Missing Violin

A couple of years ago, Minnesota Orchestra violinist Chouhei Min had her Guadagnini violin (price tag: over $500,000) stolen from the Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Let’s see what made this missing violin so precious and special.

Min said ‘This really is every musician’s nightmare who owns such a fine instrument’, and she added: ‘It sounded just like something that belongs to me, my personality sounded in it, the instrument responded to the way how I worked on it. It’s just like raising your child, and when you are a decent parent, you will raise a decent child.’

Wouldn’t you think that a church could be the safest place to keep such a treasure while you’re having a coffee with members of the audience after a recital? Well, apparently not, as Min’s 231-year-old valuable violin was stolen from Minneapolis’ Mount Olive Lutheran Church on Sunday night, May 16th.

It is a violin by J B Guadagnini, Turin, bearing his label dated 1778, and is a good example of violins of that period. The varnish has a red-brown color, and the instrument’s belly is spruce with open grain. The back is a one-piece maple, and the maker added some pieces in the lower flanks. The violin was originally from a George Hart collection and is listed in the Guadagnini book by Doring (The Ex-Hart).

Famous Violin Makers – The Guadagnini Family

Giovanni Battista Guadagnini was one of the world’s best-known violin makers and recognized as one of the best and most talented craftsmen of string musical instruments that history has produced. He is generally considered the 3rd greatest violin makers, just after Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737, Cremona, Italy), and Giuseppe Guarneri ‘Del Gesù’ (1698 – 1744, Cremona, Italy).

Giovanni Guadagnini had arrived from Parma in the Turin in 1771 where he met Ignazio Alessandro Cozio, a young nobleman who was dreaming of making Italy a great violin-making country again. Giovanni Guadagnini, who at that time was a student at the Cremonese school, would be the perfect person to make this dream come true.

Cozio became even more enthusiastic when Guadagnini revealed to him that the Stradivari family still possessed several unsold instruments and many of the forms and tools from the Stradivari workshop, the single one workshop that was preserved from Italy’s classical period.

This resulted in the acquisition by Cozio of the Stradivari workshop including the instruments and all other content. Consequently, Guadagnini and the count signed a contract stating that Cozio would provide all required materials and wood to Guadagnini, and Cozio also agreed to purchase every single instrument that he made from that wood.

The agreement was lasting from 1773 until 1776, but after it had ended, Guadagnini continued to work for Cozio, but merely to sell the instruments and as a skilled restorer of musical instruments.

When Guadagnini arrival in Turin, he continued to work in his Parma style, and the violins from his early Turin period are indeed looking quite similar to those of his Parma years, but of course he had to use local, different, wood. In Turin, he had to use mountain maple instead of the rooty maple found in the Po Valley, and he was using a more reddish gold varnish rather than the more subdued brown colors he used during his later Parma years.

Cozio was requesting that Guadagnini would use Stradivari’s tools and the Stradivari form, but Guadagnini continued on his old ways. He only agreed to slightly adjust the arching shape and to add a Stradivari-like black edging to the scrolls.

By the time the agreement with Cozio had come to an end, however, Guadagnini’s style, for whatever reason, became more and more influenced by Stradivari. His inspiration came from the later instruments of Stradivari, and this resulted in a Stradivarian-like violin that was more heavy in tone, and had thick, broad edges and corners and came with a deep reddish-purple varnish. Guadagnini’s signature ‘f’ (with the oval holes), had now been replaced by a Stradivarian-like ‘f’, and rounder holes.

Giovanni Guadagnini passed away in 1786, and his two sons Gaetano I (1750–1817) and Carlo (1768–1816) continued their father’s business, but it was a time of economic downturn, and also the Turin firm’s exports to France came to an end after the 1789 French Revolution. All across Italy, violin makers were forced to turn to making other instruments to be able to survive, and the Guadagnini generations after Giovanni Battista were predominantly known for their guitars.