A Violin From Hollywood’s Golden Age Aims For Auction Record

Rare violins that once belonged to famous virtuosos such as Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz and Yehudi Menuhin have been sold privately for up to $20 million in recent years. The instruments they play typically bear their name, for example the “Earl of Plymouth” Stradivarius, which is now also referred to as “ex-Kreisler” to shine its reputation, mystery and market value.

Could Toscha Seidel do the same marketing magic despite her fame coming from Hollywood rather than the concert hall?

Musicians and collectors will soon find out. Violin after an ongoing global tour 1714 “da Vinci” Stradivarius owned and played by Seidel to be sold by online auction house TarisioIt is the first Stradivarius to be auctioned in decades from the so-called golden age of violin making, from May 18 to June 9.

Unlike most musical instruments, all Stradivarius violins have over time received names such as “Sleeping Beauty”, some of which are rather fanciful. The famous virtuoso Paganini called him “Il Canone”. “Da Vinci” has nothing to do with Leonardo. A salesman who sold three Stradivarius violins in the 1920s named them all after famous Renaissance painters as a marketing ploy: in addition to “da Vinci”, “Titian” and “Michaelangelo”.

With the instruments made by the Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri families of Renaissance Italy, which ruled the highest prices, the most important factor determining the value of the violin is naturally the violin itself. Condition is another important consideration. But at the same time, the identity of its previous owners – its origin.

Few people today know the name of Seidel. But it was so successful in the 1920s that it was able to purchase “da Vinci,” a front page sale in The New York Times, for $25,000 (over $400,000 today). on April 27, 1924. “The tone is of extraordinary strength and beauty,” said Seidel, saying he would not trade the violin for “a million dollars” at the time and considered it his most valuable asset.

Seidel was so well known in his heyday that George and Ira Gershwin wrote a funny song about him and three of his Russian Jewish peers: “Mischa, Sasha, Toscha, Jascha.” (“We are four violinists, we are three.”) Seidel and Heifetz were born in Ukraine; both St. Petersburg with the outstanding teacher Leopold Auer; and both emigrated to the United States after the upheavals of the Russian Revolution. They had their first concert at Carnegie Hall months after each other to critical acclaim.

Albert Einstein took violin lessons from Seidel, and together they performed Bach’s Double Concerto for a donation. They made thick shocks of unruly hair that strengthened the caricature of the long-haired musician like Liszt.

Both Seidel and Heifetz settled in Los Angeles, where the booming film industry paved the way for Seidel’s success. In the 1930s, it was surrounded by a crowd of mostly Jewish exiles from Nazi Germany and war-torn Europe. Among them were composers Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Seidel played the main violin role in many of Korngold’s famous soundtracks, such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (for which Korngold won an Academy Award) and “Anthony Advers” (ditto). The two men recorded a violin and piano arrangement of Korngold’s suite for “Much Ado About Nothing,” while the composer was at the piano.

Music directors and composers sought Seidel’s warm, rich tone. He was concert conductor of the Paramount Studio Orchestra and played the violin solos of MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” and David Selznick’s “Intermezzo” in which a famous violinist (played by Leslie Howard) fell in love with his accompanist (Ingrid Bergman). .

“It is largely because of Seidel that we associate love scenes or depictions of the less fortunate in movies – or any scene that evokes tears or strong emotions – with the sound of the violin,” says violinist and journalist Adam Baer. in the 2017 article For American Scholars. (Baer’s violin teacher studied with Seidel and insisted that his students watch videos of Seidel performances.)

Although best known for his film work, Seidel has also played the standard classical repertoire, performed solo with orchestras, and toured in recital. In the 1930s, he was heard by millions of radio listeners as the music director and frequent soloist in CBS’s symphony orchestra. In 1934 he made his own weekly broadcast on the network, the “Toscha Seidel Programme”. (A few recordings showcasing her lush voice are on YouTube. [1945recordingofChausson’s”Poème” with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra led by Leopold Stokowski.)

“He was a singing violinist influenced by the cantorial tradition,” Baer said in an interview. “It played with a tone and emotional intensity as deep as anyone I’ve ever heard on the disc.”

However, Seidel never achieved Heifetz’s lasting international fame. In Los Angeles, Heifetz often urged Seidel to play with him in string quartets, literally taking on the role of second violin.

As Hollywood’s golden age came to an end, studios abandoned their in-house orchestras and relied instead on freelancers. As Seidel aged, he developed a neurological condition that gradually reduced his playing. This once outstanding violinist ended up in a pit orchestra in Las Vegas before retiring to an avocado farm in California. He died in 1962 at the age of 62 with his most prized possession, the violin.

This violin last sold for £34,000 (over $3 million today) at auction in London in 1974. It is currently owned by Japanese restaurant chain boss Tokuji Munetsugu, who owns a collection of rare string instruments and sponsors an international violin competition in Japan. (Munetsugu, 73, did not say why he sold it.)

The soundtrack hits concert halls and is the composer of “Star Wars” and “Jaws” John Williams is arguably the most popular living American composer.. But their soundtrack, and its mostly anonymous cast, has long been largely shunned by the classical music elite.

Can “da Vinci” sales break records anyway?

“Lady Blunt” Stradivarius, once owned by Lord Byron’s granddaughter, holds the current record for an auctioned violin. (The 2011 sale of $15.9 million was also handled by Tarisio.) Like the “Messiah” Stradivarius, which is now owned by the British Museum, “Lady Blunt” is hardly stolen and is in pristine condition.

Violinist and Tarisio’s co-owner Carlos Tome said the auction house has not released a forecast for “da Vinci.” Citing the rarity of a golden-era Stradivarius, he said he expects it to sell in the $15 million to $20 million range, given its good condition and “unique Hollywood origin.”

“It could break a record,” he said, noting that a wealthy collector class has emerged since the sale of “Lady Blunt” ten years ago. (Other dealers say there have been numerous private sales since then, priced in over $20 million.)

Baer dismissed the notion that “da Vinci” could undermine the auction value of his Hollywood pedigree. While acknowledging that Seidel did not record the most intellectually rigorous music, he added that “the fact that he is a Hollywood artist should not diminish the value at all.”

“Before he came to Hollywood, he was a great classical musician,” Baer added. “And ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a pretty big deal.”

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