Made when the master luthier was 89 years old, it has plentiful, rich reddish-brown varnish

Sassoon violin

1733 ‘Sassoon’ Antonio Stradivari violin

American collector David L. Fulton had a passion for collecting fine instruments, specifically old Italians, and over two decades his collection grew to become possibly the 20th century’s finest owned by an individual. The Strad Calendar 2024 brings together twelve of these extraordinary instruments, described here with comments by Fulton and others.

  • 1733 ‘Sassoon’ Antonio Stradivari violin

The 1733 ‘Sassoon’ violin was made by Antonio Stradivari when he was 89 years old. There is little evidence that he was helped very much by his sons Omobono and Francesco, and nearly all of it appears to have been Antonio’s own work. He added a small label reading ‘d’anni 89’, and some elements of its creation suggest the work of an older man, such as the somewhat shaky line of the purfling.

The back is cut on the quarter from one piece of maple with irregular medium-width flames slightly ascending from the treble side to the bass. The top is of two pieces of spruce with medium-width grain at the centre, broadening on the flanks. The sides are of quarter-cut maple with broader flames than the back, while the scroll is of somewhat plainer maple than the sides. The varnish is plentiful and has a rich reddish-brown colour, laid on a golden ground.

‘The violin is not particularly easy to play,’ says Fulton. ‘It requires very specific bows to reach its depths. The one that worked best was an early Tourte that was actually quite stiff. That said, in the right hands, the violin’s tone is dark and very rich, a voice which I find both evocative and quite moving. The “Sassoon” is an almost uniquely great violin and I lamented its departure.’

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American collector David L. Fulton amassed one of the 20th century’s finest collections of stringed instruments. This year’s calendar pays tribute to some of these priceless treasures, including Yehudi Menuhin’s celebrated ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri, the Carlo Bergonzi once played by Fritz Kreisler, and four instruments by Antonio Stradivari.