Stolen Stradivarius violin finally heard for the first time in nearly 40 years

Roman Totenberg

Last night, the Stradivarius violin that was stolen from the late violinist Roman Totenberg played music for the first time in nearly 40 years.

In a private performance, Totenberg’s three daughters listened to works by Felix Mendelssohn and Antonin Dvorak, performed on the violin by one of Totenberg’s long-time students, Mira Wang,

“It has such a different sound than most violins, it’s so rich and so deep, and it gave the three of us the feeling that our father was present in the room with us again tonight,” one of his daughters, Jill, told Reuters.

The violin was built in Italy in 1734 and is worth million dollars. It was stolen from Totenberg in 1980 during a meet-and-greet he did with fans in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Totenberg said at the time that he suspected the young violinist Philip Johnson of being the thief. When Johnson died in 2011, his wife found the violin and had it examined by an expert, who confirmed that it was indeed the Stradivarius. She gave the violin to the authorities, and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara personally returned it to the Totenberg family.

The family had the violin restored and are preparing to sell it — but only to someone they know can play it or to a musical sponsor who will make sure it is heard.

Wang told Reuters that playing the instrument “is like discovering a sleeping beauty.” [NY Daily News]

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