The first chords of the 66th season of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra will resound in NAU’s Ardrey Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 25. When the star of the evening, acclaimed violin soloist Rachel Barton Pine, takes the stage to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto, she will have in hand a long-time partner – a 273-year-old violin with a remarkable history.
Her instrument, known today as the “ex-Bazzini ex-Soldat.” was made in 1742 by Joseph Guarneri “del Gesù” (1698-1744), who is considered to be one of the two greatest violin makers of all time. Guarneri was called del Gesù (literally, “of Jesus”) because his labels after 1731 were imprinted with the sacred letters I.H.S., and a Roman cross. Today fewer than 200 of Guarneri’s violins survive. The quality and scarcity of his instruments have resulted in modern sale prices of almost $20 million. “Del Gesù” violins have been the preferred instruments of many famous violinists including Paganini, Kreisler, Heifetz, Stern, and Zukerman.
German composer Johannes Brahms was at the height of his career in 1879 when he was introduced to 15-year-old Marie Soldat, a gifted violinist. Taken by her virtuosity, Brahms welcomed her into his inner circle and she became a lifelong friend. In 1897, as he was writing his Violin Concerto, Brahms selected a particular Guarneri violin for Soldat to perform his new work. The violin, which had a full and rich tone, had belonged to Antonio Bazzini, an Italian violinist who had recently died. Brahms then persuaded a wealthy Viennese businessman to purchase the instrument and loan it to Soldat for her lifetime. The Brahms concerto became her signature piece.
After Soldat’s death, her violin was bought by a collector and disappeared for many years. In 2002, Rachel Barton Pine became the fortunate recipient of a lifetime loan of the instrument from an anonymous patron. The Guarneri has a one-piece back and is in remarkably good condition with much of its original varnish and no major repairs. Barton Pine says, “The ex-Bazzini, ex-Soldat is truly my voice. Since I started playing it, I’m not even curious to try other violins anymore!” She believes Brahms may have chosen this violin, in part, because its voice represents most closely what he envisioned for his concerto.
“With the ex-Bazzini, ex-Soldat in my hands,” she says, “I can never accept that sounding good is good enough. I’m always seeking more nuances and subtleties, because whatever I envision can be found in this instrument and I often stumble across colors I hadn’t even thought of yet. It’s truly a collaborative relationship.
“I love the fact that Brahms heard “my” violin in the hands of his protégée, Marie Soldat. It’s amazing to know something of an instrument’s history and realize that you’re the next chapter in its life. Hopefully, it will have lots more adventures long after I’m gone.”
Rachel Barton Pine performs the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra on September 25th at the NAU Ardrey Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased by telephone at (928) 523-5661 or online at the NAU Central Ticketing Office.
Can’t wait for the September 25th concert? Take a peek at this video of Rachel Barton Pine as she gives a short introduction to this famous Violin on YouTube.
Part Two comes next week!
*Image Copyright © 2015 courtesy of Rachel Barton Pine.