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Most Expensive Musical Instrument – Updated!

Due to the immense popularity of the Most Expensive Muscial Instrument – where I have posted the largest sum of money for a violin sold at auction as $2,032,000 for the “Lady Tennant” Stradivarius – I now bring you an update discovered while reading through Toby Faber’s book, blankStradivari’s Genius: Five Violins, One Cello, and Three Centuries of Enduring Perfection.

According to Faber:

“One of the violins [on display at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum] was made by Andrea Amati in 1564, part of a commission for Charles IX of France. It is the oldest surviving violin in the world, an exquisite piece of workmanship. The Civic Museum in Cremona has one from the same set [of thirty-eight string instruments commissioned by King Charles], but dated 1566, that was recently valued at $10 million” (pg. 5).

In addition to the 1564 Amati, the Ashmolean Museum also houses the “Messiah” Stradivarius:

“There it hangs, suspended in its case, visible from every angle, pristine, its varnish as flawless as when Stradivari applied the last few drops in 1716. It is in mint condition because this, the most famous violin in the world, template for countless copies, has hardly ever been played” (Faber 5).

It seems that even Stradvari was so enchanted with the sound that he wouldn’t sell it. (Faber 52)

But, $10 million for an Amati…! Now that’s expensive! $$$

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Very Cool Concert Opportunity…

….And, boy, do I wish I could go!

On May 8th, at 7:30 pm, the Idyllwild Arts Orchestra will be performing at the Colburn School’s Zipper Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The program will feature three world premiers, including: No-Ja-Li “The Palace of Silence” reconstructed from Claude Debussy‘s original score through the efforts of musicologist Robert Orledge; “Moving, Still” by Peter Askim; and “Swan Song” by Richard Danielpour. Also by Richard Danielpour is “A Fool’s Paradise”, a violin concerto to be performed that night by acclaimed violinist, Timothy Fain.

World debuts are such fun, because the listener is treated to music that has never been heard before, thrust into the divine unknown! Be sure not to miss it! Check here for more details on the concert.

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Study Determines Beethoven’s Cause of Death

“By focusing the most powerful X-ray beam in the Western Hemisphere on six of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s hairs and a few pieces of his skull, scientists have gathered what they say is conclusive evidence that the famous composer died of lead poisoning.”

— Rick Weiss, Washington Post

Beethoven portrait

According to this fascinating article, a study done at the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago “confirms earlier hints that lead may have caused Beethoven’s decades of poor health, which culminated in a long and painful death in 1827 at age 56.” The hair samples used in the test “were from an authenticated lock of Beethoven’s hair purchased by a collector from Sotheby’s several years ago,” and, while the lead atoms in these samples were at levels 100 times higher than normal, “[o]ne metal that was clearly absent was mercury…a detail that weakens the hypothesis floated by some that Beethoven had syphilis, which in those days was commonly treated with mercury.”

“Still a mystery, however, is the source of Beethoven’s lead exposure, which evidence now suggests occurred over many years. Among the possibilities are his liberal indulgence in wine consumed from lead cups or perhaps a lifetime of medical treatments, which in the 19th century were often laced with heavy metals.” The lead poisoning does explain Beethoven’s serious health problems, which developed in his twenties and grew progressively worse over the years. His famous deafness, however, is a dubious symptom, since “deafness has only rarely been associated with lead poisoning.”

While there remain many questions left unanswered, science has made an enormous contribution to clarifying the exact cause of Ludwig van Beethoven’s death.

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The Miracle Earplug

According to a post by Scott Crandall on on September 29, 2005,

“…I am a returning adult student. I could not tell if my notes were in tune, I could tell if someone else’s notes were in tune, but not mine. There is a chain on this website where a professional violinist tells how he had trouble playing in tune, but when he used headphones in the recording studio his intonation was fine, [his] solution was to use an earplug in his left ear. After reading that I did some research. I found many articles dealing with hearing problems in violinist’s left ear, seems we subject our left ear to decibels that would not be permitted in Factory environments (up to 115 decibels). I also talked to my daughter’s vocal professor who had data that our right ear reacts faster to musical tones than our left.

“To make a long story short I began using one foam ear plug in my left ear….what a difference in my intonation, no more scratching noises in my ear from the bow, you would not believe how loud and distracting that is until you don’t hear it anymore. Since using the earplug I can hear my Intonation. I may not be hitting all notes correct initially yet, but now I know when they are incorrect and can make the correction needed, right away. My first lesson with the ear plug, blew my instructor away…we had been fighting intonation problems for 3 months to that point, he’d told me he didn’t know what else to do that maybe I had a physiological problem… well I did. Now I am making progress and I like to hear myself play. Periodically I don’t use the plug as an honesty check… the result convinces me all over again that the plug works. It may not be your solution, try one earplug in your left ear, see if that helps.”

So, what of this miracle plug? I confess I was initially skeptical, because I knew that using a practice mute similarly cuts out the resonating harmonics (and a few decibels) of a bowed string, in effect dulling the sound. And, for me, I actually found myself losing my sense of accuracy when playing with a heavy practice mute (see a similar complaint by Larry Brandt).

Continue reading The Miracle Earplug

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Most Expensive Musical Instrument

“The Stradivarius violin, known to musicians worldwide as ‘The Lady Tennant’ was recently purchased at Christie’s for $2,032,000, the highest amount ever paid for a musical instrument at auction.”

The Lady Tennant was crafted in 1699, and was first owned by Charles Philippe Lafont, a contemporary of Nicolo Paganini. On June 15, 2005 (that’s tomorrow!), “the most expensive musical instrument purchased at auction will be played in public for the first time in twenty-five years at the Kennedy Center by Tchaikovsky prize winner and soloist, Yang Liu“.

Yang Liu

The instrument was bestowed on Liu by the Stradivari Society as an indefinite loan. “In accepting the honor, Mr. Liu paid homage to the new ‘Lady’ in his life: ‘I have been given a soul mate for life, one with whom I shall share the most intimate communication with the world.'”

Thanks to Kay Pech for sending this report to me!

Update: An archived copy of Yang Liu’s performance on “The Lady Tennant” is now available.

Update: Look here to read about an even more expensive violin…!

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My Way Cool Term Paper

I had the distinct pleasure (yes, pleasure!) of researching and writing a brief college paper on a topic of great fascination. (This, of course, was the reason for my lengthy disappearance from the blogging world, in case you’ve been wondering. . .)

My paper is titled, “Tuvan Throat Singing, and the Legend of the Horse Head Fiddle”. Now, you may be wondering, first, where on this green earth is Tuva, and second, what have these two things got in common? You’d be surprised. I was.

Read the rest of this entry (and download the PDF document) »

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The Next Mozart?

According to an article by 60 Minutes on, twelve year old Jay Greenberg is a “prodigy on the level of the greatest [compositional] prodigies in history . . . the likes of Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Saint-Saens” (Sam Zyman, composer and teacher at Juilliard). At the age of twelve, Jay has already written five full-length symphonies, by ten he started attending Juilliard on a full scholarship, at age eleven he began studying music theory alongside third-year college students, and by fourteen he expects to finish high school. His ability is apparently innate, for neither of his parents are musicians and say that Jay began expressing a fascination with musical instruments as early as two years of age.

While everyone agrees that Jay has an impressive gift, composer and Juilliard professor Sam Adler makes a valid point, that, like Beethoven, only with constant questioning and searching, with maturity, will Jay become truly great. To hear the music in your head is a wonderful talent, but it takes work and study to effectively bring it about on the page for the rest of the masses to take part in and appreciate.

It will indeed be fascinating to watch the development of this young composer, and to see where his music will take us.

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The Composer’s Cranium

The composer of interest here is none other than the famous Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, Austria has in its possession what is thought to be the skull of W.A. Mozart. The artifact has been kept from public view for over 100 years, due to the uncertainty of its origins. However, the Foundation has recently agreed to make the skull available for DNA testing. Archaelogists have opened a grave in Salzburg and exhumed the bodies of what may be the young composer’s father, Leopold Mozart, and other relatives. Experts plan on comparing what genetic material remains with those of the skull in question. Click here to see the full article.

If the skull is confirmed as that of our young musical genius, I wonder what things we can learn from the speciman? Or perhaps only the fascination of holding the 300 year old skull of such a celebrity will be enough.