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Ashmolean Museum exhibition displays musical instruments made by Stradivarius
Antonio Stradivari (1644?–1737), Guitar, 1688. Length with neck: 1004mm; length of body: 470mm; width of upper, middle and lower bouts: 215, 178, 110mm; max depth of sides: 105mm; string length: 741mm© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

OXFORD.- Antonio Stradivari (c.1644–1737) – or Stradivarius as he is usually known – is the only maker of musical instruments whose name ranks alongside those of the great composers. While the details of his life are not as familiar as Vivaldi’s or Mozart’s, his name evokes the idea of a creative genius in the popular imagination. This exhibition explores his life and work and puts on show twenty-one of the most important instruments in the world, some of which have never before been displayed in public.

Stradivarius is the first major show devoted to the maker’s work ever to be held in the UK. The instruments on display are the finest and most beautiful of their kind, many dating from Stradivari’s ‘Golden Period’ (1700–1720) when he was the height of his creative powers and making instruments that became the classic models on which later violins and cellos were based. Among the star items are the ‘Viotti’ violin of 1709, which belonged at one time to the violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, who did more than anyone to establish the fame of Stradivari’s violins in the early-19th century. Also on display is the ‘Batta-Piatigorsky’ cello of 1714, played by the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who wrote of the instrument in his autobiography, “it spurred me on to try to reach its depths, and I have never worked harder or desired anything more fervently than to draw out of this superior instrument all it has to give.”

One gallery of the exhibition shows an impression of Stradivari’s workshop, displaying his original tools, wooden models and patterns, on loan from the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona. The displays allow visitors to follow the creation of a violin from a log of spruce wood through to the finished instrument and to explore the techniques and artistry of violin-making. Recordings and interviews with leading musicians give visitors the chance to hear Stradivari’s instruments which are still being played. During the run of the exhibition, luthier workshops, performances and tours will offer people insights into the elements which have contributed to Stradivari’s immortal reputation.

Dr Jon Whiteley, Senior Curator of European Art and Curator of the exhibition, says: “The Ashmolean is thrilled and honoured to be holding this exhibition, and we are extremely grateful to the institutions and private owners who have generously lent their instruments. To bring together so many rare and important violins – by the greatest maker of all time – is an extraordinary event and one which I hope our many visitors will enjoy.”

Professor Sir Curtis Price, former Principal of the Royal Academy of Music and Warden of New College Oxford, says: “The Ashmolean houses Stradivari’s best-preserved and most famous instrument, the ‘Messiah’ violin. In bringing together from around the world other examples of his finest work - violins, violas and cellos - this exhibition will become a Mecca for all enthusiasts and anyone who wants to learn more about the greatest of all violin-makers. By observing, through lectures, and by listening to the instruments themselves, all of Stradivari’s secrets (well almost all) will be revealed.”

Mr Charles Beare OBE, master craftsman and violin expert, says: “This exhibition is of supreme importance: of the roughly seven hundred Stradivari instruments that survive, the twenty on show will be the very finest and best preserved examples. Led by the Ashmolean’s ‘Messiah’, the exhibition will be an inspiration to all violin enthusiasts, players, and makers world-wide.”

Ms Susan McCormack, Head of Public Engagement at the Ashmolean, says: ‘Stradivarius will be a truly unique exhibition at the Ashmolean and we have, therefore, programmed a series of events to give people the opportunity to hear the music and gain an insight into the genius of Stradivarius. In addition to the gala opening concert, we will be holding lectures, recitals, and luthier workshops. Within the exhibition itself, recordings and interviews will bring the instruments to life.”

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