Violin Maker Jan Špidlen on the 1715 “Emperor” Stradivari Violin

Strings asked violin maker Jan Špidlen, "Of all the violins that inspire you, which one do you most wish you could keep? What makes it special?"

From the July-August 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

Strings asked violin maker Jan Špidlen, “Of all the violins that inspire you, which one do you most wish you could keep? What makes it special?”

Though I have never had it in my hands, it would be the 1715 “Emperor” Stradivari violin. It belonged to the famous Czech violinist Jan Kubelík (1880–1940). My dad [violin maker Premysl Špidlen] told me that sometimes he came to our shop with it, and if it had to stay overnight, his servant slept in the workshop on the floor guarding the violin. When Kubelík died, the violin was inherited by his son Rafael, who was a conductor. He deposited the violin in our shop, and it stayed there for several years until Rafael left the country in 1948 after the communist coup. We still have Jan Kubelík’s Hill double case where it was kept. 


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The violin was a great source of inspiration for my grandfather [violin maker Otakar Špidlen] and father. They both made several copies. My dad often talked about it, and we have always had a nice full-size picture in the shop. The last time he saw it was in the 1980s in Japan. He traced it in a recording studio. However, he was not allowed to touch it, as the then-current player was instructed not to hand it to anyone from Czechoslovakia. Because Rafael had left the country illegally, he was aware that, theoretically, the communist state could still try to claim the violin back. 

I hope I will someday have the chance to see it.

—Jan Špidlen, violin maker