THE PURCHASE OF the 1741 ‘Kreisler’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin would stretch the pockets of even a top performer such as Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider (pictured) – he has his instrument on long-term loan through the generosity of various foundations.
Cherished instruments, particularly Stradivarius and Guarneri violins, have been selling 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 the main rival to Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) in terms of reputation, and many leading players and collectors value the darker and more robust tone of his instruments above the generally brighter tone of Stradivaris. Indeed, the world’s most expensive violin is currently the 1741 ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’, which in 2013 sold for a reported $16m. It is currently played by Anne Akiko Meyers, who has been granted the lifetime loan of its use.
The 1741 ‘Kreisler’ Guarneri is so named as the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler was a previous owner (from 1904-17). It is not to be confused with the 1733 ‘Kreisler’ Guarneri, another ‘del Gesù’ previously owned by Kreisler and now owned by the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
The 1741 violin is much valued by Szeps-Znaider: ‘I find it fascinating that this instrument used to belong to the great Fritz Kreisler,’ he says. ‘And during the time that Kreisler owned this violin he played it for all of his concerts and recordings. So in 1910 when he premiered the Elgar Violin Concerto, with Elgar conducting, it was on this violin. It’s very special to have something that was built that long ago sound so incredible in a modern setting.’
Says Philip Scott, director of musical instruments at Bonham’s auctioneers: ‘When you spend that much on a violin, it’s much the same way as buying into a successful company, as it has a great provenance. You expect to pay a premium for an instrument that has a great track record both in terms of sounding wonderfully well and having been owned by extraordinary musicians in the past. Plus, you’re getting close 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’s ownership ups the worth of Szeps-Znaider’s violin by ‘I’d think 30, 40, even 50 per cent’ but, of course, an instrument’s heritage isn’t the sole factor in determining its value: the tone is still vital. As Scott points out, a number of noble violins have undergone changes at the hands of the restorers over the years and may not sound as their makers would recognise, ‘though any credible auctioneer would want to inform the buyer as much as possible about what he was actually buying, or there would be repercussions in the future.’
Photo: Lars Gundersen