“What’s that?” I — a curious sixth-grader — innocently asked.
“Oh, a Stradivarius is the finest violin in the world. They cost millions of dollars, but mine’s just a copy,” she replied.
This was my first introduction to the word “Stradivarius” and the first time I had ever heard about these world-famous fiddles. Over time, I learned more about their importance: Their fame, their cost, and their signature tonal and aesthetic traits. Hearing about their hauntingly rich, singing tone and signature orange varnish, I yearned to play one, yet I deemed it impossible, since these violins were highly rare and practically inaccessible to the public due to that rarity. However, the impossible was soon to be come possible ……
Once in the course of my sixteen years playing the violin, I had the privilege of studying with Mr. Drew Lecher, one of Chicagoland’s foremost violin teachers and a formidable player as well. From the start, I highly admired Mr. Lecher for his musical expertise and extensive experience, as well as his contagious sense of humor. I also was drawn to his own violin, with its hauntingly rich tone and glossy, gorgeous orange varnish. I soon began to suspect something special about this particular violin, yet this suspicion did not become super-strong until Mr. Lecher had me briefly try his violin as a means of trying out his unique Gotz-Strad chinrest (which my mom purchased at his request and still resides on my violin today). In playing the violin, I was immediately drawn in to the rich, lovely tone like never before; the violin just sang in my hands. I continued to be haunted by the tone and rich orange varnish for weeks upon end, musing that this violin might be a Strad or Guaneri. Yet, remembering their rarity and expensiveness, I put that thought aside.
Not long after the incident mentioned above, I was at a family friend’s graduation party, and I met up with a family whose daughter was also studying violin under Mr. Lecher. As I was eagerly chattering with them about my admiration for Mr. Lecher, the father of the student-at-hand seriously asked me, “Did you know that the violin he plays is a Stradivarius?” I almost dropped the soda I was holding onto the floor in shock; I could not believe it. I began to feel exhilarated at the thought that I had played a genuine Strad, but I took other factors into consideration: What if these people had heard something wrong? Suppose Mr. Lecher had meant a Strad copy. Or perhaps the violin he played during my lessons was not the Strad; expert violinists often have more than one instrument. Still, I boldly asked Mr. Lecher one day regarding his violin’s type. When he seriously replied, “Strad”, I almost passed out. I had unknowingly accomplished my dream of playing a Strad! And Mr. Lecher’s words are no tall tale, either:
All right, enough personal testimony. For three centuries, Antonio Stradivari’s violins have captivated thousands since they first captured public attention via the 19th-century Italian violinist, Viotti. Since then, they have gone on to earn their reputation as the world’s finest violins, priced at millions of dollars and often unreachable by even some of the wealthiest people. In the course of these three hundred years, Stradivari’s Baroque-era instruments have undergone constant modifications in line with the trends of the time, receiving longer necks and fingerboards, thicker soundposts, and all traits of modern violins. Hence, as Mr. Lecher told me, no Strad has 100% original components.
However, I recently learned that one fine example of a genuine Strad has been restored to its original condition. Residing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s musical instrument collection, this Strad is the only example of a Strad restored to its original condition. See this link for more info:
With Strads being so highly sought after to the point of theft, restoring one of these rare beauties to their original Baroque condition undoubtedly would resonate as scandalous to countless violinists. No doubt that doing so to this one triggered this sort of reaction. Yes, I’ll sympathize to a wide extent having had the opportunity to play one of these rare gems. These top-notch, irreplaceable works of art were undoubtedly intended to be regular instruments in the hands of anyone (I hate when they are locked up in vaults and museums, rarely played), and Stradivari could have foreseen neither the fame that would eventually be bestowed upon his instruments nor the rapid alterations/improvements in the violin’s construction over the course of music history. Hence, modifying Strads over time is a continuation of Stradivari’s intents, with historical restoration a hindrance to modern violinist access to them.
Still, on the other hand, I’ll admit that I am happy that at least one Strad was restored to original condition. In today’s classical music world when HIPP is rapidly gaining ground, Baroque violins — especially originals — have become highly sought after, with many originals being restored to their original condition. Still, doing so to a Strad seems scandalous, since this alters the instrument to the point that it is practically un-playable to the finest of modern violinists. However, the HIPP community should not be deprived of one example of the world’s finest violins — which are true Baroque-era originals. After all, until Viotti made them famous, Strads were just ordinary violins
In the end, a balance must be restored to this delicate issue. Depriving the HIPP community of one example of a genuine Strad in original condition is unfair, considering the historical information of these fine fiddles. Similarly, restoring a great number of these Strads would not be unfair to the majority of today’s violin community, but also impractical. Hence, the Strad featured above masterfully solves this dilemma as the lone example by providing the HIPP community with one example upon which they can play and claim as their own. This aside, not having a Strad restored to original condition would indeed be a pity, since society may never realize how these fine fiddles appeared when they originally made their debut. Hence, this Baroque Strad is not only a formidable asset to the modern HIPP community, but also a valuable historical and musicological asset towards understanding the history of these truly second-to-none instruments.