The history of some Strads is almost completely unknown. Such is the case of the “Beechback” Strad, which earned its nickname during the summer of 2013 at the Stradivarius exhibition of Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum in London. Sometimes, however, the instrument itself reveals glimpses of its long strange journey. Stradivari also repaired violins in his workshop and the “Beechback” is an example of an instrument that underwent a number of physical changes.
It is clear that Stradivari made a new front for the violin around 1720. In the mid-19th century, the back was replaced with one of inexpensive beechwood, hence the instrument’s current name. This back piece was likely taken from an instrument that had been made and varnished by one of Stradivari’s sons, or perhaps another assistant in his workshop. It was a complicated operation that necessitated other changes, including the addition of a new copy of a Stradivari scroll, which was in turn replaced with an Italian one of more appropriate age. Through all of the changes, the instrument remains a true Stradivari, one whose dark exterior belies its rich tone and full sound.
The “Beechback” has been lent to many performers. Both Maxim Vengerov and Xue Wei borrowed the “Beechback” when they won their Carl Flesch Prizes at the start of their careers. It was recently played by Nicola Loud, a former winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Prize.