‘The finest viola in existence’?

The New York Times, which is helping Sotheby’s hype up the price for the late Peter Schidlof’s Stradivarius,  pays no critical attention to the claims made for the instrument, or to its projected $45 million price. It is one of only ten extant Strad violas.

Here is David Aaron Carpenter playing the instrument that was heard in its heyday as part of the Amadeus Quartet.

Does anyone know a superior viola?

peter schidlof

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  • Really interesting clip. I had a try on a Strad viola a few years ago but wasn’t convinced about the depth of sound if I’m really honest.

    The thing that really gripped me about this clip though is the length of Peter Schidlof’s fourth finger!!!!! No wonder his elbow never leaves the side of his body… he doesn’t move his arm to get around the rib of the viola, just extends his Mr. Tickle fingers.

    Never seen any other fourth finger like it 🙂 !!

  • Dear Norman

    Yes, I do know a superior viola and I am having the luck to play it. It is the “Gibson” Stradivari Viola, 1734. The last built by the cremonese master. A superb instrument.

    The selling price for the “MacDonald” is impressive but I am sure there are collectors paying such an amount to fulfill their dream of having a complete Stradivari quartet in their collection. I really hope that it will be played and not locked down in a safe.

    Also the number of extant Stradivari Violas is a topic which is discussed by many experts. Some say there are only 9, some say there are even 12…

  • What an amazing violist and musician Peter Schidlof was!!! Hearing and watching this video of Schidlof makes me realise how few musicians play on that level today. I’m not only talking about technique, as that we can easily find nowadays. I’m talking about mastery of the form, of inner depth, of musical intensity, of phrasing, of erudite mastery and musical conviction. The Sotheby’s/New York Times video with the Carpenter boy playing Bach makes the Strad viola sound impressive, but there is sadly none of what Peter Schidlof had in the music making and no comprehension of Bach whatsoever. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Wow, David, I am deeply impressed! Carpenter only plays a few moments of Bach, which to my obviously unenlightened ears actually sound really quite good, not just tonally, but also musically, I like the way he shapes the phrases in one big arch and emphasizes the modulations through articulation – but those few seconds are enough for you to determine that he has “co comprehension of Bach whatsoever”. Again, wow! You must be an incredible expert on the music of Bach. I would really like to learn more about Bach from you. Could you post a video of you playing this piece which demonstrates how it should be done, and what Carpenter does so completely wrong here?

      Many thanks in advance!

      • The entire Bach can be seen on the New York Times website, so I am assuming that Mr. Butler saw more than a “few seconds”, as I have seen also. While I wouldn’t go so far to say that there is “no comprehension of Bach whatsoever”, I would say that it is a type of playing that emphasises technique above deep thoughtful, and above all, sensitive musicality. It’s good, but not amazing in any way. I think the comparison to what one feels when hearing Peter Schidlof play, especially on the Walton excerpt, is self evident. With Schidlof, and in spite of a video and sound recording dating back over 45 years, one instantly is hit with an amazing visceral intensity, of an honest, unpretentious and mature music making and a technical mastery on top of that, making it as close to perfection as you can get. Perhaps with time, hard work, and age, Mr. Carpenter will mature and achieve what is missing in his performance.

    • I have to agree Daniel. when I studied with Schidlof I was impressed by his completely natural way of playing. For the record I played the Macdonald briefly (and the Archinto) but by far preferred the Bergonzi viola he used in his lessons with me. Sadly I never got to see the Wilf Saunders viola he had……

      • Hi David, bizarrely I just found your quote on this thread and thought you might be interested to know I have just bought Peter Schidlof’s Wilf Saunders viola which is an exact copy of his Bergonzi. I was made in 1961 and I think there were originally two made.
        I cannot tell you how good this Saunders viola is…it is positively life-changing. What I’m trying to find out is, who is playing on the Bergonzi? I heard Julian Rachlin was playing it for a while, but he playing something different just now (he was playing in Edinburgh last week).
        Any ideas?

  • Oh this is a wonderful piece of archive footage, thank you for posting it! Does it come from a DVD? Always inspiring to watch a past master of the instrument making music and I do agree about that crazy 4th finger.

    I suppose one can only hope that whoever buys the viola will allow it to be occasionally played.

  • The “Paganini” Strad viola, formerly of both the Cleveland and Tokyo quartets, is also in unbelievable condition. I imagine it would sell for a higher price as Paganini owned and performed on this instrument, and Berlioz’ Harold in Italy and the Paganini Sonata per la Gran Viola were both written for that very instrument.

    Atar Arad made a point of performing both of those works on this viola while he had it at his disposal in the Cleveland Quartet.

    • Dear Libor. The article of Roger Hargrave is indeed very interesting. I am playing the “Gibson” Viola since 3 years now and this article was very helpful to learn most about the making and history of this marvelous instrument. Also knowing that such wonderful musicians where playing this instrument before me is very inspiring.

  • The Macdonald Strad, the one that Schidlof played, is certainly one of the better Strad violas. It is notable for having the figure on the back running diagonally, which creates an extraordinary visual effect. Stradivari obviously could see that he had a superb piece of wood, and so didn’t worry about the unusual effect it would create. One of the great recordings of Harold in Italy, by William Primrose with Koussevitzky conducting the Boston SO, was made with this viola.

  • If I am not mistaken, but the Russian State Collection has a beautiful 1715 Stradivarius viola that has been used by Vengerov, Bashmet, etc… Supposedly, it is the best preserved specimen…

    Twitter: @MishaKeylin

    • The Royal Academy of Music also has a superb Strad viola, the Archinto. I’ve had the privilege of playing this instrument and recording with it. I look forward to trying the Macdonald in April when it is in Paris and comparing them.

      I don’t think one could gauge the qualities of the Macdonald in that Bach recording as the acoustic was so boomy, however you do hear it in Schidlof’s performance. I think that Schidlof’s often preferred his Bergonzi for the quartet which I understand as I found the Archinto too soloistic for chamber music but superb for concerto playing and recording.

      I think the Paganini Strad which inspired Harold in Italy was not the instrument that Paganini used for the Sonata per la Grand’ viola. That, I understand, was written for a specially large viola, which the Paganini is not.

  • It is sad that this viola, which was owned and played on regularly by Peter Schidlof for over 20 years, is now by virtue of the price put on it apparently out of the reach of a professional viola player. Yet another thing about the world we live in that needs to be changed! 🙂

      • Is it too late for this instrument to be sold for a REASONABLE price to a foundation that would keep it in perpetuity and loan it out to players? On the face of it, the supposed asking price is obscene, and would probably prevent anyone even daring to pick up the instrument to tune it.

      • Hi Yuri, you might be interested to know that I have just bought this viola by Saunders and it it quite simply stunning. I’m a lucky man. Thank you for the link to the Guardian too..

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