a violin changes its appearance that much, I wonder how it would affect the sound along the way. Martin Schleske in the film "The Mystery of Stradivarius" argues that the unevenly applied varnish might very well be an important factor setting apart a Strad from others. In light of David's anecdote, I wonder how much of Schleske's observation was contributed by the frequent use through generations.

October 22, 2006 at 04:15 PM · Hi,

Ilya - LOL!!!

Mr. Holmes - question... What did Joachim have to say about his experience with the instrument?


October 22, 2006 at 04:32 PM · Sorry -- this might be somewhat off-topic.

I've heard or read somewhere that the Messiah isn't an exceptional sounding instrument. Seem to recall that those comments were originally made in the late 1800's or early 1900's. (If so, this might be one reason it was still in the Stradivari shop at his death and that it's in such good shape, not being played a great deal.)

I've also recall a comment that the Messiah is one of the most copied Strads.

I've wondered a number of times if those people who chose the Messiah as the model to follow didn't make a mistake in doing so, assuming the reports of its less than stellar tone are correct.

Any comments?

October 22, 2006 at 06:07 PM · Victor,

Not so by any stretch of the imagination.

Eveyrone who owned it (and there were not too many owners since its inception by Antonio S.), loved it so, that they kept it till their death. After Stradivaris death, it was purchased by Count Cozio de Salabue from Paolo Stradivari, later by Luigi Tarisio, who kept promissing to sell the instrument to Vuillaume but never did and so Vuillaume made up the name Messiah to this fiddle which he never saw. Until he heard that his good friend Luigi Tarisio had passed away. So J.B.V made his long journey to Italy to offer the family to buy up whatever else remained in their possession including the Messiah Strad.

According to early accounts during Vuillaume's time, the fiddle sounded beautiful (as was accounted by Joachim).

It is no wonder that Vuillaume loved to copy this instrument, for he believed that this instrument was "perfection".

It was also revealed by Bergonzi to Luigi Tarisio, that Antonio Stradivari loved that fiddle and felt it was his best work ever.

Hence the reason why he never sold it.

An interesting book on this subject is: "The Violin Hunter" - story about Luigi Tarisio and how he came to all the great fiddles of his homeland, and made his way to France and why etc.

October 22, 2006 at 06:36 PM · Hi Christian;

The following is a quote that was placed on another discussion board (where this subject was also discussed recently) by Derek McCormick (who is quite knowledgeable on the subjuct of this thread).

He wrote:

"... (in a) facsimile of Joachim's letter to a previous owner of the Messiah that is reproduced in the Hilll monograph in which Joachim writes; "Of course, the sound of the Strad that unique Messie turns up again and again in my memory, with its combined sweetness and grandeur, that struck me so much on hearing it. It is indeed justly celebrated, and I hope that I may again put my bow to it some day". "

October 22, 2006 at 07:34 PM · Oh, since there are sometimes comments that the Messiah looks French:

It's interesting to note that the 19th century French had some pretty nice Strads for inspiration. Does the Messiah look French, or is it that many French fiddles look like Strads originally looked? : )

October 22, 2006 at 08:16 PM · By his own (J.B. Vuillaume) accounts, the Messiah was the inseparable companion of the maker during the last part of his life (since he aquired it from Tarisio's heirs in 1855).

In his own letters he quotes " I still keep my Strad with the greatest care. I do not show it to common eyes. Only the greatest connoiseurs have the right to admire and to wonder. I must make some reproductions. For me it is the most perfect model I have ever seen."

On Feb 9, 1870, he wrote to his brother N.F. Vuillaume " I cannot make up my mind to sell it. It's a memory of my beloved wife and I must keep it all my life". Which he did.

Most of the Strad copies made after 1855, are inspired by this violin.

With regard to the tone of this instrument, J. Fetis wrote some comments in 1864 that are worthy of repetition.

He writes of the Salabue Stradivari: "This genuine memorial of ancient manufacture-this instrument which has not resounded under the bow for nearly a century and a half-gives striking refutation to the idea that a free and pure tone cannot be produced from a violin until after it has been long in use; for here, in this new instrument, we find in combination all the qualities of power, mellowness, roundness, delicacy, freedom, with a noble and penetrating tone. In a word, this violin is a type of external beauty and of sonorous perfection".

October 22, 2006 at 09:50 PM · Hi,

Mr. Holmes - thank you very much!

Cheers and All my best!


October 22, 2006 at 11:02 PM · They should let someone record with it. They were willing to risk someone dropping a pocket protector on it :)

October 23, 2006 at 01:33 AM · BTW, the statement Fetis made regarding the sonorous tone of the Messiah, was upon hearing Jean-Delphin Alard (son-in-law of the French luthier Jean Baptiste Vuillaume 1798-1875, who inherited both the 1715 Alard and 1716 Messiah Stradivari) playing it at one of Vuillaume's soirée's (parties).

In answer to your initial question, it is evident that the "Messiah" Strad is one of the most celebrated instruments in history. It has captivated the imagination and affected makers since the mid-19th century.

The “Messiah” violin made by Antonius Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy in 1716 is considered by many people to be the consumate violin. The craftsmanship of the violin is exquisitely precise. The Spruce and Maple of the instrument are outstanding.

The Messiah violin remained unused in the Stradivarius workshop until the death of Antonius Stradivarius in 1737. Still unused and not played, the Messiah violin was sold by Antonius’ son Paolo to Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775. Luigi Tarisio purchased the Messiah Stradivarius violin from Count Cozio in 1827. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris purchased the Messiah Stradivarius violin , and the rest of Tarisio’s collection, upon Tarisio’s death in 1854. Eventually the Messiah Stradivarius made its way to London and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

The Messiah Antonius Stradivarius violin is still on display at the Ashmolean and still remains unused and not played. The violin is very close to the original state it left the workshop of Antonius Stradivarius in 1737.

October 23, 2006 at 02:03 AM · I would like to learn some rare tidbits about it, that only insiders know. Including things like the "G" in the pegbox. Do you know anything about the "G" in the pegbox, Gennady?

October 23, 2006 at 02:03 AM ·

October 23, 2006 at 02:10 AM · be more specific Jim.............

October 23, 2006 at 02:06 AM · There's a mysterious "G" written in the pegbox. Maybe a faint "F" after it, they aren't sure.

October 23, 2006 at 02:10 AM · I think someone like you will appreciate much more the story of Voller Brothers and their fakes (which truly were meant to deceive).......:)

October 23, 2006 at 02:17 AM · Well, I'm interested in all of it. There really is a "G" in it though.

October 23, 2006 at 02:56 AM · "G" as in "God"?

October 23, 2006 at 03:03 AM · Holy smoke. British sense of humor...hmmm. Chip of the old block, eh, well take this...

October 23, 2006 at 03:16 AM · BTW, upon Alard's death, the instrument came into possession of his widow and two daughters, Madame Guesnet and Madame Croue.

Perhaps Madame Guesnet, while guarding the fiddle, decided to put her mark on it???

It is known that Nigel Kennedy has taken a "bite out" of the scroll of his Del Gesu and left his teeth marks in it (for posterity no doubt).

October 23, 2006 at 04:41 AM · Jim;

The theory is that letters of this kind indicate the "form" of the particular Stradivari instrument (the "G" form).

Here's a link to a letter by Stuart Pollins from soundpostonline, part of which concerns the letter in the pegbox and the other anomalies he was concerned about. It only presents one (Pollens) side, unfortunately, but I think it answers your question.

link to letter

There were responses to these concerns, but I'm not sure there's an online "print" source to point you to... but if I find one I'll let you know.

While it's wild to think that the mark could have remained undocumented on an instrument as important as the Messiah, I can say from personal experience that this type of mark does sometimes go unnoticed... I noticed the "P" with a pyramid inked inside the pegbox of a Pressenda (that still retained it's original neck) when I was examining it a number of years ago and subsequently discovered I'd held two or three in the past with similar markings that I'd failed to see.

Concerning playing of th Messiah; I seem to recall that one of the conditions set forth when it was willed to the museum was that it would not be played... but I can't recall where I read/heard it... so you might want to check me on that.

Gennady; I seem to recall that the scroll on Nigel's del Gesu isn't original... so maybe a bite of it wasn't such a sin. :-)

October 23, 2006 at 04:48 AM · Thanks. Very interesting.

They imply it has its original neck, but it's pitched back, unlike some other Baroque violins I've seen. Was it some other school that used a neck with no pitch and a wedged fingerboard?

Also, some other strads they mention as having original necks in 1902, "Sarasate", "Blunt", one owned by M. Soil (the "Soil"?). Do they still have original necks? Are they played today with original necks?

October 23, 2006 at 01:19 PM · Hi again Jim;

A neck can be brought to the modern pitch by an addition to the heel (and a few other modifications) insead of a graft... and will therefore retain the original neck. I think I have a photo around here of a neck modified in that way... I'll see if I can find it.

The statement about the Strad necks was made by Hill in 1902... I'd have to check references to see if what's changed... or when and by whom... The neck of the Soil has been grafted, and I believe the original is, or was, on display in the museum in Cremona. The Lady Blunt, to the best of my knowledge, still retains it's neck, re-angled with a modern board (original board and bar preserved seperately). I'm not sure about the Sarasate.

Very few fiddles are still in completely original condition.

October 23, 2006 at 05:37 AM · Here's an example of a Strad with original neck which has been blocked-out. Click on the heel in side view and you'll see the added wood and nail holes.

October 23, 2006 at 06:27 AM · Nice. From the same website here's one with the neck not altered, a Jacob Stainer. Note where you can click to hear it. It sounds great!! It says Leopold Mozart had one. J.S. Bach apparently left one among his possessions when he died. --> link

October 23, 2006 at 06:49 AM · and who was Jacob Stainer emulating?.............N. Amati.

This was the way that Luigi Tarisio (constructed his clever plan), and was able to convince Salabue to sell the Messiah Stradivari to him.

Because as Bergonzi told Tarisio, that Count Cozio valued his Amati (which he would never sell) much more than the 1716 Strad (now known as "le Messie").

October 23, 2006 at 06:57 AM · Interesting that in 1800 Salabue said Stainer was the best violin maker (according to the internet).

October 23, 2006 at 06:58 AM · Perhaps because at the end of the eighteenth century collectors valued a Stainer violin at four times the price of a Stradivari.

October 23, 2006 at 07:04 AM · I want to hear that same player playing that same piece on a Strad in Baroque form. That would be interesting.

October 23, 2006 at 07:06 AM · I am sure it would sound the same.

October 23, 2006 at 07:12 AM · Why's that?

October 23, 2006 at 07:18 AM · well......

October 23, 2006 at 07:16 AM · Zukerman sounds the same on any fiddle, why shouldn't this person? :)

October 23, 2006 at 07:20 AM · Because Oliveira doesn't?


October 23, 2006 at 07:27 AM · ouch.......

But seriously, the way that person plays (a la Baroque), in my opinion would sound the same on any fiddle.

It is more about dots and dashes than a sonorous tone (from what I heard).

October 23, 2006 at 07:33 AM · Just kidding. I love the way the spicatto at the heel sounds on the Stainer, that resonant and crunchy stuff. I wonder how the Strad would respond there. Just a foreign sound for a strad in modern configuration which is all I've heard.

October 23, 2006 at 01:16 PM · Vivian - this is an informative thread, indeed! And I've learned something from you, as well. I've never heard of that film on Stradivari. Is it good? Is it available on DVD?

David - about that Strad that was barely recognizeable after, what was it, 30 years? What factors do you feel mainly contributed to its decline? Was it amenable to restoration? Thanks.

October 23, 2006 at 03:06 PM · Gennady--Although some Stainers are apparently closely modeled after Amatis, many have a unique arching and graduation quite different from any Amati.

Jim--unfortunately the only Stradivari which has been re-baroqued sounds awful on the recording I have of it. It's at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, a long Strad I believe.

That Stainer recording isn't what I'd put forward to exemplify the possibilities of baroque style.

Although Stainers were apparently very popular during the baroque period, it's worth noting that players like Corelli and Geminiani had Amati instruments.

October 23, 2006 at 03:41 PM · Andres,

I can give you 20 other similar characteristics of where Steiner took inspiration from Amati.

Jeffrey & David, feel free to put your 2 cents :)

But it is true that in his time he was a celebrated maker and inspired a great many other makers. It is sad to know that he died destitude, owing a great deal (which affected his wife).

October 23, 2006 at 03:56 PM · Gennady--yes of course Stainer was inspired by the Amati, my point is that tonally he often was in a world of his own.

October 23, 2006 at 04:03 PM · yes ofcourse......

nevertheless, Steiner did learn and spent time in Venice.

He was not isolated by any means. And because his part of the country was ravaged by the Thirty Years War, he made his way to Venice as did other best makers who settled abroad in Rome, Venice and Padua.

October 23, 2006 at 05:51 PM · BTW, a note of personal observation regarding J.B. Vuillaume and the Messiah.

Eventhough there were doubts raised by Mr. Pollens about the Messiah Stradivari, one can look into the output of Vuillaume and see how much he admired Guarneri, Stradivari, Amati and Maggini.

As we know he made a great many copies of those instruments, and he paid special tribute to his favorite maker Stradivari.

Another great favorite of Vuillaume's was Guarneri Del Gesu more notably the Paganini's "Il Canone". There is no dispute as to its origin (being an authentic Del certainly looks different from other famous examples by the master........but then again, his output varied from one fiddle to the next ). Just compare the "Il Canone" to "Ole Bull"..........:)

October 23, 2006 at 05:58 PM · At least great violinists have the chance to perform on Paganini’s Il Cannone and we can appreciate its qualities. I think it’s a great shame they are not given the chance to play The Messiah strad.

October 23, 2006 at 06:03 PM · I think in this case, the safekeepers (previous owners) of the Messiah did it for posterity (future genarations).

And in this case, to have a pristiine example of the Greatest Maker that has not been ravaged by time and use, is an invaluable resource.

October 23, 2006 at 06:12 PM · Hi,

I agree with Gennady on this one Benny. It is better that the instrument not be played for a host of historical considerations.


October 24, 2006 at 12:42 AM · There's a point to that, but it's a frickin violin. Violins weren't made to be looked at through a glass, they were meant to be played and heard.

October 24, 2006 at 01:11 AM · Cannone vs Ole Bull?

GF, do you think the Ole Bull is no good? Kraggerud who played it recently seemed to like it, he described it as wonderful. He recorded the Sibelius and Sinding concerto on it for the Naxos label which sounds quite good. Is it considered an inferior Del Gesu?


October 24, 2006 at 01:26 AM · "There's a point to that, but it's a frickin violin. Violins weren't made to be looked at through a glass, they were meant to be played and heard."

Well, Enosh... It's not up to you (or the rest of us) this time. :-)

October 24, 2006 at 01:57 AM · Michael P.,

I love both of the fiddles especially the "Ole Bull" del gesu.

I tried it in Paris at the Vuillaume exhibit in 1998 in Paris (before it opened).

We know how the "Il Canone " is great as well.

I was talking more about the visual and construction aspect ot it.

Visually, they are so different...........

In fact the Vuillaume copy of "Ole Bull" Del Gesu, is also quite excellent.

Hey Enosh,

Perhaps you can convince The Ashmolian Museum that "Le Messie" Strad is a fake (based on your scientific conclusions) so they might as well give it up to some school so a player could have a fiddle to scratch on? :)

October 24, 2006 at 02:42 AM · Thanks GF.


October 24, 2006 at 03:27 AM · "In fact the Vuillaume copy of "Ole Bull" Del Gesu, is also quite excellent."

The Alard del Gesu copies by Vuillaume are some of my personal favorites...

October 24, 2006 at 03:56 AM · The "Alard" Del Gesu 1742 makes an interesting contrast with the "Ole Bull" 1744. pretty amazing difference would'nt you say?

The "Alard" is much more similar to the "Lord Wilton" 1742 of the same year, yet still quite distinct.

October 24, 2006 at 04:00 AM · Jeffrey,

tell me you if you may like this just as much:

J. B. Vuillaume, Paris, c.1850-60 'Ole Bull' Guarneri Del Gesu pattern.

top plate

back plate


October 24, 2006 at 04:17 AM · Hi Gennady;

The links didn't work for me, but I did get to Adam Whone's page... and go to the Vuillaume you wanted me to see.

It's very fine... and I certainly do like it. I also am very fond of a fine Cannone copy I found for a quartet player in Cleveland (after she had to return the del Gesu she had on loan). Stunning. Sounds terrific.

I think the reason I find myself drawn to the Alard is that the original is very pure... and it didn't require Vuillaume to do too much antiquing on his "copies". Great wood as well. This appeal is probably a violin makers/restorers "thing"... but the Alard model often sounds fantastic as well, in my opinion.

Interesting that Rocca (who also used the Messiah model in the 1840s) used the Alard also, eh?

October 24, 2006 at 04:17 AM · Good pictures on that site. I'm wondering a couple of new things now.

The old violins there that have del Gesu style F holes, for example, are they an attempt at copying a del Gesu, or are they intentionally more original? Do not modern makers usually stick more strictly to del Gesu or Strad models?

Also, the necks weren't originally mortised in, but nailed onto the side at the top of the body without being mortised? Nailed from the outside always? (nail scars visible on the heel of that one Strad picture a few posts up).

Also, while I'm at it :) some violins have an ebony crescent on the button. Why is that necessary? Is it due to scarring the button when separating the neck?

P.S. Jeffrey you can copy and paste the links if they aren't written in html.

October 24, 2006 at 04:35 AM · Jim;

A picture is worth a thousand words concerning the nails... I'll see if I can dig one up (it may take me a while... I'm in and out for the next several days), or maybe Andres can come up with something before I do (I know he's a picture hound :-)).

Ooops... spoke too soon. Got one:

three nails

I didn't understand your question about ff holes... Try again? Were you speaking of instruments that were made close to del Gesu's working period that were more or less influenced by his work rather than "copies"?

Ebony, or maple, collars are used for a variety of reasons. They sometimes are used to fill out a button that is worn, or just small, or slightly off center. They also are used to hide a certain style of button repair (where a piece is added that extends through the underside of the button) or when there is damage to the edge of the button.

I tried cut & paste on the links, but something didn't translate correctly.

October 24, 2006 at 04:25 AM · Jeffery, the F hole question. I was wondering how much some 19th century Italian makers stuck to Strad and del Gesu models. I see some elements but not others. I wondered whether they were unique models or bad copies. Modern makers seem to stick more to one model or the other (I think).

October 24, 2006 at 04:41 AM · Hi again Jim;

I think many makers produced interpretations of the style rather than copies of a specific instrument... and, of course, if a copy is made it can be either good or bad. :-)

Makers today do the same thing, really. Sometimes makers will combine features as well. I've seen several del Gesu violins kind of rolled up into one... and other instruments that are quite personal, but do show strong influences.

I added a nail link for you to my post (above).

October 24, 2006 at 04:44 AM · Here are some nail holes apparently coming out the other side?

October 24, 2006 at 04:59 AM · That's the Harrison, right? I believe the pits are due to oxidation and the exposure due to wear (and some reshaping of the heel when it was re-angled)... but that's just my assumtion.

The photo I linked to is of the Andrea Guarneri tenor viola (on the same site, I believe).

October 24, 2006 at 05:28 AM · I wasn't saying anyone should give it to me or that anyone should try to convince the Ashmolean Museum to do anything. Just giving my opinion that it should be played because it's a violin and that's what it was made for.

October 24, 2006 at 05:32 AM · Enosh,

it was just in good fun. Don't worry............:)

October 24, 2006 at 05:31 AM · I'll second Jeffrey on the re-working particularly.

Baroque necks were much less streamlined than modern, the pegbox chin curves right into a thicker neck, and the heel is very thick and tapered on original instruments. Block out/up and reshape one of those to be like a modern neck, and you end up cutting very close to or into where the nails were.

October 24, 2006 at 05:55 AM · Perhaps ya'll would care to contribute your thoughts on another thread:

"Why The Violin?!

Please discuss why it touches you so and not some electronic device etc."

"with the advent of so much technology (in the past 100 years), why are we still drawn to this instrument?

Your thoughts and ideas..............."

October 24, 2006 at 10:12 AM · Jeffrey,

That "nails" x-ray blows my mind! Am I to understand that this was a common technique with the old Cremonese violins?

If so, has anyone ever experimented to see if this could add (even marginally) to the sound? The metal might have a small amount of resonance of comb-filtering effect. Or, the nails might add some stiffness to the neck at that critical point, decreasing HF harmonic attenuation (as carbon-fiber rods do in some guitars.)

October 24, 2006 at 01:59 PM · I was just looking again at the Strad magazine's May 1990 issue, which featured an article about, and photos of, the Messiah - and it put me in mind of another question. Hypothetically, for argument's sake, let's say that every dendrochronologist had concluded beyond a shadow of a doubt that the wood used for that violin had first been cut down long after Stradivari's death, and therefore could not have possibly been made by him. (This is NOT what happened, but please bear with me!) I wonder if connoisseurs would still be 'ooing' and 'ahing' about what a gem of a fiddle it is?

For me, just based on photos of course, it's just no thrill to look at that violin. I'm sure that more knowledgeable people than me could point out details in say, the purfling or the scroll that I should appreciate more than I do. But for me, this particular whole is less than the sum of its parts. And I don't think it's mainly the "newness" of its appearance. In fact, it doesn't look brand new - although it is amazingly well-preserved, whether it was made in 1716 or even 1916! I love looking at well-made new instruments, even as I am charmed by well-preserved but time-worn old ones (-which gives me an idea for another thread!). But take something like the Lady Blunt Strad, which I understand to be a fairly close second to the Messiah, condition-wise. Now THERE is a gorgeous violin! Or the Betts, which I was lucky enough to hold in my hands, or the Dushkin, the Cathedral, just to name a few, to say nothing of the incredible ornamented instruments! Whether these were made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona Italy, or 'Joe Shmoe' in Corona, Queens - these and so many more are brilliant, beautiful masterpieces of the luthier's art, in themselves. The Messiah? For me, not so much, even assuming its authenticity. Just one man's opinion.

I think it was Gennady a way back who mentioned the charming and delightful book, "The Violin Hunter", by Silverman, which is based on the author's research into the life of Luigi Tarisio, the 19th century collector and dealer. At one point Tarisio makes a deal with Count Cosio for 11 Strads, plus a special, unplayed 12th - the same(?) violin that would come to be known as the Messiah. With the violins is a note that says: "Mark you, that 12th violin shall affect you strangely." Indeed it does!

We're coming to that point where this thread may be archived, and before that happens, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for a great discussion!

October 24, 2006 at 03:35 PM · Raphael, Thank you for starting this thread, it has been most informative. Do you know of one website where we can see pictures of most of the Strads and Guarneri too ?

October 24, 2006 at 09:06 PM · Yes Thanks Raphael for the fun thread.

I still think that if the "le messie" strad was ravaged by time and use, it would look just as gorgeous as the other ones you've mentioned.

Most people even in days of Vuillaume, liked old looking fiddles.

It is the reason why Vuillaume produced so many copies, for he was a great businessman as well as an innovator, master maker etc. etc. etc....It is why he catered to the demands of the market (of his times).

If you see original advertisements by Vuillaume for his fiddles, it is most interesting. Also see the STRAD magazine from 1890's, very cool stuff.

Anyway, by this point, there is enough information to show the latest findings confirming the age of the wood on the "Messiah", and it matches the years of Stradivaris production.

The anomalies are prevolent in any given maker. If one wants to argue, one can find a great many anomalies in the work of Del Gesu.

It is rather interesting to note(as Jeffrey pointed out) that Rocca did make his "Messiah" copy in 1840 which is at least a decade before Vuillaume got his hands on it.

And the similarities between the Rocca and the Vuillaume copies are striking as well as obvious.

Doesn't that make you wanna go hmmmmmmm??


BTW, I bet if you put that new looking fiddle in the washing machine along with some rocks & sandpaper it would look like the Strads we know and love :)

But seriously, check out the October issue of STRINGS p.78 ("How to Make a Fake".........very "amusing" indeed.

October 24, 2006 at 09:29 PM · aLLAN SAID:

"If so, has anyone ever experimented to see if this could add (even marginally) to the sound? The metal might have a small amount of resonance of comb-filtering effect. Or, the nails might add some stiffness to the neck at that critical point, decreasing HF harmonic attenuation (as carbon-fiber rods do in some guitars.)"

WTF are you talking about, man? They are friggin nails *buried* in the neck. They are short. They are very small. They are very light on account of their size. They are in a very rigid portion of the fiddle, not in a plate. What sort of twisted theoreze are you living in to think that there is some significant effect on violin response to excitation due to those nails?

Comb filtering? (I filter fleas out of the dog that way)

Formant Structure?

You need to translate those terms for the musicians. Most great musicians did not study graduate level acoustics. They were too busy living music.

October 24, 2006 at 10:20 PM · Maybe, Gennady, maybe! Benny, I don't know of any one website that has tons of great classic fiddle photos. If anyone does, I'd love to learn about it, myself. But you've given me an idea for yet another new thread! Most of my photo collections (not substitutes for the real things, but oh so much cheaper!) are hard copies in reference books, Strad mags, posters, calendars, auction catalogs, etc. I've found a few nice things on the web here and there. If you'd like, I can e-mail you attachments of some.

October 24, 2006 at 10:51 PM · Benny - Try (?)

October 25, 2006 at 02:03 AM · offers some nice photos of the Dr. David Fulton collection (Seattle, WA).

visit here:

BTW.........shall we say that the moral of this "discussion" is:

A paradox if false was true, and if true was false?! :) LOL

October 25, 2006 at 03:15 AM · Great site GF. I found the following on the site for those interested:

Lutz lent the D'Egville to the late violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who loved the instrument so much he wouldn't return it. Lutz had to sue him to get it back. The jealous owner, retrieving his instrument, had a gold nail engraved with his initials (O.L.) driven into the center of the instrument's saddle...... Menuhin continued to covet the D'Egville to the end of his life but was never able to acquire it at terms that he would pay. Ironically, both the D'Egville and the Lord Wilton del Gesu, Menuhin's own del Gesu, are reunited in Fulton's collection. Menuhin would be so jealous.


October 25, 2006 at 03:26 AM · Yes the David Fulton collection is second to none..........

It is the greatest collection of the best instruments of all time. Well done Dave!!

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