400-year-old Violin makes its way to National Music Museum
Dakota Digest - 05/21/2010
by Gary Ellenbolt
400 years to the day after King Henry the Fourth of France died, a group gathered in Vermillion to remember his life. That date was chosen to bring a critical piece of Royal Family history to South Dakota. Today on Dakota Digest, South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Gary Ellenbolt introduces us to a rare violin that is now part of the collection of the National Music Museum.
Stringed instruments have always been a hallmark of the National Music Museum on the University of South Dakota campus-proof of that is the fountain that sits near the front steps. A man is playing music on his violin, while several children sit transfixed by the music he plays.
There was a lot of excitement inside the building recently, for another stringed work of art. The museum accepted a four-century-old violin, made by the Amati Brothers for King Henry IV. National Music Museum Director Andre Larson says the project came together through the South Dakota tradition of working together.
"The history of the museum has largely been private donations-or people donating funds with which to acquire instruments," according to Larson. "Otherwise, the whole thing wouldn't work. And that's-to do that in South Dakota is a minor miracle-but those of us who love South Dakota and believe in this state and it's people knew that it would work and it has worked, and we're very proud of it."
The instrument had been property of a conservatory in Wisconsin for several decades-Twin Cities resident Claire Givens restores and brokers violins. She found out about its existence in 19-97.
Givens said, "at that time, we recognized that it fit in beautifully with the National Music Museum. But they weren't interested in selling it, or de-accessioning it. And so we continued, every year, to make sure this violin was in good condition."
Late last year, the Copernicus Cultural Foundation made the decision to offer the violin. That obviously excited Givens very much.
She added, "there is no more significant violin on the market, historically, than the Henry IV violin-there is no way to top it."
A major hurdle toward bringing the Violin to Vermillion was to find a benefactor. Enter Kevin Schieffer, former head of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, and a former National Music Museum board member.
According to Schieffer, "The National Music Museum has the world's, I think, largest and finest collection of violins from the Amati Brothers, famous violin makers, as well as from Stradivarius-and this was a key instrument to add to that collection. And when it became available, it became clear to everybody that this was the place it had to be."
On the conditions that the violin always stay in South Dakota, and that any of his children who learned the violin would be able to play the instrument, Schieffer agreed to become involved in the purchase and donation.
Last Friday, the transition was made. Brad Randall is current chairman of the museum board.
He told the gathering, "well, indeed, we are in for a treat-as I understand it, this instrument was last played in 1997. So this will be the first time since then since anyone has heard this instrument being played."
In that instant, the room became quiet, as U-S-D music professor and Rawlins Piano Trio violinist Eunho Kim tuned the rare instrument and prepared to play.
Kim was obviously very moved at being the first in South Dakota to play the instrument.
"I couldn't breathe when I first touched the violin," she said. "And when I tuned, the sound was so deep-I felt like I was going into the bottom of the pond or something."
Violin broker and restorer Andrew Dipper said, "I don't usually get teary when I hear something, but that was quite an extraordinary exhibition of the sound of an instrument that's that old."
Dipper is Claire Givens husband-they work together to repair, restore and broker violin transactions, like this one. As impressed as Dipper is with the music, he points to knowledge of another part of the deal.
He remarked, "it has a Louis XVI violin case with it-and the interesting thing is the armorials on the case, which were illegal to have during the Revolution, and they have been partially blacked out. Because if you were found with Royal Amorials with anything in your house, you would go to the guillotine at that time."
The 415-year-old violin has survived the French Revolution, several wars and a handing-down from and to many generations. The spectacular instrument will now forever call South Dakota home.
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