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


  1. Comment: Almond is playing the violin solo from Rimski-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherazade Op. 35.

  2. i suppose this could be the work of some hapless minor league thief who just happened to stumble on a nearly priceless artifact in a random robbery attempt, but somehow I think that it was planned. I find it curious that the case was dumped. The whole thing sounds fishy to me.
    Well, i hope we get updates from ... newsy?

    1. Yeah wouldn't that be hell, you are a couple of drug addicts and you figure you are going to hit this dude, and pawn a stupid violin for several hundred. Next day you find out you got a 6 million dollar fiddle and the FBI and Interpol are looking for you.

      Newsy! Newsy indeed. That is a place that has a lot of news, sort of like a place that has a lot of wind is windy. It was the only video on the theft on YouTube that I could successfully embed. I had another one, far more cultural, proper British accent, but Blogger would not embed it. I can't find it now, maybe it got tossed from YouTube.

  3. I wanted to be smart and name that tune, but all I could do was sing along and wonder what it was.

    1. That was an easy one for me because Scheherazade is one of my favorite romantic pieces despite being an ear worm for me. It plays in my head probably on an hourly basis. I have this medley of ear worms and Scheherazade, Le Coq d'Or, Carmen, and L'Arlesienne all play automatically. They were snippets of classical music that was on a "Worlds Greatest Music" record that my dad bought at a grocery store in the early 60s. It was one of those buy a record every week and in 7 months you would have 642 snips of music and not one complete piece. The record had at most one movement. It should have been labeled "Chunks of the Worlds Greatest Music." It wasn't until I took music appreciation in college that I realized that they were separate samples of music and not one piece. If I remember right the back of the record had Chopin and Rachmaninoff piano pieces that were very intellectual, no melody that you could hum, and I didn't like them. My guess would be that Rimsky-Korsakov generated far more ear worms than Chopin. Anyhow my old man only bought the one record, so the World Greatest Music ear worm is limited to those above pieces until I developed an interest in college. I have a separate ear worm that has snips of Barktok Piano Concerto #2, Schuman's third, Appalachian Spring, and Shostakovich's Fifth. Another plays Led Zepplin. There are tons of ear worms all in different genres. My latest is Lorde tunes. The inside of my head is a weird place musically...odd elevator music is always playing.

      I was too cool (yeah right like I have ever been cool) to admit that I liked the music. It was stoooooopid, but still I listened to quite frequently on my own. Glen Miller was stupid as well and I never listened to that on my own.

      I have evolved from my mother. She sang (aloud) Camp Town Races, Yankee Doodle, The Wacs and Waves Will Win The War, and Had A Little Monkey as household drudgery songs constantly. At least I play mine in my head.

      Carol, always an honor, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. How tragic! I'd never heard of Frank Almond but wow! Can he play! He certainly seemed very happy to have the honor of playing this violin. I hope they are able to find it and get it back. You would think that a violin that valuable would not even be allowed out of the concert hall without security. Thank goodness he was not hurt.

    1. Indeed, Almond's joy (wow I made a funny and didn't even mean to) with this instrument and his willingness to share its incredible musical qualities with the public make this an ironically sad case. I read that this incident has shaken up musicians. Violins have been stolen before, but always lifted from a dressing room or restaurant. This is the first assault and theft. Even those with less valuable instruments are worried that they may become targeted for theft of their instruments. Student grade violins cost hundreds and professional grade violins are in the thousands.

      Thanks, Alicia, for stopping by and commenting.

    2. Yay, I happened to come back just to see if you had an update on whether or not it was recovered and see that you are just a wonder and you did update and it was recovered! Awesome!

    3. Alicia, yes it was recovered and the thieves were in custody. Surprise, surprise they pleaded not guilty: