Violin dealer sent to Vienna for trial

Violin dealer sent to Vienna for trial


norman lebrecht

December 19, 2011

The flamboyant violin dealer Dietmar Machold will not face the mercies of Swiss justice.

Machold, who declared bankruptcy last year, was arrested in Switzerland ten months ago on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Five Stradivarius and four Guarnerius are among 17 instruments, worth $50 million, that the authorities in both countries would like to trace.

Machold lived the high life in a Schloss. His expectations will be rather lower now. He was transferred at the weekend to Vienna, where he will face trial.

Arrested: Dietmar Machold, pictured in his Austrian castle, has been taken into custody in Switzerland after going on the run when prosecutors announced he was being investigated for fraud


  • This is such a hot topic. There are many people who would say that modern instruments are as good as Stradivari or Del Gesu violins; and these people can site incredible corruption in the ranks of violin dealers. And that corruption is there. But on the other side, if you listen to the two violins that someone like Clement Arrison has bought and loaned to prominent players through the Stradivari society, there’s a different perspective. These violins, a Stradivari and a Del Gesu, are both amazing instruments played by amazing artists (The Strad is played by Augustin Hadelich and the Del Gesu is played by Yi-Jia Susanne Hou). The Guarneri The Strad I’m not completely 100% sure that these are the Arrison instruments because they have both played on other Strad of Del Gesu instruments, but the quality is evident. Now, can all this corruption stop, please?

  • ariel says:

    Many years ago a test was done in one of the best concert halls of the world -from the finest Guarnari, strad
    amati to a slew of modern instruments – the player was a famous virtuoso and all violins were played from behind
    a screen so judging would not be influenced by a recognizable maker . The modern instrument won hands down .
    This dreadful game and sky high pricing started with the Japanese desire to own items from the western world
    remember sunflower around 52 million sold a while back closer to 25 million – quite a loss – so some one wanting
    to own a “name ” pays an extravagant price and violin dealers wake up with a start and realize what they are missing $$$$- and so begins the hype only a strad only del gesu can answer the true artist needs and violinists
    join in in the game of one up – after all you can’t be a great virtuoso and play a Geo Shlump violin.,
    you must have a rare name instrument . we are conned by dealers and violinists alike -they act
    as dreadful auctioneers hawking to the greed of possession -everything is priceless but they mean the
    “name” is the market price . No – I am not knocking the old instruments , some, mind you some are without doubt
    great sounding but there are also great contemporary makers . An idle sketch found would be in the waste
    basket but say it is by Da Vinci and a whole new world of meaning $$$$$ opens up based on guess what ?
    People hear what they want to hear – you have a first rate Shlump fiddle and it is beautiful sounding
    but say it is a Strad and people will hear things they never dreamed of hearing by a Shlump . Violin dealers
    no longer sell violins that produce a beautiful sound they sell names . they have sunk to the level of
    auctioneers . There is at present a renowned violinist who plays on a contemporary violin, I believe he has
    not voiced any great desire for the older instruments and his audience comes away more than pleased and
    I yet have to hear anyone say I wish we could have heard the concert played on a Del Gesu …which also brings to the point that a great player can make almost any good violin sound wonderful .

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Ariel and Roelof bring up very interesting points about old vs new strings. Can someone provide hyperlinks to specific stories about blind tests?

      Here is one I found:

      Ariel, I suppose you mean Christian Tetzlaff is the violinist who plays a modern instrument (a Greiner).

    • I think you mean Tetzlaff? He plays on a Peter Griener: Many if not all of the touring virtuosi have a modern violin or a modern copy that they will use in a concert when they feel like it without hardly anyone the wiser. And then there’s Dylana Jenson, whose Del Gesu was taken away from her when her benefactor thought that her getting married showed she wasn’t interested in her career. After many years of struggles, she now plays on a Zygmuntowicz…

    • I have to say that I don’t know about these blind tests and all. Chosing a violin is such an immensely personal choice that whether an audience approves of this or that violin is not really relevant. It’s a personal choice. Also, political leaders are chosen by “audience favorite,” does this show that these are “the best.” Does it? Also, there’s this and that guff about famous violinists not wanting to put their instruments up for the blind test, which seems reasonable to me. If you got married, would you want your wife to then be submitted to an audience favorite beauty contest to see whether people thought you made a sane choice? And I wonder how far it would go in comparison that certain fast food restaurants or makers of prefabricated condiments would end up being audience favorites as well, over an organic meal. There is this whole fascination with quick fix and with a kind of hyped up in your face sound, or the more glamorous dreamy sound. I’m just saying. Modern instruments are amazing, and again it’s ridiculous that they only become more valuable after the maker is dead (what does this say about how people value things!?). I still have to say that I find the old Cremonese instruments have one extremely subtle difference, in that they are made in an acoustic manner, a lost art, which brings resonances together that are so subtle it brings people out of their comfort zone. I also wonder how much the well tempered system has to do with this lost art. Just about everything you hear is influenced by the well tempered system and it’s exploitation of color, whether or not these colors are in complete just intonation. This does influence how people hear everything, and in how they become immune to very slight ruff edges, and in Stradivari or Del Gesu’s time, there wasn’t this compromise to allow for the modern well tempered keyboard and it’s ability to modulate to many different keys. The resonances were more pure. I’m not knocking modern makers, but I think the answer to what makes a good violin is simpler perhaps than a new secret uncovered each year as to what made the old ones so great.

      • AVI says:

        It’s not daft for objects which require craftsmanship to become more valuable once the make is deceased; it’s logical. Once the creator can no longer make any more, there are then a finite number of objects s/he created in existence. Provided demand outstrips supply, the price will increase.

        • I understand that it’s logical that something with true craftsmanship with finite availability becomes more valuable. What I was referring too, is that a modern maker would make more money if he suddenly faked his own death, stopped making instruments all together (or somehow made everyone think he had made more than he did and managed to make people think new instruments of his were discovered over the years after his death, as he still made them). In fact the moment he would be reported to be dead, his instruments would go up in value. And how many composers are there whose music now is an avenue for billions of dollars each year, while in their lifetime they hardly survived? I didn’t say that there’s no value to craftsmanship, but this doesn’t seem to be about craftsmanship but about money and making money off of craftsmen who are already conveniently dead and can be used as an image to mesmerize people with to make money off of. How many violin dealers are listed here with felony convictions:

  • ariel says:

    The article you refer to shows only too well how incompetent most of the blind tests are and how dealers
    will dismiss any results as unscientific mainly because they must unload a lot of their second rate
    stock on unsuspecting customers .Most violin dealers are much like art dealers and you know how
    you must keep your wits about you when interacting with art dealers . the you tube examples of Hou and
    Hadelich mean nothing – they are two different violins playing different works with two different artists and the
    pick up sound of the violin is way off in both so it is difficult to tell if either player has any understanding of
    the instrument outside of finger accuracy -they both seem to saw away at full throttle to impress

    • Ariel, I hear beauty in both the instruments and their players. That as you say this “means nothing” to you is evident. But this isn’t the case with everyone that listens. And no, they aren’t modern “studio” recordings where the microphone is so close that one can hear the nostril hairs of the performer vibrating. Regardless, I hear value. Neither would the “pickup” of the sound change what’s there (the sound of the violin itself) and what’s still possible for anyone to hear that truly listens. The same, a great instrument reaches to every place in a hall. I don’t pretend that this needs to be anything more than subjective; but it deserves mentioning that a patron, despite costs, took the trouble to donate the use of extremely expensive instruments that both he and the performers evidently highly value. They are good investments, but he isn’t required to let anyone use them.

  • ariel says:

    Mr. Bijkerk – You miss the point – the premise was comparison of instruments -and this is no way to compare.
    This sort of comparison means “nothing ” I was not referring to the instruments though in all
    honesty what you hear on you tube has little bearing on the “true” sound of the instrument even if
    you claim otherwise . That the “patron” allows someone to play the instrument is good advertisment considering
    that a played on instrument is a better off instrument and gives it wider visibility to a future sale. No he isn’t
    required to let anyone use the violins but let us not be naive -a strad played on by great virtuoso xyz has
    greater commercial value than a Strad with limited history. Its all in the name .You don’t for one second
    believe that a Japanese business man forks out 3or 4 million bucks for an instrument he can’t play just
    because he loves violins – he buys a western icon a “STRAD” and as time goes on the demand artificially
    manipulated the price goes up . There was a time when violinists could afford to own good instruments
    but the investor closed that door . You don’t find the investor buying contemporary fiddles -they
    have no idea what is good – but they do know the value of a name and that is what they buy .

  • Oh… No I actually wasn’t trying to suggest comparison. What I meant was that modern violins certainly do the job; are worth looking into and honoring for the craft that goes into them; can be very beautiful instruments, and certainly are more affordable. But on the other hand there’s incredible beauty in the old Cremonese instruments and they warrant being heard. And this was just when bel canto singing and opera came into being, when these instrument were crafted. I don’t think that one need to chose one over the other. To say that modern instruments are better than old instruments because it’s all a bunch of image brainwashing for investors that are trying to con people into buying these over priced glowing spooks, overlooks why they became such an ideal instrument to have in the first place. And I don’t think that a player has to have an old instrument and that without one they aren’t up to par with the rest of the circuit. I’m trying to separate the true value of the instrument from the way it’s used as an investment. And I know they are being traded and given names from the performer that used it, all increasing the value; and a performer can have put his heart into an instrument and have got to know it, form a partnership, only to have it snatched away to be sold again.

  • ariel says:

    No one is down grading the great Cremonese school of makers -the observation is how dealers , fiddle players
    the ignorant press -have played this game to the point where only multi millionaires can afford the instruments .
    No one is saying that modern makers are better only that they should be heard on an equal footing. You should
    see the games played with violin bows and how the con artists play that one.

    There is a great story of how after a concert a listener was commenting to Jascha Heifetz on how
    wonderful a concert it was due to his playing on such a maqnificent instrument and Heifetz looking down at the instrument in its open case commenting in his terse manner – “funny , I don’t hear anything .”

    I have heard wretched performances on great instruments and great performances on wretched instruments .