David Rattray, the Royal Academy of Music's Instrument Custodian, examining the Viotti Stradavari violin. Courtesy Royal Academy of Music.
A musical instrument made by the renowned Antonio Stradavari and described as one of the world’s most important violins has been acquired by the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The ‘Viotti ex-Bruce’ Stradavari – named in honour of its former owner – has been in the UK for more than 80 years and the bid to buy it has been a very public affair with impassioned appeals on BBC 2’s The Culture Show and in the national press.
Thanks to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council’s (MLA) Acceptance in Lieu scheme, private donations and contributions from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and National Art Collections Fund, it has finally been acquired for £3.5 million.
"We are delighted to have helped secure this very great violin for the nation," enthused Professor Curtis Price KBE, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. "It joins what is already one of the largest collections of Strads in the world, and our specialised facilities will provide the Viotti with a secure, permanent home where everyone will be able to see and hear it."
The String Gallery at the academy's York Gate Collections. Photo: Nick Turpin.
More than 260 years after his death, Antonio Stradivari – whose violins are more commonly known as ‘a Stradivarius’ – remains the unchallenged master of violin making. Yet despite already holding examples of his instruments, the academy’s Peter Craik told the 24 Hour Museum that acquiring this particular one is a real coup: "This is a really special one," he said.
"It is in an extraordinary condition," he added, "pretty much all the original varnish is still there." But more than that, he said, "what’s really exciting" is the connection with Viotti, the man who played it.
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) is recognised as the ‘father’ of modern violin playing. A rival of Paganini, Viotti was the man who – through his concerts in Paris and London in the 1780s and 90s - first alerted listeners to Stradivari’s instruments.
Viotti was highly influential in the founding of the Paris Conservatoire, which itself had a great influence on the founding of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1822. But for staff at the academy, the real excitement of acquiring Viotti’s Stradivari was only recently discovered by researchers.
Back in 2004 a vast archive of material once belonging to the late violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin was acquired by the academy. Among the papers was a manuscript by Viotti thought for years to be lost, but written to be played on this particular instrument.
As Peter put it: "We’ve now got the complete work to play and the violin to play it on!"
Following its acquisition, the Viotti ex-Bruce Stradivari will go on permanent display in the strings gallery at the academy’s free museum, the York Gate Collections. Under controlled conditions, it will also occasionally be played.