MY MUSIC: About violinists and violins

04/05/2020 12:59

When I was ten years old I surprised my parents when I on my own initiative registered for violin lessons. I assume they thought it was a somewhat remarkable initiative since it is probably more common that it is parents who force their children to play an instrument. My decision was also somewhat strange considering that at the time, and it probably remains like that, most of my friends considered it to be geeky to devote yourself to such as mossy activity as violin playing when there were more important things in life, such as rock music and football.

A few years ago, I once again encountered a classmate I had not seen in fifty years. He had become a high-ranking municipal politician. Laughingly he, who remained a football and rock music fan, remarked that "you were already then a strange fellow who played the violin." I recall that when we ended up in high school he enthusiastically introduced me to the stereo effects in Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and how we together used to visit Hässleholm´s Jazz Club. His taste was not particularly sophisticated. His favorite was Glenn Miller, whom he zealously tried to convince me had been "a great innovator", this despite the fact that I stubbornly insisted that Miles Davis was much cooler. For hours, I could in darkness and loneliness lie and listen to his So What and Bitches Brew.

Like me my father was not particularly musically gifted. However, my youngest sister had a beautiful and confident voice, while my mother had a good ear and played excellent piano. Without difficulty, she could perform advanced pieces by Schubert and Beethoven. However, in spite of my lack of musical talent I enjoyed listening to all kinds of music.

Although I dutifully went each week to my violin lessons, year after year, I found them to be quite painful, especially since I was poorly prepared and my progress accordingly was non-existent. My first violin teacher was Kopsch. I have forgotten his first name. Since I was afraid of him I did not become as familiar with him as I later became with my other violin teachers. Kopsch told me strange and often scary stories that certainly found their source in an exceedingly gruesome imagination. For example, he told med about of a German tenor who lived sometime in the eighteenth century. This man had two faces and could thus sing duets with himself. I could not fathom why Kopsch told such stories to a little guy like me. He used his bony fingers, with sad-edged nails, to push my fingers hard against the fingerboard. He wanted to force me to find the right finger positions, maybe it was an effective method. I don't recall I was playing particularly false, though I never learned a proper vibrato and my capacity to keep the rhythm remained very bad indeed. To overcome such incapacities I probably needed much more patience, as well as disciplined training.

On my walks to Kopsch's lessons I passed with heavy steps the gloomy brick house of the Bible-trusting Friends. Every time I read the sign in front of the entrance to their assembly hall – Consider the brevity of life, the certainty of death and the length of eternity, an exhortation I did not find particularly encouraging.

Kopsch’s classroom was located in the attic of Kyrkskolan, The Church School, and was reached by a wide creaking staircase. While waiting for my lesson I sat on a wooden bench just outside the closed door, watching a reproduction of Gaugin’s Ta Matete, the Market, which hung on the opposite wall. Through the door I could hear the pleasing sounds from the violin of the girl who was having her lesson before me. She was more skilled than I could ever become. She was diligent and did her homework. All members of her family played some instrument. I knew her brother who played both the clarinet and the oboe. She sat next to me among the Youth Orchestra's first violins. I couldn't understand why I had ended up among the best violin students, as bad as I was at keeping my pace.

Maybe the conductor, Leif Jansson, was in agreement with Kopsch who used to point out: Jan, you are a hopeless Schüler, with bad Rhytmus Sinn, but you hast an unbestreitbar Schwung. The violin teachers who in new premises succeeded Kopsch – Ole Hylstrup and Ferenc Piller – also used to complain about my lack of any sense of rythm, though both asserted they were quite pleased with my posture and passion the few times I succeeded in playing a piece without my usual insecurity. According to my my memory I only learned two pieces properly – Bach´s Air, not the one played on the G-string but the original one from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in d major and Tale of the Heart by Wilhelm Åström:

There´s a spring in the forest´s shadow.
There´s a flower in every meadow.
Each heart shelters the truth,
of love that we had in our youth.

I don't know what happened to Kopsch. He was succeeded by Ole Hylstrup, who had a completely different personality. He was a good-natured prankster who made me think of the womanizing travelling salesmen who frequented Stadshotellet, the City Hotel. Hylstrup had for several years performed in a restaurant trio on ocean liners between Scandinavia and the U.S. He used to tell me Jeg have been in Sverige for so lang tid that jeg have completey fogotten the Danske sprog. Like Kopsch, Hylstrup liked to tell stories, though unlike the German violin teacher's more morbid tales the Dane’s stories were mostly pointless jokes. I can remember only one of them: What vermin walks around in a fur-coat? ... I do not have the slightest idea. A louse! Hylstrup laughed heartily at his own wittiness, it wasn't until much later that I understood the joke and it wasn't funny at all. Hylstrup also shared of his more or less fantastic business ideas. I didn't understand why. He sold me a violin, which low price made my father wonder if the instrument could really be as good as Hylstrup assured him it was.

The year before, during one of our camping holidays with the family's Renault Gordini, we had passed the small town of Mittenwald, located on the Alpine slopes just after Germany's border with Austria. After seeing some signs advertising violin sales, we stopped the car and visited a shop belonging to a luthier, violin builder. The shop owner greeted us in a polite manner, though we soon realized that he that immediately had spotted that we did not have the faintest idea about neither violins nor their value. Kindly laughing, the bearded gentleman explained that he did not sell his violins to little amateurs like me, but to world-renowned virtuosi, or wealthy collectors. That is why it surprised me when I a few months ago took out my violin from its more or less forgotten nook and found that the label inside the sound box stated that it had been made in Mittenwald. Probably it is a fake and I will bring the violin to my good friend Per Rudebjer, who is not only a skilled luthier but has many other strings on his lyre. He is, for example, a forester and a UN expert. It is Per who inspired me to write this blog post and he also helped me find some essemtial violin reading.

Well, even though I was a bad ensemble player, I was forced to play solo every year at the Municipal Music School's annual performance in the Linnaeus School's auditorium. Always Bach's Air and Åström´s Tale of the Heart. My piano accompanist was a girl some years older than me. In my opinion she was quite cool and beautiful. She was able to follow my erratic rhythm and smooth over my shortcomings and mistakes. Her skill was probably the reason to why we had to repeat the performance year after year sometimes extended with a Largo from Bach´s Concerto in f minor.

Just before my appearance was announced I became indescribably nervous, though as soon as I entered the stage it turned out that I could pass the fire test, something I found incomprehensible. It felt as if each performance had been a complete fiasco. I assumed my knees had been shaking uncontrollably and that the unstoppable trembling in my fingers caused every single note to sway. However, that was apparently my own personal opinion since afterwards I quite often heard from my teachers that my playing had exceeded their expectations. It had actually been quite good. Maybe it was because every time I played my pieces in front of a large audience I did so as if I had been in a trance, far beyond time and space, trapped within my own little world.

For some reason, Ole Hylstrup disappeared and was replaced by Ferenc Piller. Ferenc was of a different caliber than Hylstrup, more serious, he was also a rabid anti-communist and did not even want to hear anything about Russians like Stravinsky or Shostakovich, who were definitely not any communists. Of course, his great idol was Ferenc Lizt.

When Ferenc showed up and I heard him play, I finally realized that there was absolutely no future for me as a violinist and soon I put my violin on the shelf, or rather – hid it in the depth of a wardrobe.

A lasting benefit from my failed time as a violinist was that my performances had blown away all my concerns about acting and talking in front of an audience. The violin had been like an outgrowth of my body, the slightest sensation, minmal shiver, movement or posture affected the instrument. I suppose a violin, more than a cello and even more than a wind instrument or piano, possesses such characteristics. This is probably one of the reasons to why the violin has become so venerated and demonized, more so than any other instrument.

In any case, I found that as soon as I didn't have to face a crowd without the violin I was a free and carefree man. It felt wonderful, so incredibly easy and simple just to talk, to dodge the cumbesome and extremely sensitive violin. Just talking, nothing could be easier. Since then I have not had the slightest worry about expressing myself publicly. Even if I am capable of uttering a lot of stupidities I do not find that to be as embarrassing as the false tones and sqeeking I emitted from my violin.

On a closer reflection, it was probably the mystical power manifested through violin music that almost sixty years ago brought that ten-year-old boy to his failed violin lessons. The idea struck me when I recently listened to The Danish String Quartet´s CD – Prism II, Beethoven, Schnittke, Bach, which I had bought on impulse just before the Corona virus isolated us at home. Trios and string quartets have always attracted me. Over the years I have been partiularly intrigued by Schubert's chamber music.

The Danish String Quartet was an exciting acquaintance. On my CD they perform a fugue from Bach's solo pieces for piano, Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, arranged for string quartet by Beethoven's friend Emanuel Förster. This track leads to Alfred Schnittke's Third String Quartet from 1983 and the CD is concluded by one of Beethoven's last string quartets, No. 13 in ess major. The four young Danes describe their CD as "a musical beam split by Beethoven's prism" and explain that it was a result of their struggle with Beethoven's seemingly simple, but in fact extremely complicated and multi-faceted late string quartets. I don't understand much of that, but I find it exciting how the music passes from one level to another, from epoch to epoch, between different harmonic systems and between both familiar and unknown tunes. This creates dynamics and tension, sometimes torn apart and renewed by surprising dissonances.

It was Alfred Schnittke's name between Bach's and Beethoven's that made me buy the CD. All I knew about that composer was that he was a "modern" Russian, a master in the aftermath of my much appreciated Sjostakovich. I already owned a compilation CD with Russian film music, where Schnittke's beautiful, slightly romantic music was juxtaposed with Sjostakovich's equally pleasant soundtracks. I expected Schnittke to be almost as capable as Shostakovich when it came to create dynamic and stunning chamber music. The Danish String Quartet´s CD proved that I had not been mistaken. Alfred Scnittke´s chamber music became a new, dramatic acquaintance and the

music´s strength, that previously had been completely unknown to me, will henceforth make me seek out more about and by Alfred Scnittke.


Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) proved to be an excellent choice for a CD with mixed chamber music. His string quartet was like a house which doors open and close; irony, sentimentality and confusion follow one after another. The music rises and falls, calms down – only to unexpectedly attack the listener. It is such dynamics that make chamber music exciting, soothing and agitating, similar to slightly besotted, nightly coversations among friends, filled as they are with repetitions and inspiration.


Arthur Schnittke was one of those strangely composed European figures who in their multifacted personalities and through their colourful and sometimes disturbing origins summarize a wealth of impressions and experiences from a Europe characterized by war, art and the Cold War. Something that probably rendered him with a dark view of the world, maybe similar to the one of Shostakovich. Schnittke noted that "the history of humanity has not at all demonstrated any development from the worst to the better".

Schnittke was born in Engels, a port city on the Volga. It had in 1747 been founded in by chumaks, Ukrainian ox drivers and traders and was then called Pokrovskaya. Catherine the Great, who originally was a German (daughter of Frederick Augustus, Prince of Anhalt) invited Germans to settle in her sparsely populated empire. The immigrants were guaranteed tax relief, self-government, exemptions from military service, free language - and religious practice. Furthermore, each settler family was allocated 30 hectares of agricultural land. By the end of the 19th century there were more than a hundred so-called ”German villages” along Volga and nearly one million ”German-Russians”. In 1941, the Supreme Soviet decreed that all ”Volga-Germans” should be deported to Siberia, where many of them died. After the fall of the Soviet Union, two million ”Germans” emigrated from Russia, while 800,000 ”German descendants” remain, most of them living in Siberia.

Like many other intellectuals who grew up in Russia during the twentieth century, Alfred Schnittke's life was unique and remarkable. His father, Harry Schnittke, descended from several generations of Baltic Jews and had emigrated to Germany together with his parents. As a young writer and journalist he settled in Pokrovskaya, which by Stalin in 1931 had been renamed Engels. When all the ”Germans” in Engels were deported to Siberia, Harry Schnittke managed to prove that he was a Jew. His family was thereby allowed to remain in the city while he, in order to protect them, volunteered for the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union. By being both ”Germans” and Jews, his remaining family members met a fierce destiny, though they managed to survive and after the War they were reunited with Harry Schnittke, who in Soviet-occupied Vienna was working for Austria's first German-language newspaper after World War II – the Österreichischen Zeitung, which had both German and Soviet employees. The paper existed until 1955.

During his two years in Vienna, young Alfred Schnittke's life changed – he discovered the magic of music:

I felt every moment there to be a link of the historical chain, all was multi-dimensional; the past represented a world of ever-present ghosts and I was not a barbarian without any connections, but the conscious bearer of the task in my life.

That is how Schnittke came to create his polystylistic music, which was influenced by and ”preserved” impressions from earlier music. Occasionally Schnittke even verbatim reproduced small parts from previous music works:

There is a remarkable unity – primarily of the artist´s world (what he sees), but also of meaning (how he interprets it). There is a remarkable sense of the multidimensionality of time, in which eternity and the moment are one and the same thing, with the multiple facets of reality lying between them. […] The polystilistic tendency has always existed in concealed form in music and continues to do so, because music that is stylistically sterile would be dead.

Of course, Schnittke has been accused of plagiarism, but if such is the case a great modern and at the same time classical master like Igor Stravinsky may also be labeled as a plagiarist. Or Johannes Brahms, who for twenty years struggled with his First Symphony, constantly reworking it while he time and time again postponed its premiere. To a friend, Brahms wrote: "You cannot imagine how it feels to listen to the footsteps of a giant behind your back." The giant was Beethoven, who with his Ninth Symphony had broken down all barriers previously erected around the classical symphony and he thus opened the flood gates for the surge of Romanticism. When Brahms finally premiered his First Symphony he had to suffer the ignominy of having it called Beethoven's Tenth, something he nevertheless was secretly proud of. However, when it was repeatedly pointed out how numerous the similarities were with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Brahms became annoyed and quipped ”Das bemerkt ja schon jeder Esel! Every donkey can notice that!”

To refer to an admired master in your own works of art is actually not tantamount to plagiarism, it is rather an interpretation and can sometimes even be an improvement. As Picasso once pointed out, ”good artists copy, great artists steal.” If an artist creates a masterpiece, it generally contains allusions to and inspiration from other works of art. A symphony is a vast, extensive creation, or as Gustav Mahler pointed out: “A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.”

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is talking to a giant, hookah-smoking caterpillar which presents itself herself as a Know-it-all. In Disney's surreal version of the fairy tale, which does not slavishly follow the original, Alice begins to read a poem, but the caterpillar interrupts her.

Alice: Oh. Yes sir. How doth the little busy bee improve each...

Catterpillar: Stop. That is not spoken correctically. It goes: How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail. And pour the waters of the Nile, on every golden scale. How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws. And welcomes little fishes in with gently smiling jaws.

Allice: Well, I must say, I've never heard it that way before.

Catterpillar: I know. I have improoooved it.


It is probably such an inhibition-free, surprising ease and elegance I seek in and often assume myself to have found in chamber music. Presumably it may also be something I unconsciously strive for in my writing – whimsical dynamics, developments that tend to go astray but nevertheless may return to a red thread – all done for my own pleasure, while ignoring the presumptive reader. Maybe akin to when I in my early youth played the violin in front of an audience. At that moment I did not really care about the listeners. I didn't even notice them. However, writing is much easier than playing the violin. The keyboard is not part of my body and as I type, no one can criticize me for what I am writing. It is only at a later stage that criticism may emerge, but then I am prepared for it, well aware that my texts do not at all meet all the requirements that should be expected from them. I am not a champion and I am completely satisfied with that. Like a footballer who enjoys playing within the lower subdivisions with no ambition whatsoever to end up with the national team. The game is joy enough, not the competition and the money.

All creation is intimately connected and many writers have been tempted to mix different genres, often in an amateurish fashion, a daring activity that may easily end up in disaster. There are plenty of musically sounding poems, but not so many novels. One is however Birger Sjöberg's summer-fresh, uninhibited nostalgic and charming description of a Swedish small-town by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, which unfortunately is not translated into English – The Quartet That Split Up. The entire novel is written in the same charming, slightly ironic manner as Birger Sjöberg's songs, of which several have been translated into English by Colin MacCallum. To get a impression of these songs you might listen to Den första gång jag såg dig, The First Time I saw you, that my youngest sister used to sing:

The first time that I saw you, it was a summer’s day;
The morning sunshine – oh, so bright and clear
And all the meadows’ blossoms, in marvellous display
Were bowing, bending, swaying, far and near.

The first time that I saw you, it was a summer’s day,
The first time that I dared to take your hand, dear.

And therefore when I see you, even on a winter’s day
With snowdrifts lying glittering and cold,
I hear the lark’s sweet cadence, feel summer breezes play
And hear the ocean’s rushing waves unfold.

Here sung in the original Swedish by Sven Bertil Taube – In the novel, just like in Sjöberg´s entertaing songs there is always an almost impereceptible undercurrent of loneliness, death and and sorrow.

Music is present in Sjöberg´s delightful novel, though it is not at the centre stage, on the other hand it is at the very centre of Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, a tragic love story between a self-centered violinist and a pianist, who is married and also about to become deaf. A number of string quartets, foremost among them Beethoven's Piano Trio, Opus 1, have a major part in the novel, which in its prose from time to time seems to capture the power, mystery and spirituality of music. Seth, who like Birger Sjöberg is a melodic and often rhyming poet, can actually be considered to have succeeded quite well in obtaining an effect where music and his tale are intimately intertwined. However, in spite of its obvious skill, not least through a credible and profound portrayal of the protagonists and impressive insights in the lives and existence of professional musician's live, An Equal Music became somewhat too sophisticated for my taste. Nevertheless, it is perhaps one of the best novels written about music. It is undoubtedly extremely difficult to capture in words such an evasive phenomenon as music, without becoming overly sentimental, wordy and contrived.

I came to think of these novels since I, with some anticipation, recently picked up Violin written in 1997 by Anne Rice. According to the promotional blurbs on its cover the novel would be about an enchanted Stradivari violin, a demonic, Russian, aristocratic and a lady from New Orleans who travel together through the ages and to various cities, such as Vienna and Venice, where they encounter composers such as Paganini and Beethoven. According to a review on the cover, Rice's novel ”flows like blood - of the life-giving, life-celebrating kind.” It certainly sounded somewhat tacky, though the novel could still be exciting.

Maybe Violin could be comparable to the movie The Red Violin, which through five centuries follows a ”red” Cremona violin as it is passed on from one hand to another – from the violin builder to his orphaned daughter and after her death further on to a German prodigy at the same orphanage. The young virtuoso brings the violin with him to Vienna. After his death the enchanted violin ends up with wandering Roma who take it to Oxford, where a beautiful Roma, violin-playing girl ends up as the mistress of an English aristocrat. When he has killed himself, the violin is brought by his Chinese servant to Shanghai where it re-surfaces during the Cultural Revolution. Following the death of its persecuted owner Chinese authorities send the violin to Montreal for evaluation and sale. However, the evaluator, a rude, unscrupulous New York-based violin restorer, steals the violin from the auction house, after replacing it with a copy. Before that, he has found that the violin's red color is due to the violin builder having mixed his dead wife's blood with the varnish. The film ends with the violin evaluator telling his daughter has a gift for her.

It is a beautiful film that may be helped by a soundtrack recorded by the sympathetic virtuoso Joshua Bell, but despite that I found it overloaded with embarrassing clichés and John Corigliano's music to be strangely bland. The film did not catch on. It appeared to be fragmented into a number of rather lifeless tableaux, without internal and external tension and depth. Completely different from a lush masterpiece like Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. Like his Hair it is a multifaceted and truly musical film. An exciting story packed with unforgettable scenes, complete with an original and acute dialogue that lingers in memory. A delightful rhythm, splendid imagery and solid performances. All executed in harmony with a richly flowing music and creative joy. Amadeus and Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni are my absolute favorites among movies made about classical music.

The Violin began on a promising note. An HIV-AIDS-deceased millionaire dies in a sumptuous mansion. His inconsolable wife spends several confused days maddened by grief close to the rotting corpse. Triana's hallucinatory state of mind made me think of Sadegh Hedayat's surrealistic novel The Blind Owl in which an opium intoxicated pencil-box painter roams within a distorted dream world, obsessed by guilt and death he is apparently constantly close to the rotting corpse of his wife, who he presumably has murdered. However, here ends all similarities between Hedayat’s astonishing masterpiece and Rice’s befuddled Violin.

In the Violin, the reader is confronted with a wealth of suggestive, but inchoate hints at Anne Rice's own life; her alcoholism, memories of her mother who died of acute alcohol poisoning, as well as her six-years old her daughter who died of leukemia, all against a backdrop of a moisture steaming New Orleans. But soon it all collapses in a jumble of stilted dialogues, unbearably overloaded dream visions, silly clichés constituted by, among other things, a possessed, sensual violin virtuoso, who furthermore is dead, awkwardly inept attempts to describe music and silly encounters with famous composers. What happened to Anne Rice? How could she derail in such a catastrophic manner? Does she nor have a literary agent/editor able to tell her that this was an unfortunate mishmash? Schmaltz of the most exasperating kind. I couldn't finish reading this debris from a pen craft that once had been quite good.

Something else could have been expected from a horror writer who from a New Orleans perspective wrote about music and possession. This is voodoo land soaked in breathtaking music. New Orleans is not that far from the birth place of the Mississippi Delta Blues and blues is for sure the Devil's music, as music ethnologist Alan Lomax had noted:

In factevery blues fiddlerbanjo pickerharp blowerpiano strummer and guitar framer was, in the opinion of both himself and his peers, a child of the Devil, a consequence of the black view of the European dance embrace.

And it was more bluesmen than the great Robert Johnson who learned to play from the Devil himself. Maybe it was probably just as common there down in the Mississippi Delta as it was in the deep forests in bygone Sweden that spooky creatures like the Swedish Näcken, or whatever they were called down there in the Bajou - The Devil, Papa Legba or Baron Samedi – on condition that he was willing to sell their souls to them taught musicians to perfect their skills at cross roads or on tombstones. Such creatures could even give their victims their own violins, or guitars.

Enchanted violins could probably there, as in Sweden, cause all kinds of misery. As in the small village of Hårga in the Swedish district of Hälsingland, where during a late Saturday evening, sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, a fiddler with a wide-brimmed hat and ”glowing” eyes during a barn dance suddenly stepped out of the shadows. He played a tune that made everyone step out to dance. Nothing could stop them. They danced and danced. When the day was dawning, just before the church bells rang for the morning mass, they had danced after the demonic fiddler all the way up to the Hårga Mountain, where they continued to dance until their bones and knuckles jumped up and down on the ground. It was the Devil who had lured the unfortunate lot up to the mountain, this was known since a girl had fallen to the barn floor and passed out when she trampled on by the possessed dancers. When the others danced away, she had been laying there, unconscious and with a broken leg. After waking up she could tell the village priest that she had clearly seen how the fiddler had stomped the beat with a cloven hoof.

In Igor Stravinsky's suggestive septet L'Histoire du soldat, The Soldier’s Tale, in which the Devil, among other things acts as violin virtuoso, the outcome of the tale is opposite to the one in Hårga. In L'Histoire du soldat it is the Devil who is becomes captivated and vanquished by the soldier's violin playing. The Devil's power over the soldier does not lie hidden in music but in greed and lust for power.

In Sweden most often, just like in the United States, it was not the Devil himself who bewitched people with his violin playing, but a fiddler who had learned to play from a demon in the sevice of the Devil. In the case of Sweden it was generally a nature creature called Näcken - the foremost fiddler of all. This wicked, but tragically lonely figure, did with his fiddling lure people to drown themselves in lakes and wells. Of course, it was tempting for a fiddler to learn to play from Näcken and he willingly obliged if you were fearless enough to make contact with the dangerous water sprite. There were countless ways to make the Näcken show up and provide you with lessons. The best time to contact Näcken was during the Midsummer´s night, but with the right approach it was possible to contact him almost every Thursday night, waiting for him by the edge of a river or lake.

It would then be appropriate to bring your own violin and play for Näcken, even more effectively it would be to sit naked on a rock at the edge of a lake or stream and pass your bow over a smoked leg of mutton, which you gave to Näcken when he appeared. The demon then asked if he could borrow your violin. Näcken then carefully examined the instrument before asking:

- Shall I tune the violin to the fingers, or the fingers to the violin?

A wise fiddler obviously chose the first option. The Näcken then twisted and bent your fiddle before handed it back to you. Despite Näcken's brusque handling the instrument it appeared to be unchanged, but after Näcken´s treatment the violin never had to be tuned again and it played very nicely.

It also happened that Näcken made the fiddler forfeit his soul to the powers of evil, often by swapping fiddle with him. He then took the fiddler’s violin and asked him to turn away. When the fiddler at Näcken's request turned around again and looked down at the ground, he saw two identical violins lying there. If the fiddler chose the right one, he got his magically tuned violin back, but if he chose the wrong instrument, he brought Näcken's violin home with him home and he was then doomed by the end of his earthly existence to enter Hell's eternal fire.

The fiddle of the Näcken was extremely dangerous. The fiddler could easily lose control of it, enter a state of ecstasy and play as if possessed. Then the same thing could happen as in Hårga – that the fiddler could not stop playing and people could not stop dancing. Before dawn the player had danced himself and his audience into a swamp or lake, where they all drowned. Once upon a time, however, both the fiddler and the dancers were saved. A stone deaf farmworker realized what was going on and managed to cut the strings from the violin of the possessed fiddler.

Näcken, or the Devil, could also give the violinist a piece of music, for example the eerie Näcken’s polka ( Most famous in the genre of devilish tunes is probably Giuseppe Tartini's (1692-1770) Sonata in g minor, the so-called Devil´s Trill, Il trillo del diavolo. Three years before his death, Tartini told Jérôme Lalande, a French astronomer and diarist, how the music came to him::

One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the ”Devil's Trill”, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.

According to an Italian comics magazine, Dylan Dog: Sonata Macabra, Tartini was for the rest of his life tormented by his inability to accurately reproduce the music he had heard in his dream. Tartini constantly struggled to rewrite his Trillo del diavolo, though he could not even approach the immense perfection he had heard during the fateful night.

In my opinion, Pasquale Ruju's comic is more sophisticated than Anne Rice's tangled opus. By Rujo a young and beautiful Russian violinist is manipulated by a group of Satanists, who imagined that with her help they would be able to reconstruct the original Devil’s Trill and thus find a language through which the Devil could manifest himself and enter the mind of people. Through this magical music, they believed they could change everything to their own benefit. The road to such perfection of the Devil's work here on earth would obviously lead though a variety of violent crimes inspired and promoted by a diabolical millionaire. A not quite unusual combination of the ingredients of a true horror story – magical violins, millionaires´ boundless greed, overly skilled and beautiful violinists and the Devil's constant scheming, which in the end is frustrated.

The association of body and soul can possibly be reflected through the connection between a violinist and his/her violin. A symbiosis through which the instrument becomes a means of expression conveying the violinist's inner being, perhaps even his/her desire to ”become someone”, to become visible to his/her surroundings. It is therefore not only the music but also the aesthetics of the instrument and its users that are provided with a great importance. The violin is a beautiful work of art. Its design, for example the scroll, the black intarsia along its edges, the ebony of the fingerboard, the luster of the varnish and many other details do not really have such a great impact on the sound as they have for aesthetics. They may occasionally apply to the musician who handles the instrument, and from time to time a great emphasis is placed on his/her appearance and performance.

Some male violin virtuosi seem to be vying for some kind of outsider image, like David Garrett and Nigel Kennedy, who obviously cultivate an image as eccentric geniuses. It was no coincidence that Bernard Rose chose David Garrett to act as Niccolò Paganini in his movie The Devil's Violinist.

Paganini is considered to be the archetype of a demonic violinist with a fatal appeal on women. His physique was not quite normal. He obviously suffered from Marfan´s Syndrome, a hereditary disease affecting connective tissue, and thus the cardiovascular system, skeleton, joints and eyes. The disorder made Paganini lean, with long arms, fingers and toes. It also provided him with extremely flexible joints, a characteristic that probably contributed to his incredible skill while handling a violin.

Like so many other prodigies, Paganini was whipped on by his parents and at a young age he became a full-fledged violinist, in demand at the princely courts in northern Italy, though he mainly gained admiration and income through celebrated tours throughout Europe. Paganini was almost universally recognized as an incomparably talented violinist, though many became enraged or disappointed by his exaggerated and glaring showmanship during concerts that attracted hordes of captivated groupies. Constantly harassed by illnesses, not the least tuberculosis and syphilis, Paganini compensated for his physical shortcomings and complexes by acting as a demonic womanizer, while abusing alcohol and opium, as well as suffering from recurring, severe depressions. Part of his image consisted in fueling rumors that he had made a pact with the Devil, which caused controversies with the Catholic Church and, among other things, delayed his Christian burial in Genoa. It wasn't until 1870 that his corpse found a lasting resting place in Parma.

It was with some anticipation I looked forward to The Devil's Violinist, especially since I had appreciated Bernard Rose's previous film about Beethoven, Immortal Beloved. A very musical film in which Gary Oldman makes an impressive performance as Beethoven. However, The Devil's Violinist was a disappointment; a historical tableau without depth and excitement. Admittedly, David Garrett makes an convincing effort as a violin-playing Paganini ( ), though as an actor he is next to disastrous, especially compared to the skilled Oldman. To me, the film fell flat to the ground, though Garrett's violin performances were well worth the ticket price, despite their somewhat superficial flashiness.

The Devil's Violinist wallowed in the myth of the demon-possessed violin virtuoso, but not as much and shamelessly as in the only film directed by the undoubtedly somewhat crazy Klaus Kinski, who even named his bizarre opus Kinski/Paganini. It seems as if Kinski had almost completely identified himself with what he believed to be a self-obsessed, misunderstood genius and sex maniac. The film is an outlandish concoction, almost without dialogue and filled to the brim with frantic violin playing and lovemaking with young women. Two years after the film, Kinski was dead and thus his movie became a fitting epitaph for this extremely strange actor.

If some male violinists strive for an image as unpolished, Bohemian geniuses, several female virtuosi appear to be impeccably elegant and cool beauties, in stylish accessories. For example, it is common for a virtuoso like Ann-Sofie Mutter to receive compliments not only for her impeccable violin playing but also for her custom-made dresses from Chanel, Givenchy, Dior and Nicholas Oakwell, often in colours that match her Stradivarius.

Other highly skilled, young and female violin virtuosos such as Hilary Hahn and Sarah Chang receive accolades for their looks and dresses, which some music lovers consider to be a detriment to the appreciation of their great talent. It may be understandable, though music performances are after all also displays of showmanship and pageants, something many solo artists seem to be well aware of it.

Music purists may also be annoyed by the genre transcendent tendencies that some great violinists demonstrate. For example has Hilary Hahn become known for so-called cross-genre collaboration with various ”popular artists”. To a greater extent, Nigel Kennedy has drawn criticism for his ”diva behaviour” combined with ”crowd-pleasing tricks”. The now deceased, but once extremely influential ”cultural personality” Sir John Drummond with his backing from BBC did for example demean Nigel Kennedy by among other things criticise him for wearing a black cape and ”Dracula like” make-up while performing Alban Berg's violin concerto. Drummond attacked Kennedy's ”ludicrous clothes” and ”self-invented accent” and appointed Kennedy as the ”Liberace of the Nineties”.

I don't care about that at all. To me Nigel Kennedy is the great entertainer on one of my absolute favorite CDs – East Meets East. Appearance and stage performance does not mean much to me. The self-assured and powerful David Oistrakh, with his mellow, heartfelt and confident style is and remains my favorite violinist, regardless of his appearance.

But, the violin? The legends about Näcken inform us how important it was to Swedish countryside fiddlers. The movie The Red Violin also emphasized the individual violin's specificity, even hinting that it might have a personality of its own, something that Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat also does.

David Oistrakh played on at least seven Stradivari violins, of course all being the property of the Soviet State. For ten years, a Conte di Fontana Stradivarius, built in 1702, was Oistrakh's favorite instrument, though in 1966 he replaced it with a Marsick Stradivarius from 1705, which he played until his death in 1974.

There are two Marsick Stradivari, so named since they had belonged to a Belgian violinist named Martin Pierr Marsick, who died in 1924. One violin ended up in the Soviet Union, while the other one came to be owned by an American violin collector, David Fulton, who has eight Stradivari (one of which is a cello) and seven Guaraneri del Gesù. Fulton lends his Marsick Stradivarius, built in 1715, to the Canadian violin virtuoso James Ehnes. Every known Stradivari and Guaraneri del Gesù has well-documented history of its own.

Of the violinists I have mentioned so far, Paganini owned on different occasions various Stradivari, as well as several other violins made by other master lutherie from Cremona, such as Antonio and Niccolò Amati, as well as the master Paganini appreciated most of them all – Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri del Gesù. It wasn't always that Paganini kept his violins for a longer period of time. He bought and sold them and lost several of them through his gambling habits. Paganini was a notorious gambler. However, he always kept his favorite violin, a Guarneri del Gesù which he had received as gift from a wealthy admirer, He called it Il Cannone, the Cannon. It is now exhibited behind glass in the City Hall of Genoa and taken out every two years to be played upon by the winner of the Paganini Prize, which is awarded to a promising young violinist. When Paganini's beloved Il Cannone needed some repair work, he sent it to Jean Baptiste Vuillaume in Paris, who also made an exact copy of it. Not even Paganini could distinguish the original from the copy, which is now owned and played by Hilary Hahn.

Joshua Bell plays a legendary Stradivari called Gibson ex-Huberman. Its story is far more fascinating than Il Cannone’s. The Gibson ex-Huberman was made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari and had been owned by Bronsilaw Huberman, a Polish-born violin virtuoso who toured the world, accompanied by the pianist Siegfried Schultze. Huberman had bought his Stradivari from a well-known English viola player named Alfred Gibson. It was already then a famous violin and called The Gibson Violin.

When Schultze and Huberman performed in Vienna in 1916, the violin was stolen from Huberman's hotel room. However, after three days the police managed to arrest the thief and return the stolen instrument to his rightful owner. On February 28, 1936, Huberman and Schultze gave a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Huberman had recently bought a Guarneri del Gesù and decided to use it instead of the Gibson, which he left in his lodge. When he returned, his Gibson had been stolen. Huberman was reimbursed by Lloyd's insurance company with US $ 30,000, though he neverthelss took the loss very hard and his bad luck continued. Huberman was a resident of Vienna when Austria joined Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938 and as a Jew, he had to flee to Switzerland. Later that year, the airplane that was taking him on an Asian tour emergency landed on Sumatra and Huberman broke his left wrist and two fingers, shortly thereafter the outbreak of World War II prevented him from returning to Switzerland, where he could only return after the peace in 1945. He died two years later, depressed and exhausted after all his misgivings. The Gibson violin remaind missing.

However, the violin seemed to bring luck to its thief, nightclub violinist Julian Altman. He was playing, dressed as a cossack, at the Russian Bear, a restaurant next door to Carnegie Hall. Being quite an accomplished young musician, he would often hang out backstage at Carnegie Hall when not working. The evening when Huberman gave his concert Altman managed to sneak in behind the scenes, on the pretext that he was familiar with the virtuoso, and steal the Gibson. Altman kept it for himself and used it for fifty years. He was for a while employed as a first violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C. and throughout his entire life he sustained himself and his family as a professional violinist, though never in the higher spheres.

Constantly worried about being revealed as a violin thief, Altman had darkened ”his” Gibson with shoe polish. On his deathbed in 1985, Altman revealed to his wife that his beloved violin was a stolen Stradivari. When she reuturned the violin to Lloyds she managed to obtain the reward of US $263,000. Lloyds then sold the Gibson to the English violinist Norbert Brainin for US $1.2 million and finally in 2001 Joshua Bell was able to buy it for just under US $4 million.

David Garrett's Stradivari is called San Lorenzo, while Nigel Kennedy's is called La Cathédrale and his Guarneri – La Fonte. Ann-Sofie Mutter plays on a Stradivari called the Emelian and another named Lord Dunn-Raven. Sara Chang has a Guarneri, which she bought from Isaac Stern.

Reputable violin workshops and violin vendors, such as the legendary W.E. Hill & Sons, founded in 1880 in London and famous violin auction companies, such as Tarisio in New York, keep a record of all Strads passing through their companies and they also try to keep track of the known global stock of these valuable instruments, though some stradivari owners do not reveal their possession of such valuable items. A common estimate of the world's stradivari stock is approximately 600 specimens, including celli and viola, which Stardivari produced significantly fewer numbers of than violins.

The Stradivari considered to bemost valuable and the master builder’s most accomplished item is the so-called Messiah, owned by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Its fame rests not only on its sound but mainly on its excellent looks and mint condition. It is virtually unchanged since it was manufactured in 1716, but not entirely untouched. The neck has been slightly extended, while the pegs, bridge and tailpiece were replaced during the 19th century. The varnish is however undamaged and the carving completely intact. Its excellent condition is due to the fact that The Messiah has always been a venerated collector's item and thus almost unused. Its famous owners, Cozio di Salabue, one of Stradivari's sons, Luigi Tarisio and Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume exhibited The Messiah in a glass box. It was later purchased by W.E. Hills and Sons and it is their most precious violins that now have ended up with the Ashmolean.

When the so-called Hammer Violin in 2006 through Christie's was sold for US $3.4 million, it was assumed that the top auction price for a stradivari violin had been more or less stabilized and fixed. However, four years later Tarisio auctioned off a Stradivari called Molitor, once owned by Napoleon, for US $3.6 million. All records were broken in 2011 when the stradivari violin Lady Blunt by the Nippon Group through Tarisio was sold to an unknown buyer for US $15.9 million. It was a great value increase – in 1972 Lady Blunt had been sold for US $200,000. The Nippon Group donated the profit from its sale to a reconstruction fund established to mitigate the damage caused by the Japanese tsunami disaster the same year. Lady Blunt had, like The Messiah, been in Vuillaume's possession and was just like that violin more of a collector's item than an instrument in regular use. Accordingly, Lady Blunt was also in an excellent condition.

Actually, it is no wonder that a master manufactured violin in excellent conditions catches a high price. It is one of the most formidable, efficient and complicated craft products available. To get an idea of he complivcated process of building a violin you might take a look at Galen Hartley Builds a Violin on Youtube ( ).

A violin consists of a body, neck and a peg box. A tail piece is mounted on the body, from which the strings are tensioned via the bridge all the way up to the tuning pegs. The neck is finished with a spiral decoration called the scroll. The hollow body of a violin creates resonance and reinforces the tone, its upper part is called top plate and the lower back plate. The top plate is generally made from spruce grown in the Alpine valleys. The spruce should have dense and even, annual rings and be logged during the fall. The top plate must be strong to withstand tension, but also planed and shaved so thin that it can vibrate. Two f-shaped holes emit the sound from the resonance body. The back plate and the ribs are made of harder wood, usually maple, which for aesthetic reasons should be ”flame like”; the most beautiful maple is considered to come from Bosnia. An important detail intended to distribute sound vibrations between the top – and the bottom plates is the sound post, placed just behind the bridge and under the E-string on the so-called treble side of the violin. On the opposite bass side a bass bar is glued to the inside of the bottom plate, almost running along its entire length. The base bar consolidates the body and reinforces the bass tones.

The violin neck is usually made of maple wood and a fingerboard made of ebony is placed on its upper side, it is made of hard wood to withstand the wear from the vibrations of the strings and the musician's fingers. The shape of the neck and fingerboard constitutes the violinist's link to the music and is thus a critical detail in a violin's design. At the end of the neck is the peg box with its tuning pegs, often made out of ebony or boxwood, around which the strings are tensioned and slackened. It is also the task of a skilled violin builder to impart an aesthetically pleasing aspect to his/her handicraft and the varnish has for example a great importance for both appearance and sound. The bow is a story in its own right and it is also manufactured by master craftsmen, usually specialized in bow making.

And stradivari violins? Why have they become so desireable and considered to be so special? That story begins in Cremona around 1530. The town is located on the northern bank of the river Po and surrounded by fertile lands. Access to agricultural products and good transport facilities has since ancient times made people settling there. The great Roman poet Vergil had a farm just outside of the city walls. Cremona was early on known for its excellent food and during the Middle Ages it was also endowed with a particularly rich music life.

During the 15th century, Northern Italy was divided between several city states, constantly fighting each other – Florence, Pisa, Siena, Genoa, Ferrara, Mantua, Verona and Venice. Cremona was conquered by one after the other of these warring petty states. Especially did the city end up in the middle of the fighting between Milan and Venice. However, after the peace agreement in Lodi in 1454, the area experienced a time of relative peace and increasing wealth. However, in 1494 France invaded Northern Italy, thirty years of war ensued and the misery did not subside until 1530 when the Habsburg emperor Karl V finally defeated the French.

It was during the Spanish, Habsburg Empire that Cremona's violin production began to flourish. Even before the mid-sixteenth century there were several instrument makers in the city, but it was only when peace and tranquility was established that the music life gained momentum and the musical instrument production increased while growing orchestras at courts and churches throughout Italy demanded more and more sophisticated instruments.

Unlike ofter craftsmen, Cremona´s master luthiers, violin builders, were not organized within guilds, but the tradition was kept and inherited within the families. Andrea Amati (1505-1577) was from an aristocartic family and early on developed a keen interest in developing and perfecting violin production, including introducing a fourth string and working on designing every single detail of the violin until his violons achieved the form which to a large extent has been preserved until today. Amati's exquisite craftsmanship was increasingly noticed by the violinists at Italy's various courts. After the middle of the 1560s, his workshop produced violins for the French king Charles IX´s and Pope Pius V's court orchestras. Until 1740, Andreas' descendants managed and further developed his heritage. His grandson Niccolò Amati had among his apprentices the future master builders Andrea Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari (although there has been some controversy over whether he was really an Amati apprentice), who each founded a violin-building dynasty.

The foremost representative of the Guarnerian clan´s craftsmanship was Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri, called del Gesù (1698-1744), whose violins are considered to be at the same high level of perfection as the stradivari violins, some even consider them to be superior to their rivals, and then refer to their ”darker, more robust and voluminous tone”. However, Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) remains the fixed star on the firmament of master luthiers.

Stradivari (Stradivarius is the Latinized version of his name) was well known and esteemed already during his lifetime and became a fairly wealthy man. He was an extremely conscientious craftsman, constantly engaged in perfecting and developing every detail of his violins. For example, Stradivari lengthened the f-shaped holes of the lid, flattened almost imperceptibly the curvature of the top - and bottom plates, and gave the utmost care to the aesthetics of his instruments. In other words, he designed his violins in such a way that they became as functional as possible and at the same time appeared as perfect works of art.

Stradivari violins have been valued differently depending on the years when Stradivari manufactured them. The most valuable violins were made between 1710 and 1720 when Stradivari changed their model from the so-called Long Pattern to a variant that was not really shorter but slightly wider in order to provide a larger volume to the sound by expanding airspace inside the sound box. The curved front and back of the violin’s body were provided with a ”more robust” shape, while the luster of the instruments became darker and ”richer” than had been the case with the previous more ”yellowish” violins. Between 1700 and 1737, the Stradivari Workshop came to dominate violin production in Cremona, not only in terms of the excellent quality of the materials they used and the general perfection of their violins, but also quantitatively. The peak was reached between 1714 and 1716, when about 16 first-class instruments were produced each year.

Several rigorous scientific studies have been dedicated to stradivari violins. For example, microscopic analyzes of their wood. Stradivari used the usual spruce and maple, although it has been claimed that low average temperatures during his heyday made the timber he used particularly compact and Stradivari knew how to choose the best base material available. Much attention has also been dedicated to the varnish. However, it was obviously similar, if not of the same nature. as that used by other Cremona luthiers.

Like so much other exquisite Italian handicraft, it may be furniture, musical instruments and sports cars, as well as wine, olive oil and nuts, Italian violins can count upon a fraction of connoisseurs who pay attention to various distinctive and exquisite nuances. Such aficionados were already present in the time of the great Cremona luthiers and their appreciation of the instrument makers' mastery is evident in Evaristo Bascheni's (1617-1677) exquisite still lives, which generally depict various stringed instruments. Baschenis, who lived in Bergamo, reproduced with the almost loving and sensual care how light falls upon the varnished and furbished wood of curving instruments. He even captures glimmering contrasts found in the dust that cover some of the lutes, mandolins and violins he so carefully depicted.

But … are the stradivari violins really superior to other equally carefully crafted violins? Several blind tests have been done to determine their superiority, not least with the help of well-known violin virtuosi. Results indicate that it is quite possible to distinguish the sound of an exquisite violin from a lesser variant. However, when it comes to the difference between the best, modern violins and classic masterpieces from Cremona´s palmy days as the world’s epicentre of violin making, it has been found that most virtuosi while blind-testing violins can generally not distinguish between younger and older skillfully crafted violins.

Nevertheless, as several experts have pointed out – connoisseurs who look at and examine a violin usually try to understand why it vibrates in a certain way, how its mechanics work, what specific features are making it so unique. However, they mainly consider the actual discernable features of the violin and tend to overlook a specific instrument's interaction with the individual who makes use of it; the violinist's preferences, feelings, sentimentality and nostalgia. How a violinist is influenced by thoughts about who previously owned and used the unique instrument. Beautiful and valuable objects have a life of their own, they obtain an affection value, a presence of other owners/users linger in the object itself, not only through wear and tear but also from additional knowledge, or imaginings about the peculiarities of a previous owner. If you are looking for the value of an object, it may often be rewarding to seek and find the person behind the studied. Often more wortwhile than an exclusive study of tee object i itself. Who created it? Who used it? Who appreciated it? Who fancies it now?

Through my friend Per, who for a large part of his life has built, played and read about violins, I have understood that violinists, as well as violin builders and violin sellers, live within a specific world where, as in all other more or less limited areas of interest, you find masters, experts, thieves and deceivers. In the violin habitat we find a number of serious craftsmen, valuers and sellers who do everything in their power to maintain the high quality of the violin craft and make others aware of fraud and all kinds of mischief that may drag down the good reputation of the market and the craft. Neverthelss, in a world where the average value of a stradivari violin since 1960 has increased two hundredfold, we may of course expect to find deceit, outright theft and greed.

One of the world's most successful stradivari dealers, Dietmar Machold, knew how to make a fortune from such a huge increase in value. He was also well aware of the fact that very few people know what a Stradivari may be worth and even fewer are able to judge whether a "Stradivari" really is a genuine Stradivari. For the most people Stradivarius is merely a gold-rimmed name. If the name sells, why not rename a violin and call it Stradivarius, thereby making the instrument many times more valuable? How can a buyer rely on the fact that s/he is really buying a StradivariusIf you have any doubts it is of course safest to consult an expert. By providing the right jargon and expose impressive exterior accessories a violin seller may transform him/herself into an expert. Moreover, if an unscrupoluos violin dealer can adorn him/herself with the outer trappings of impressive wealth and opulent tastes/he become her/his own proof of success. Prosperity turns into a testimony of appreciation and trust from a satisfied clientele.

Sometime in 2010, luthier and evaluator Roger Hargrave was invited to Sparkasse Bremen. Two bankers brought him to a room where two violins were laid out on a table. They had been submitted as collateral for a multi-million loan and the Bank wanted to be assured of their value. Hargrave carefully examined the violins and estimated their total value to be around 5,000 euros. The astonished bankers revealed that the violins had been submitted by Gegeigenbau Machold GmbH / Cadenza AG and the owner of this reputed firm, with branches in Vienna, Zurich, Bremen, Berlin, New York, Aspen, Chicago, Seoul and Tokyo, had assured Sparkasse Bremen that the violins were two genuine Stradiavri and their total value was at least 6 million euros.


Hargrave couldn't help but smile. He knew Dietmar Machold after working for him for five years. The bankers asked Hargrave to be quiet about the embarrassing affair. In order to be on the safe side, they later called in an expert on timber who carefully examined the material used to make the violins. She noted that the fir trees used for the violin had been logged long after Stradivari's lifetime and they did not come from the southern Alpine valleys, which would have been the case if their wood had been used to manufacture stradivari violins, thus the most extensive violin scam ever, had been revealed.



At that time, Dietmar Machold was a world-famous authority on antique violins. He was a welcome guest in TV studios around the world and was often hired as a valuation expert. Machold stated that he did not deal with any “Mickey Mouse violins”, his name for violins valued under a million USD. Machold moved around within international jet set circles and in 1997, after selling three Stradivari and one Guaraneri for one million Deutsche Mark he bought the seven-centuries-old castle Eichbüchel just outside of Vienna, where the Second Austrian Republic had been proclaimed after World War II. Machold renovated the castle for a much larger sum than he bought it for and in its garage he had 14 Jaguars, 14 Bentleys, 10 Rolls-Royces, 7 Aston Martins and two Maserati.

After the disclosure in Bremen, Machold's empire collapsed. A total of 46 lawsuits were filed from Austria, Australia, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Machold was required to pay over 100 million euros in fines, debts and indemnities. Machold was trapped in a tangle where he had tricked customers into buying violins worth a fraction of what he had alleged. He had taken care of valuable instruments for evaluation, renovation or as an intermediary salesman only to, without the lenders´ knowledge, offer them as collateral for huge bank loans, which he were unable to repay.


In less than a year, Machold had lost his castle, his luxury cars, his stradivari and his guarneris, his antiques, his wife and his good name. It turned out that his alleged multi-hundred-year-old violin company in Bremen was a scam as well. It had been founded by Machold's father after he in 1949 had returned to Germany after Soviet captivity and in 1951 opened a violin store/workshop in Bremen. Machold had studied law, but when his father moved to Zürich with a new wife in 1978, Machold had taken over the business in Bremen. When his father died in 1995, Machold opened a violin store at the best possible location in New York – opposite the Lincoln Center. Here he played the role of a fifth-generation experienced, luthier and valuation expert. He was well versed, cultivated and a born businessman. To connoisseurs Machold was able to offer genuine goods, those who were less knowledgeable had to settle for overpriced and false-labeled violins.



To his confidants, Machold revealed how he had found a viable business model. In Bremen, a widow had come to him with her deceased husband's violin. Machold immediately saw that it was a valuable item and asked the old lady to leave the violin to him so he could examine it with more care. Then he sold the violin for 150,000 Deutsche Mark, kept the money and gave the widow another violin under the pretext that it was the same one her husband had left behind. He regretted that it was unfortunately not worth so much. It all worked out just fine. Soon Machold was able to skillfully continue to deceive his customers in various ways. Slowly but surely, however, he was pulled down into the swamp he had created around himself, and was soon stuck in a quicksand of lies and evasions. It was only a matter of time before he would be swallowed up and suffocated. What amazed me is how quickly Machold managed to enrich himself – in 1995 he opened his shop in Manhattan, in 1997 he bought his castle outside Vienna, shortly thereafter it had been renovated, filled with antiques and with a fleet of luxury cars standing in the garage. In 2010 the success story was abruptly ended.

You played high and lost big,” the judge said to Machold when she handed down her sentence. Dietmar Machold had been arrested in Zürich and taken to Austria, where in 2012 he was sentenced to six years in prison for fraud and embezzlement. In Zürich, Machold's eighty-three-year-old secretary took her own life. She had been sitting as the spider in the net, looking after all of Macholds´s shady businesses.

On a smaller scale, but nonetheless tragic was a violin scam in Rome. Sergei Diatechenko was a Russian violinist, pupil of Herbert von Karajan and David Oistrakh. He had for twenty years been living in Rome where he had acquired a circle of students who gratefully studied for a skilled violinist who only asked 20 euros an hour for his lessons. Diatchenko's daughter Masha was an up-coming and ambitious concert violinist. The Russian violinist was also known as an expert on violins. Sergei used a Stradivari and sold antique brand violins.

It was only after several years it was discovered that the violins he had sold were far from being as old and valuable as Diatchenko had claimed. One of his Korean students had visted Claude Lebet, a luthier whose shop at Piazza Farnese I had often passed on my way into the centre, she wanted to know Lebet´s opinion about the value of her violin. To her great dismay, Lebet told her that the violin, for which she had paid 70,000 euros, was only worth a tenth of that price. Soon, a wheelchair-bound young man, who was also a student of Diutchenko´s, learned that he had paid 650,000 euros for a fake Guadagnini, a master luthier from the first half of the 18th century. His precious violin turned out to have been provided with a false label and was only worth a fraction of what he had paid.

Diatchenko was arrested and the police took Claude Lebet to the violinist's home to examine the more than 200 violins they had found there. It turned out that most of them were German-made and hardly worth more than three to five thousand euros per piece. However, the police dicovered a violin in a wardrobe, it turned out to be an Amati that apparently was identical to one reported stolen sometime during the seventies. After being detained for three days, Diatchenko returned home, where his daughter found him hanged the next day.

Claude Lebet who figured in this sad story is also a strange man. A recognized expert on string instruments, skilled restaurateur and evaluator with a large and usually appreciating clientele. However, he seems to figure in various contexts in a manner that makes me wonder if he is actually in the full use of his mind, or maybe just absent-minded, or possibly subject to malicious slander.

Just as in the case of Dietmar Machold, Lebet has repeatedly by various customers been accused of stealing their valuable violins. It seems that he without the owners' consent and knowledge had sold several extremely valuable stringed instruments; rare violins and cellos by masters such as Stradivari, Guarneri and Guadagnini. According to several newspaper reports, more than fifteen highly valued violins have apparantly disappeared fom Lebet's workshop. Among them a Pietro Guarneri violin from 1734, worth 800,000 euros, which was handed in to his workshop by a Spanish violinist and also a Guadagnini worth a million euros, submitted by a well-known Swiss violinist. The latter violin was traced by the police to a Roman bank deposit box belonging to Lebet.

Some customers had asked Lebet to mediate the sale of their instruments, something he apparently also did, but since then they have seen neither money nor receipts. He has also been accused of falsifying several certificates of authenticity. A remarkable case concerns a violin that Paganini used as a child. It is state property and was restored by Lebet for an exhibition at Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. The violin later turned up with a collector in Switzerland. Lebet had great difficulties explaining how could have ended up there. ”It was all a mistake,” he explained to French television. ”My only fault was that I had not realized that times they are a changing and the legislation with them.” He also stated that he had been subjected to unfounded slander and persecution, adding that ”The only fair thing is the case I was convicted for in Switzerland in 2011.” I have not been able to find out what that verdict was about, unless it was a sentence of four years in prison for fraud and embezzlement, something that has been mentioned by some Italian newspapers. In that was the case, it must have ended with in a conditional discharge since Claude Lebet remained in the workshop at Piazza Farnese. He later moved his shop and workshop to the nearby Vicolo delle cave near Campi di Fiori. Four years ago Lebet returned to Switzerland, where he has his roots. He still owes one of my friends 18,000 euros.


Each niche of human existence is a world of its own, a habitat, i.e. an environment viewed from the point of view of a specific species. I have now glanced into a habitat that I am not an integral part of. I am neither a violinist nor a luthier. Despite my sense of exclusion from this world I find the world of violins to be fascinating and regret that I have not learned to play the violin nor understand the basics of music, just as little as I understand higher mathematics and chemistry. An acquaintance of mine, who is a nuclear physicist, pointed out that it is completely pointless to try to explain quantum mechanics to someone who cannot count. Accordingly, I can understand that a musically gifted person may find my great interest in music to be both naive and ridiculously limited. Nevertheless, that didn't stop me from already as a very young man voluntarily sign up for violin lessons and since that time I have been enthusiastically listening to violin music and with great interest been reading quite a lot of literature about the world of musicians.



Batthyany, Sacha and Mathias Ninck (2013) ”Der Geigen-Spieler”, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 27 Mai. De Pascale, Enrico and Giorgio Ferraris (2017) ”Baschenis”, Art e dossier, N. 344. Hersh, Stefan (2013) Antonio Stradivari and the Lipínski Violin. Holm, Carsten (2012) ”Ending on a Sour Note: How the World´s Top Stradivarius Dealer Misplayed,” Spiegel International, May 10. Holman, Peter (1992) Sleeve notes – The Locatelli Trio: The Devil's Trill & other violin sonatas. London: Hyperion Records. Ivashkin, Alexander, ed. (2002). A Schnittke Reader. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Lomax, Alan (1993) The Land Where the Blues Began. London: Methuen. Lugli, Massimo (2008) ”Arrestato per la truffa degli Stradivari allievo di Karajan si uccide a Roma”, La Repubblica, 1 novembre. Mangani, Cristina and Adelaide Perucci (2012) ”La grande truffa degli Stradivari”, Il Messaggero, 21 ottobre. Rice, Anne (1997) Violin. New York: Ballantine Books. Ruju, Pasquale and Roberto Rinaldi (2006) Dylan Dog No. 235: Sonata Macabra. Milano: Sergio Bonelli Editore. Schoenbaum, David (2012) The Violin: A Social History of the World´s Most Versatile Instrument. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Seth, Vikram (1999) An Equal Music. New York: Broadway Books.



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