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The Macdonald Stradivarius of 1701: Art, History and Controversies
Antonio Stradivari is a legendary figure in the world of violin making. It is estimated that he made around 1,100 instruments, including violins, violas, cellos, harps and guitars. Today, only about 650 survive. Of these, violas are the rarest: Stradivari would have built only about fifteen, and the Macdonald is one of eleven surviving true violas.
In 1701, Antonio Stradivari, at the age of 56, completed the construction of a viola commissioned by a local nobleman. More than three centuries later, in 2014, that same instrument became the subject of debate and controversy, when Sotheby's attempted to sell it for the record sum of $45 million. But what makes the Macdonald Stradivarius so special and controversial?

The price of $45 million set by Sotheby's surprised many. However, considering the history of the tool, the high rating is understandable. The Macdonald has had a series of illustrious owners, including the 20th century musician Peter Schidlof. After his death in 1987, the instrument was stored in a safe for almost thirty years, preserving two of its most valuable qualities: its excellent preservation and its availability for private purchase, being the last of its kind not owned by a museum or foundation.

One of the most controversial and fascinating aspects of the Macdonald Stradivarius is its long “rest” period in a safe. While this has helped preserve the instrument in near-pristine condition, it has sparked a debate about what "preserving" such an object actually means. Storing it in a safe could actually depreciate its value, both artistic and economic. If the sound deteriorates, the instrument loses part of its "soul", and with it, part of its intrinsic value.

The Macdonald Stradivarius represents an emblematic case of how history, art and functionality can interact in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. Its long stay in a safe raises profound questions about the true meaning of "conservation" when it comes to musical instruments. While his impeccable physical condition makes him a treasure for collectors and historians, his prolonged inactivity may have compromised what is perhaps his most precious quality: his unique and inimitable voice.

In this context, the Macdonald Stradivarius forces us to reflect on what the true "value" of an object like this is: is it just a material good to be admired and preserved, or is it a living entity that loses its purpose and perhaps even its value if it can't "live" through music?

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David Aaron Carpenter plays a piece by Shostakovich on the “MacDonald” Stradivari viola

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