The 1716 “Messiah” might not have been Stradivari’s greatest work, but made at the height of his powers and preserved for almost three centuries in almost perfect condition, it is arguably the greatest testament to this legendary craftsman. For more than half of its life, debates have raged between those who want to hear it play and those who prefer preservation and it’s totemic status has been increased with its incarceration behind glass at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. From a practical point of view, I am of the opinion that it should never be subjected to the risks of playing, but like other proponents of this view from before me, it is one that is influenced by ever other of the thousands of violins I’ve seen and judged, and by seeing how the demands of use place a strain on other instruments. I have also seen enough to appreciate how unique it is amongst other Stradivari instruments.
For Oxford Today I expressed a rhetorical argument. I appreciate that there will always be a desire to have the instrument played, and many of the conventional arguments against its use can be countered by equally compelling views from the other side. Yet a great deal of the controversy rests lies in the public prominence of this most famous of all Stradivari violins, giving it undue attention by comparison to other instruments that are sheltered from view. My view is that there is a dialogue in favour of playing the violin, but given its singular state of presentation, that dialogue deserves to be heard once the arguments have been made for every lesser violin by Stradivari. All six hundred (or so) of them.
To view my article in Oxford Today, Read on.
To see a picture of the “Messiah” in its glass case, see below.