The instrument was made expressly for the great violinist for his 19th birthday, writes Stewart Pollens
History of the violin
According to Humphrey Burton’s biography Yehudi Menuhin (Boston, 2001) 'On Yehudi’s 'official' nineteenth birthday, 22 January 1936, his violin-maker friend Emile Français made an emotional presentation ('tears rolled down his cheeks') of a perfect replica he had made of Yehudi’s 'Prince Khevenhüller' Stradivarius. It is not clear whether it was used for any recordings, but he did occasionally play it in concerts without informing the critics in advance, claiming that it had the same qualities as the original. Français spared no effort in making this violin and even arranged for it to be left out in the Italian sunshine at a violin workshop in Cremona.' Presumably, Menuhin used it in some of his tours in the United States, and in particular, the wartime concerts he played in the Pacific and Aleutian Islands (see Burton’s Yehudi Menuhin).
According to another biographer, Robert Magidoff, Emile Français was Menuhin’s trusted restorer and worked on the 'Khevenhüller' Strad. Menuhin’s copy ultimately came into the hands of Mr David Sackson of New York, who exchanged correspondence with Menuhin in 1992 and informed him that he had acquired the violin. Menuhin supplied Sackson with the photograph of him and Français standing next to each other and holding the ‘Khevenhüller’ Strad and the copy (picture, above). Mr. Sackson died a few years ago and the instrument passed into the hands of a friend of his, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The violin’s label reads:
Réplique faite pour Yehudi Menuhin de son
Antonius Stradivarius 1733
Par EMILE FRANÇAIS
Luthier du Conservatoire National de Musique
Paris No 2 année 1934.
Similis sed Singularis
The initials YM are painted on the button.
Length: 358 mm
Upper bout: 168 mm
Center bout: 113 mm
Lower bout 208 mm
The Strad’s May 2016 Yehudi Menuhin centenary issue, featuring interviews with friends, family and colleagues of the great violinist, is out now – download on desktop computer or through The Strad App.