A ‘Finicky’ Strad That Can Teach a Few Tricks

The ‘Lipinski’ violin boasts an impressive pedigree

1715 Stradivari “Lipinski” violin

Instrument and bow 1715 Stradivari “Lipinski” violin. “Usually I play on an Emile Ouchard bow, but occasionally I use my Nicolas Maire (1800–1878),” Almond explains. “I use Thomastik Vision Solo strings, which seem to work quite well on this instrument, although they seem to have a short life span.” This year, Almond, playing the “Lipinski,” and pianist William Wolfram recorded A Violin’s Life (Avie), a collection of works associated with the “Lipinski.” The Golden-Period Strad is believed to have been owned first by the Italian Baroque composer, violinist, and pedagogue Giuseppe Tartini. The violin takes its name from the Polish violinist Karol Lipinski. In 1962, it was purchased by soloist Evi Liivak of Estonia and subsequently donated to the Milwaukee Symphony.

Physical characteristics The “Lipinski” is a typical large-pattern Strad that has had some varnish retouched on the top (by Rembert Wurlitzer). “It has a beautiful back, very similar to the 1715 ‘Hochstein’ Stradivari,” Almond says. “One expert I spoke with thinks it’s actually the same piece of wood for both instruments. On the back, toward the bottom, there are small extensions on each side, as the primary piece was not quite large enough for that pattern. The scroll has some interesting wear on one side, evidently from an old-fashioned case that opened at the bottom and that required the violin to be inserted scroll first.”

How does the “Lipinski” compare to your previous primary violin?
I’ve been very fortunate to have played some amazing instruments for long periods of time, including the “Davis” Strad (1710) and the “Dushkin” Strad, (1701). All of them were revelatory in their own way. I’d say the Lipinski perhaps has a bit more power and focus in certain ways, but is also much more sensitive to atmospheric conditions and other small factors. It’s really finicky. For several years before I got the “Lipinski,” I played on a “Grand-Pattern” violin by Antonio and Hieronymous Amati from 1624, an instrument I consider to be in the very top tier of solo instruments, superior even to many Strads or Guadagninis I've tried. I've loaned it to someone else now who is definitely putting it to good use.

What gift does this instrument bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other violin?
An instrument like this is not only a unique functional antiquity, but also presents the highest-quality tool to the musician using it. I think it’s a misconception when people assume that you sound great just because someone gives you an amazing Strad to play on—what you do with it is really up to you. And, like any high-end tool, you need to learn how to use it, which can be a lifelong endeavor. So this violin has given me the opportunity to maximize my strengths as a musician as well as highlighting the things I’m not so great at and offering solutions that perhaps another instrument would not possess.

How does this violin inspire you as a performer?
The pedigree of this particular violin is pretty impressive. I mean, the first owner was Giuseppe Tartini, and it goes from there. That can be either intimidating or inspiring, depending on your perspective.

What more do you know of its history?
There’s quite a story, most of which would make a great movie. I encourage your readers to visit aviolinslife.org [a website devoted solely to the ‘Lipinksi’].

Have you thought about the people who have handled it before you?
Probably a little too much at times.

Do these people resonate in your instrument? In your performance?
I try to honor the history and pedigree of the instrument, but focus on what I have to say artistically instead of historically obsessing.

What drew you to this instrument?
The fact that it was a 1715 Strad.

What is your violin’s personality?
On a good day, anything I want it to be.

Have you ever done anything that might have robbed this violin of its “mojo” such as a repair or changing the strings? What was the result? 
Well, sometimes you’re just in an unavoidable circumstance with an extreme climate or a seam opens or something, old strings, etcetera. You just power through it and learn what you can. The fact is that even at its worst it still sounds better than most violins I’ll ever try.

What are the violin’s strengths and limitations? 
The strengths are obvious—incredible power and clarity of tone with a minimum of effort, and a seemingly infinite palette of colors. And, of course, it’s aesthetically quite beautiful and a masterful feat of engineering by hand. If there is a weakness, it’s just that it’s very sensitive to conditions, adjustments, and so on.

What are its likes and dislikes?
It likes a moderate climate, perfect placement of the bridge with Vision Solo strings, a good musician to play it. It dislikes when I force the sound or push too hard to achieve something. Less seems to be more.

When and how did you truly learn who this violin is, the soul of the instrument? 
Probably still working on that. It does seem to change from time to time.

If given the ability, what would your violin say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
Probably that I’m a very good student who still has a lot to learn.

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