Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) is remembered today as the most famous violin maker in history; approximately 500 of his violins survive today, along with a few violas and cellos, of the 1,000 or so instruments he built. His greatest rival was Bartolomeo Guiseppe Antonio Guarneri, del Gesù. There are fewer than 200 of his instruments today, all violins except for one cello. The instrument known as “the Mona Lisa of violins” is the 1741 Vieuxtemps, a Guarneri del Gesù, renowned for the richness of its sound and variety of musical colors. It is named for a previous owner, the 19th-century Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps.
This violin is distinctive not only for its sound; it’s been played in modern times by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Philippe Quint. It’s also believed to be the most expensive violin ever purchased. Its previous owner kept it under a bed for 50 years, and it was recently sold for an estimated $16 million. Its current owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, has awarded exclusive lifetime use of the instrument to Anne Akiko Meyers.
This album of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is the violin’s recording debut. There are two other works: Arvo Pärt’s Baroque-inspired Passacaglia , and a triple violin concerto by Vivaldi. That performance is an opportunity to hear a fine array of the instrument’s colors, as Meyers performs all three solo parts on the Vieuxtemps. Tune in this week for these marvelous performances, and don’t miss Meyers’ conversation with Classical WETA’s Deb Lamberton here.