Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Grand Theft: Violin

The Stolen Lipinski Stradivarius
Yesterday on NPR I heard a short piece about a stolen Stradivarius violin in Milwaukee on Monday evening.  A concert master was returning to his car after a performance and thieves assaulted him with a taser and made off with the violin. 

The Strad Trade Mark

I have this romanticized Hollywood notion of art and jewel thieves and immediately had this image of a dashing Michael Caine driving a sleek BMW getaway car while a demure Demi Moore in skin tight black burglar’s garb whacks some old teetering maestro with a taser and the pair zoom off into the night with his Strad. 

Antonio Stradivari
Stradivarius violins have always fascinated me.  The name refers to a family of instrument makers but the best instruments were made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737).  The absolute best of the Stradivarius violins came from the Golden Period which were famous for the Long Strads, violins made with larger bodies and improved varnishes, woods, and assembly techniques from 1700 to 1720.  Strads are the subject of a good bit of legend and myth regarding their quality… they have no parallel, no one knows why they are superior, the wood was cured in canals for years prior to assembly.  Modern blind tests indicate that these claims may be more hype than fact.  Yet for instruments made 300 years ago, their fine craftsmanship and tonal qualities are the gold standard for all other instruments to achieve.  There are many theories of why the Strads are superior, type of wood, geometry, type of varnish, treatment of the wood, but the one quality that physical tests have substantiated is that the wood is extremely dense and uniformly so. 

So back to our theft:

Well my romanticized notion of this theft is wrong, no sleek BMW sped off, an early 90s burgundy Caravan minivan slogged off into the night with two thieves that probably looked nothing like Caine and Moore.  
Similar to the getaway car

The maestro was not an old duffer but rather a young Frank Almond.  Ironically, Almond has worked hard to show case this particular Strad, called the Lipinski Stradivarius after one of its former owners.  It is estimated to be worth 6 million dollars.  

Here is a video of Frank Almond demonstrating the tonal qualities of the Lupinski Strad.

Extra credit points to those who can identify the opening piece of music that Almond is playing in the video.  The answer can be found in the first comment.  

Here is a beautiful website that Almond created for the Lipinski Stradivarius:

This site is has excellent quality photos of this lovely violin and extensive information on the Antoniio Stradivari and the Lipinski violin and its various owners.   Almond also cut a CD with various pieces of music to showcase the talents of the Lipiniski Strad. 


In an unhappy world of war, hunger, and disaster, the theft of a priceless violin is not going to create but a blip on the Richter scale of tragedy.  Fortunately Almond was not severely injured in the assault and we can only hope that the violin was not damaged when Almond dropped it.  

Yet when you look at the effort that Frank Almond has expended to share this beautiful violin with the people it seems a cruel irony that of all the Strads in the world,  this is the one that was targeted.  In a further irony,  if the thieves were knowledgeable, Almond was probably an easy mark… a well known artist with a well publicized schedule.    

One has to wonder, what are the thieves going to do with the instrument?  This is hardly the sort of thing that one can put up on Ebay or Craig’s list.  They have stolen something that is so valuable as to be of almost no value.  I suppose some very rich and very criminal  collector might pay a rather high price for the instrument and perhaps the instrument will be played, even lovingly.  But the theft of this instrument is not merely a crime against Frank Almond or the Lipinski Strad's anonymous owner, again in a cruel irony, the beautiful music that the Lipinski violin is so very capable of producing has been stolen from all of us, the common people who could never afford a Strad, but certainly see it at the concert hall.  It is a grand theft: violin on a very grand scale. 

EDIT 2-12-2014:  The violin has been recovered and returned to Almond and several suspects are in police custody.

Image & Video Credits: 

Stolen Lipinski Strad: Almond, Frank. A ‘Finicky’ Strad That Can Teach a Few Tricks.  Strings, Sept. 2013

The Stradivarius Trademark: Eclectic Focus Blog, Stradivarius violin discovered in lost-and-found, August 4, 2012

Antonio Stradivarius:  Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)

YouTube 3: A Violin's Life