It sounds like something out of a fairy tale. Discovered in the attic of a German castle in the late 1800s after being untouched—and forgotten—for a century and a half, the 1704 “Sleeping Beauty” Stradivari violin has the kind of backstory any old-instrument aficionado would find utterly bewitching. As Tarisio’s founder Jason Price once noted, “Stories like these make us dream that Stradivaris are waiting to be discovered, if not in grandma’s attic then perhaps in the castle next door.”
Yet, as violinist Isabelle Faust will attest, the Sleeping Beauty’s most enchanting aspect is, unsurprisingly, its sound. Faust has played the violin for two decades, since 1995, in what she describes as a journey of discovery. Adding to the instrument’s romantic renown, she describes it as a “truly human” violin. The German violinist took time on the road to describe the Sleeping Beauty’s personality, the repertoire that suits it best, and exactly how its qualities are nothing short of ethereal.
Please tell me about your violin.
I am extremely lucky to play a Stradivari violin from 1704, the “Sleeping Beauty.” For Baroque repertoire I usually use a Jacobus Stainer from 1658.
What gift does the Sleeping Beauty bring to your playing that can’t be found in any other instrument?
The Sleeping Beauty Stradivari is an extremely elegant-sounding instrument, with lots of silvery colors to it. It’s very agile and has a heavenly character.
What do you know about its history and the other people who have played it?
It was forgotten for about 150 years in a noble family’s castle and when it was found again it had been given the name “Sleeping Beauty.” I’ve been playing on it for more than 20 years. Before me, it had not been played a lot. [Editor’s note: A noble woman played it for a short period of time at the turn of the 20th century, before it was put in a bank vault for safekeeping during wartime, according to Tarisio.]
What initially drew you to this instrument?
Its very special colors put a spell over me when I first played some notes on it. Little did I know that this was only to be the beginning of a sound development that lasted for years until it was completely opened up and free, as you can hear it today.
What is your instrument’s personality and temperament like? Does it remind you of anyone or anything?
For me, it is the ideal instrument for pieces like Beethoven or Mozart concerti. It has this special elegance, noblesse, and light in its sound. It can create instantly a multitude of colors and nuances.
Does it perform better in certain situations?
Of course, it doesn’t sound the same every day. It depends very much on climate and acoustic conditions, and of course on my own state of being.
What are its strengths and limitations?
It’s an instrument that likes to fly rather than be too grounded on earth. It’s always ready to take off and make the audience dream.
If given the ability, what would your instrument say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
If I only knew! I hope it wouldn’t complain too much about the monstrous amount of work, too much change for different repertoire on different strings, and too much constant traveling from one climate to another. But I think there is definitely a strong companionship between us after so many faithful years!
Strings Thomastik-Infeld Dominant, D’Addario Kaplan, Toro, Pirastro Passione
Bow Different kinds of modern, Classical, and late-Baroque Tourte bows
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Strings magazine.