By Louise Lee
Soon after Menuhin’s death in 1999, many of his instruments and bows were sold by London auction house Sotheby’s.
According to press accounts at the time, the item that fetched the highest selling price at the auction was a 1680 instrument made by Giovanni Maria del Bussetto, purchased by a British dealer for £133,500 and now in the collection of the Chimei Museum in Taiwan. Another highlight of the auction was a 1739 Santo Seraphin, which Menuhin received as a gift from his teacher and mentor George Enescu that sold for £73,000. And a 1695 Giovanni Battista Grancino, Menuhin’s first full-sized violin, fetched £111,500 from a US dealer.
Menuhin acquired it in Paris in 1927 and played it in his Carnegie Hall debut that year. The auction also included a gold-and-tortoiseshell mounted bow made around 1810 by François Xavier Tourte, and an 1870 François Nicolas Voirin bow, which Menuhin acquired in Paris in 1930.
The Sotheby’s auction did not include Menuhin’s most valuable instruments, some of which, like his 1733 “Prince Khevenhüller” Stradivari, now keep a low profile as part of private collections around the world.
The ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri del Gesù
Others still ended up in the spotlight. After Menuhin’s death, his 1742 “Lord Wilton” Guarneri del Gesù was purchased for $6 million by US collector David Fulton, who a decade later produced a documentary featuring James Ehnes performing works by Manuel de Falla on the instrument. The Lord Wilton was named for previous owner Seymour Egerton, the fourth Earl of Wilton, who died in 1898. The violin was also owned by Croatian violinist Zlatko Balokovic before Menuhin acquired it around 1978. Ehnes calls the sound of the Lord Wilton “absolutely magnificent—huge, round, immensely colorful.” He says that he doesn’t see the fact that Menuhin owned the instrument as an integral part of the experience of playing it.
“The Wilton was a great violin for centuries before he had it, is a great violin now, and will hopefully be a great violin for centuries to come,” Ehnes says via e-mail. Still, Ehnes adds, “It is of course inspiring to think of playing on the same instrument as one of the historical greats.”
Not surprisingly, the Lord Wilton has been copied, with sellers using Menuhin’s name to promote their versions. One such online seller, Prodigio Music of Niles, Michigan, sells a copy of “the instrument played by Yehudi Menuhin.” The price for the copy: $1,000.
The ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesù
For a time Menuhin borrowed the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesù, produced just three years before the maker’s death.
That instrument’s previous owners include Henri Vieuxtemps and British financier and philanthropist Ian Stoutzker, who in 1973 loaned it to Menuhin, his friend. The instrument was sold in 2012 for a reported $16 million to a private client, who later loaned it to Anne Akiko Meyers for life.
“The soul of the Vieuxtemps is deep and mature,” Meyers writes via e-mail. “It is like a beautiful old tree that has seen and survived most hardships but continues to thrive with proper maintenance and care. I absolutely love her.
“To know that this violin has been coveted by almost every luthier and violinist throughout history gives me the great responsibility to make sure it will continue to be cherished and appreciated for its incredible beauty and sound for generations to come,” she adds.
The ‘Soil’ Strad
Other instruments associated with Menuhin are also currently linked to performers active on the concert circuit.
Since the mid-1980s, Itzhak Perlman has owned the 1714 “Soil” Stradivari, which Menuhin owned and frequently played in concert for more than three decades starting around 1950.
The instrument was named after Belgian industrial magnate Amedee Soil (pronounced “Swal”) and previously owned by French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.
“It’s a great violin,” Perlman writes via e-mail. “I love it. When Menuhin agreed to let me try it, I felt it was the greatest sound that I had ever experienced. It was my dream to own it, and one day that dream came true.
“The fact that Menuhin was one of the greatest violinists and musicians and he owned this violin is extremely meaningful,” adds Perlman, who uses it as his primary instrument. “I feel lucky that it was passed on to me.”