The historic 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" Stradivarius violin was crafted in 1720 by Antonio Stradivari, who lovingly made his instruments in his small shop in Cremona, Italy centuries ago, and remains the most famous violin maker of all time. Not long after its creation, the instrument appeared to vanish from the radar screen; no one knows where or to whom the violin belonged for more than 200 years, spawning any number of historians, writers, journalists, critics as well as Canadian filmmaker, Francois Girard, to speculate on the violin's mysterious history. Girard's imaginative speculations became the narrative for his beloved film, "The Red Violin."
The 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" Stradivarius would eventually surface in 1930s Berlin. It had been purchased by an heir to the great composer, Felix Mendelssohn. In 1956, it was purchased by a New York industrialist who kept the instrument in impeccable Red Violin performance condition. Much of its original burnished red varnish remains on the violin today, and it is thought to be one of the best sounding and most beautiful of Stradivari's remaining violins. Then on Thanksgiving Day in 1990, the instrument's fate would once again be triggered when the industrialist opted to put the Red Violin on the auction block anonymously at Christie's of London. While some of the worlds' most powerful sought to win the coveted instrument, it landed in the hands of ¨then sixteen year old American solo violinist, Elizabeth Pitcairn.
She wisely kept her new instrument secret as she continued to work on her technique and musicianship. The Red Mendelssohn Strad became her practice instrument in the security of her own home in rural Pennsylvania, while a more ordinary fiddle went with her to the University of Southern California. Even when she began to use her Strad in public, she did not yet reveal its true identity.
Only after winning acclaim completely on her own merits was she ready to announce the identity of her musical partner at her professional debut as a soloist with the New York String Orchestra at Lincoln Center in 2003. Ever since, as she says, the "buzz" was never just about the violin; it was about the girl and the violin.
Her repertoire? Since shortly after Girard's film came out, Pitcairn has been playing the Red Violin Chaconne, a piece for violin and orchestra which composer John Corigliano based on his award-winning film music. Now she's frequently in demand to perform that piece.
How does it feel to play that music on the specific instrument for which it it was written?
"It's kind of spooky," she has said. "When I'm playing that Chaconne, that's when the violin can tell its own story; that's when it can actually speak."
Sources: Brandt Ford Expositor