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Sale of rare Stradivarius viola poised to set world auction record

Violist David Aaron Carpenter plays the “Macdonald” Stradivarius viola at Sotheby''s gallery in New York.

A rare Stradivarius viola, considered to be one of the finest in existence, is expected to fetch more than US$45 million in a sealed bids sale this season, which would set a world record for the most expensive musical instrument ever sold.

The “MacDonald” Viola, made by the famed Italian artisan Antonio Stradivari in 1719, is the first to be on the market in 50 years, according to Sotheby’s auction house. It is also one of only two Stradivarius violas still privately owned. The other is held in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

“Stradivari is the greatest violin maker of all time,” said Tim Ingles, director of the London-based fine instruments auction house Ingles & Hayday, which is conducting the sale with Sotheby’s.

“The amazing thing about violas is that there is such a small number of them in existence — only 10 complete violas today, so there is a huge rarity factor,” he told reporters.

Because of the calibre and status of the instrument, a sealed bid sale with a minimum bid of US$45 million was decided as the best way to combine the exclusive feel of a private sale with the excitement of an auction. The highest bidder will be announced on June 25.

The world auction price for a musical instrument is US$15.9 million, which was set in an online auction in June 2011 for the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius violin of 1721.

Holy grail for collectors

Stradivarius instruments, with their rich, deep sounds, sell for millions of dollars and have been beloved by legendary musicians for centuries.

“The finest of all Stradivarius violas is generally agreed to be the ‘Macdonald’ of 1719,” said Ingles. “A Stradivarius viola has always been, I suppose, the holy grail for a collector of musical instruments.”

The “Macdonald” was also made during what is considered to be Stradivarius’ Golden Period, between 1700 and 1720, and is immaculately preserved.

Its value had been further enhanced by renowned 19th century violinist Niccolo Paganini, who put together string quartets of Stradivarius instruments consisting of two violins, a viola and a cello.

“As the violas have gradually disappeared over the last 100 years into foundations and public collections and the number of Stradivarius violas held in private hands decreased it has become increasing difficult for anyone to form a quartet,” Ingles explained.

The viola is being sold by the family of Peter Schidlof of the famed Amadeus Quartet, who bought it in 1964. It is called the “Macdonald” because it was purchased in the 1820s by Godfrey Bosville, the 3rd Baron Macdonald.

Reuters

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