What makes the 1741 Guarneri ‘Kreisler’ violin so special?

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PURCHASING THE 1741 ‘Kreisler’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin would swell the pockets of even a top performer like Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider (pictured) – he has his instrument on long-term loan thanks to the generosity of various foundations.

Valuable instruments, in particular Stradivari and Guarneri violins, have sold for huge sums in recent years. The ‘del Gesù’ tells us that this violin is made by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ (1698-1744), the greatest of the Guarneri family of luthiers based in Cremona, Italy. In fact, Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ is Antonio Stradivari’s (1644-1737) chief rival in terms of reputation, and many prominent players and collectors appreciate the darker, more robust tone of his instruments above the generally brighter tone of Stradivaris. Indeed, the most expensive violin in the world is currently the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri “del Gesù”, which sold in 2013 for $16 million. He is currently played by Anne Akiko Meyerswho was granted the lifetime loan of its use.

The 1741 ‘Kreisler’ Guarneri is so named because the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler was one of the previous owners (from 1904-17). It should not be confused with the Guarneri “Kreisler” of 1733, another “del Gesù” previously owned by Kreisler and now in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

The 1741 violin is highly valued by Szeps-Znaider: “I find it fascinating that this instrument belonged to the great Fritz Kreisler,” he says. “And during the period that Kreisler owned this violin, he played it for all his concerts and recordings. So in 1910, when he premiered Elgar’s Violin Concerto, conducted by Elgar, it was on this violin. It’s very special to have something that was built a long time ago and sounds so amazing in a modern setting.

Said Philip Scott, Director of Musical Instruments at Bonham Auctioneers: “When you spend so much on a violin, it’s pretty much the same as buying into a successful business because it has a great provenance. You expect to pay a premium for an instrument that has an excellent track record both in terms of sounding wonderful and having been owned by extraordinary musicians in the past. Plus, you get closer to the hand of a master who was responsible for creating an instrument on which an amazing repertoire has been delivered over time.

Scott suggests that Kreisler ownership increases the value of the Szeps-Znaider violin by “30, 40, even 50 percent,” but, of course, an instrument’s heritage isn’t the only factor determining its value: tone is still vital. As Scott points out, a number of noble violins have undergone alterations in the hands of restorers over the years and may not sound as their makers would recognize, “although any credible auctioneer will want to inform the buyer as much as possible of what he was actually buying, otherwise there would be repercussions in the future.

Photo: Lars Gundersen

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