"Red Mendelssohn" Stradivarius
Crafted in 1720, the “Red Mendelssohn” Stradivarius almost immediately vanished. Its whereabouts and ownership during more than 200 years remain a mystery. The instrument eventually came into the hands of Lilli Mendelssohn – heir to the great composer, Felix Mendelssohn – in Germany in the early part of the 20th century.
After Lilli Mendelssohn and her husband tragically died in a car accident in 1928, the red Strad was sold in Berlin in the early 1930s. Eventually it found its way to auction at Christie’s in London, where it sold for a then-record $1.7 million on Thanksgiving Day in 1990. Its mysterious past captured the imagination as many wondered about the life of the violin during the 200 years left unaccounted for. That speculation inspired the 1998 film The Red Violin.
The buyer at that famous auction remained anonymous, though it was known that a young violinist, who had played the instrument before the auction, had been overheard declaring that the violin “had everything.” Elizabeth Pitcairn, whose grandfather purchased the “Red Mendelssohn” for her 16th birthday, kept the instrument’s identity quiet until her successful performing career brought her – and her beautiful, red violin – increasingly into the public eye. Pitcairn, who has played the “Red Mendelssohn” all over the world, currently teaches at The Colburn School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles.