A University of Tennessee professor has dispelled scandal surrounding the age of the $20 million Messiah Violin, putting fears to rest that the world-renowned violin craftsman Antonio Stradivari may not have made it.
Henri Grissino-Mayer, assistant geography professor, determined that the Messiah Violin was, in fact, made by Stradivari. He specializes in the science of dating wooden artifacts by analyzing tree rings.
He said the violin has only been played four or five times since it was built.
"It was an incredible moment when they took the violin out of the case," Grissino-Mayer said.
The date of manufacture of the violin was disputed a few years ago when violin scholar Stewart Pollins noticed certain problems that suggested it may not have been made by Stradivari. He published his findings, which raised a huge storm in the violin industry, Grissino-Mayer said. Pollins claimed the violin was made by a 19th-century instrument maker known for his Stradivari copies.
He said the outermost tree ring on the violin was from 1738. Stradivari died in 1737, so if the ring was alive in 1737, he couldn't have made it.
"The instrument is considered the most pristine example of Stradivari's work," Grissino-Mayer said. "It is literally a work of art. So when this person challenged that it may not have been made by Stradivari, this rocked the entire music world."
The Violin Society of America invited Grissino-Mayer to resolve the dispute by studying the violin, Helen Hayes, VSA president, said. Along with two other tree-ring experts, Grissino-Mayer went to England to examine and to independently measure the tree rings.
"It was an awe-inspiring moment. They literally handed me a $20 million violin and said, 'here you go,'" Grissino-Mayer said.
The next day the trio went to the Royal Academy of Music in London to measure rings on other Stradivari violins.
"In a two-day period, we had access to a number of Stradivari instruments; a musician is lucky if he sees one Stradivari in a lifetime," he said.
They found that the outermost ring was alive in 1687, which strongly indicates that Stradivari did make it.
"Everybody breathed a huge sigh of relief - the entire country of England, every violin maker, appraiser, violinist," Grissino-Mayer said of their announcement of the results at the annual meeting of the VSA.