What is the most expensive violin in the world? And why the best violins are so expensive?

First of all, Making a violin is a real art. Violin is an instrument that requires tremendous craftsmanship to produce the perfect sound that a classical piece needs.

Furthermore, the best luthiers, including Guarneri del Gesù and Antonio Stradivari can customize the instrument make according to the musician’s sound requirements by choosing the ideal wood and the right combination of varnish and other chemicals. It takes a long time to make a perfect violin, sometimes even decades.

So, it’s no surprise violin is an expensive instrument. But, how expensive can a violin get? Here are the top five most expensive violins in the world, as of 2022. [You can also hear them!]

Most expensive violins in the world, as of 2022

5. Ex-Kochanski (1741) by Guarneri del Gesù: $10 million

Most expensive violins in the world: a 1741 violin made by Guarneri del Gesù, nown as "Ex-Kochanski"
Most expensive violins in the world: American violinist Aaron Rosand was playing a 1741 violin made by Guarneri del Gesù, which was previously owned by the Polish violinist, composer, and arranger Paul Kochanski.

This violin was built by the famous Italian luthier Bartolomeo Giuseppe “del Gesù” Guarneri in 1741. It was last played by the American violinist Aaron Rosand (born Aaron Rosen; March 15, 1927 – July 9, 2019).

Rosand bought this state-of-the-art 1741 Guarneri del Gesù violin in 1957 from the widow of the Polish violinist, composer, and arranger Paul Kochanski (30 August 1887 – 12 January 1934), who was the previous owner of the violin.

In October 2009, Rosand sold the violin to a Russian businessman for $10 million. Reportingly, the billionaire has agreed to allow other violinists to play the instrument. At the time, this was believed to be the highest price ever paid for a violin.

Rosand told the New York Times that: “I just felt as if I left part of my body behind. It was my voice. It was my career.”

Rosand donated $1.5 million of the proceeds to the Curtis Institute of Music, a private conservatory in Philadelphia, United States.

Hear it! in the video below, Aaron Rosand plays Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C♯ minor (violin arrangement: Nathan Milstein, 1904-1992) on his 1741 Guarneri del Gesù “Ex-Kochanski” violin.

Most expensive violins in the world: American violinist Aaron Rosand plays Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C♯ minor (violin arrangement: Nathan Milstein) on his 1741 Guarneri del Gesù “Ex-Kochanski” violin. Piano accompanist: Robert Koenig.

4. “Carrodus Guarneri” (1743 or 1844) by Guarneri del Gesù: at least $10 million

Another state-of-the-art instrument by Bartolomeo Giuseppe “del Gesù” Guarneri, is one of the most expensive violins today.

The evidentially-supported history of the Carrodus Guarneri violin begins with the famous French lutenist, businessman, and inventor Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume who sold a Guarneri del Gesù violin to the Viennese virtuoso violinist named Louis Eller (who was born in Graz, Austria on 9 June 1820) in 1855. The price of the violin was 5,000 francs.

Eller successfully toured the principal European countries and gave many concerts in the southwest of France, especially in and around the town of Pau.

Richard Tognetti plays Carrodus Guarneri, one of the most expensive violins in the world
Richard Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra’s leader, and artistic director plays “Carrodus Guarneri”, one of the most expensive violins in the world.

Unfortunately, in the late 1850s, Eller was afflicted with an incurable disease that progressively prevented him from performing. In the spring of 1862, his medical condition worsened and he died on July 12, 1862, at the age of 42.

After Eller’s death, the Scottish dealer and distinguished violin collector David Laurie (1833-1897) acquired the violin through the famous French lutenist, businessman, and inventor Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.

Later, Laurie sold the violin to an amateur violinist named Caspar Gottlieb Meïer, who then gave it to William Ebsworth Hill (1817-1895), a London violin maker and founder of the firm W. E. Hill & Sons.

The great English violinist John Tiplady Carrodus (1836-1895), from whom the violin takes its present name, bought it from the W. E. Hill & Sons shop and kept it until he died in 1895.

After Carrodus’ death, the violin then passed back to W. E. Hill & Sons, from which it somehow found its way to the 20th-century British physicist and radiologist Major Charles Edmund Stanley Phillips (18 February 1871 – 17 October 1945) in 1904 and then to Dr. Felix Landau (not to be confused with the SS Hauptscharführer of the WWII) of Berlin in 1909.

It was subsequently taken to the United States and was played by the Austrian classical violinist, who made a major impression in Europe before migrating to the United States, Ossy Renardy (26 April 1920 – 3 December 1953) until his death.

Further owners of the “Carrodus Guarneri” were Henry Hottinger, Rembert Wurlitzer, E P Engleman, David Fulton, and the present owner who, anonymously, loaned the violin to the Australian Chamber Orchestra for the use of the orchestra’s leader and artistic director, Richard Tognetti.

Currently, the violin “Carrodus Guarneri” is valued to be worth at least $10 million, making it one of the most expensive violins in the world today.

Hear it! in the video below, accompanied by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61. Tognetti also conducts the orchestra while playing as a soloist on the “Carrodus Guarneri” violin.

Most expensive violins in the world: accompanied by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61.

3. Lady Blunt (1721) by Antonio Stradivari: $15.9 million

The Lady Blunt is a Stradivarius violin made in 1721 by the renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari (c. 1644 – 18 December 1737). It is one of the two best-preserved Stradivarius violins in existence. (the other being Messiah Stradivarius of 1716, currently the most expensive violin in the world).

It is named after one of its first known owners, Lady Anne Blunt (22 September 1837 – 15 December 1917), the British co-founder of the Crabbet Arabian Stud, an English horse breeding farm that ran from 1878 to 1972.

The first owner of record was Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, who found the violin in Spain in the 1860s. He sold the instrument to Lady Anne Blunt, the daughter of Ada Lovelace (see notes 1) and granddaughter of Lord Byron. In the 1890s, W. E. Hill & Sons bought the violin from her and sold it to an important collector.

It was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1971 for the then-record amount of £84,000 by Robert Lowe, (US$200,000) who owned the violin for nearly 30 years.

In 2008 it was sold to the Nippon Music Foundation for over US$10 million in a private transaction.

In the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the Lady Blunt was put up for charitable sale, with proceeds going to the Nippon Foundation’s relief fund. Tarisio Auctions handled the sale online, raising almost £10 million (US$15.9 million), more than four times the previous auction record for a Stradivarius, held by the Molitor when it sold for US$3.6 million in 2010.

Hear it! Widely considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, Yehudi Menuhin plays the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius.

Having been played only rarely during its first 300 years, the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius violin, one of the most expensive violins in the world, was played by Yehudi Menuhin at the time of the Sotheby’s sale in 1971, providing a rare opportunity to hear this famous instrument.

2. “Vieuxtemps Guarneri” (around 1841) by Guarneri del Gesù: at least $16 million

Vieuxtemps Guarneri, one of the most expensive violins in the world, returns to the concert stage with the American concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers
“Vieuxtemps” Guarneri, one of the most expensive violins in the world, returns to the concert stage with the American concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.

This famous violin gained its name after being owned by the 19th-century Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps (17 February 1820 – 6 June 1881).

It was later used by Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, and Pinchas Zukerman. Past owners of the instrument have included Sir Isaac Wolfson and Ian Stoutzker.

The “Vieuxtemps Guarneri” has been meticulously maintained by its owners and is considered to be in Great condition without cracks and never having required patching, rendering it an excellent example of various principles of standing waves in string instruments.

The initial craftsmanship and its resulting sound as well as the well-documented provenance and careful maintenance have led it to a steady increase in price over the years. As a result, the instrument has often been viewed as an investment leaving some to criticize the overall trend of musical instruments gathering dust in a museum rather than being played as intended.

In 2012, J&A Beares Ltd sold the violin, in collaboration with Paolo Alberghini and Julie Reed Yeboah, for an undisclosed sum to an unnamed client. The undisclosed sum was reported to exceed that of the earlier world record price for the “Lady Blunt” violin.

The purchaser subsequently provided lifetime use of the instrument to American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers for performance. In a December 3, 2013 The Economist article reported that the purchase price of the “Vieuxtemps Guarnieri” violin exceeded $16m (£10.5m).

Hear it! American concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers has been given an exclusive lifetime loan of the most iconic violins ever created: the ‘Ex-Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri Del Gesu, dated 1741. Meyers plays with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall and Mason Bates’ new violin concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, led by Leonard Slatkin. Filmed on December 1 and 7, 2012.

“Vieuxtemps” Guarneri, one of the most expensive violins in the world, returns to the concert stage with the American concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.

1. Messiah Stradivarius (1716) by Antonio Stradivari: $20 million, the most expensive violin in the world

The Messiah-Salabue Stradivarius of 1716 is a violin made by the Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari. It is considered to be the only Stradivarius in existence in a new state. It is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

The violin, known as the Messiah (Messie in French), remained in Stradivari’s workshop until his death in 1737. It was then sold by his son Paolo to Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salabue (17551840), an Italian count known as the first great connoisseur and collector of violins, in 1775, and for a time, the violin bore the name Salabue.

The instrument was then purchased by the Italian violin dealer and collector Luigi Tarisio (21 June 1796 – 1 November 1854) in 1827. Upon Tarisio’s death, in 1854, the French luthier Jean Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris purchased The Messiah along with Tarisio’s entire collection.

“One-day Tarisio was discoursing with Vuillaume on the merits of this unknown and marvelous instrument, when the violinist Jean-Delphin Alard, Vuillaume’s son-in-law, exclaimed: ‘Really, Mister Tarisio, your violin is like the Messiah of the Jews: one always expects him but he never appears’ (‘Vraiment, Monsieur Tarisio, votre violon est comme le Messie des Juifs: on l’attend toujours, mais il ne paraît jamais’ ). Thus the violin was titled with the name by which it is still known.”

The Messiah was bequeathed by the family of W. E. Hill to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford for preservation as “a yardstick for future violin makers to learn from”.

The violin is in like-new condition, as it was seldom played. The tonal potential of the instrument has been questioned due to the conditions of the Hill bequest. However, it was played by the famous Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (28 June 1831- 15 August 1907), who stated in a letter of 1891 to the then owner of the Messiah, Robert Crawford, that he was struck by the combined sweetness and grandeur of the sound.

Widely considered one of the finest violinists of the 20th century, American violinist Nathan Milstein played the “Messiah” at the Hills’ shop before 1940 and described it as an unforgettable experience. It is one of the most valuable of all the Stradivari instruments. Currently considered the most expensive violin in the world, it has a valuation in the region of USD$20 million (as of 2022) but has never been sold or purchased by anyone.

Messiah Stradivarius, most expensive violin in the world
Messiah Stradivari, the most expensive violin in the world, at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo by Von Archwizard – self photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Notes

  1. Ada Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, an ex-road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. Please consider supporting me on Patreon.

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