Saved for the nation, the violin that plucked Stradivari out of obscurity

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The Independent Culture

The so-called "Viotti violin" was made by the great master Antonio Stradivari and first alerted listeners to the genius of his craft. It has been in Britain for more than a century and the last owner, John Bruce, wanted it to stay here.

But it has taken two and a half years of negotiations, a deal over death duties and a massive fundraising campaign that garnered generous public support to secure the important instrument for the Royal Academy of Music.

Yesterday, more than five months after an original deadline for the campaign passed with thousands still to be raised, the violin's future was secure after a last-minute extra grant from the National Art Collections Fund (the Art Fund) charity and the family agreed to waive a six-figure sum it was due from the deal. The violin was formally handed over.

Professor Curtis Price, the Royal Academy of Music's principal, said they were delighted. "The Academy's specialised facilities will provide Viotti's Stradivarius with a safe permanent home, while providing opportunities for everyone to see it, hear it and learn from its extraordinary history.

"Even with the help of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, this was a huge fundraising effort - surely the most money ever raised by a public institution to purchase a musical instrument."

It will go on public display in the Academy's museum and, with 30 days' notice to heritage authorities, will be played occasionally by its best students. It will also aid research.

The violin is known as the Viotti after Giovanni Battista Viotti, who dazzled audiences when he first played it at the Tuileries Palace in Paris in 1782 and then later in London.

The tone and expressiveness was completely new at the time and led to the recognition of the supremacy of the Stradivari violin. A manuscript of a piece written by Viotti himself for the instrument was discovered by the Academy only last week among papers given by the late violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin.

Toby Faber, author of a biography of Stradivari entitled Five Violins, One Cello and a Genius, said: "Before Viotti, Stradivari was just one violin-maker among many. After him, everyone wanted to play a Strad."

It has been in the UK since 1897 when it arrived in the care of the violin selling family WE Hill and Sons. The instrument has had only three owners since; Baron Kroop, the son of an Estonian textile magnate; Richard Baker, a Stradivari enthusiast; and since 1924, the Bruce family of Scottish artistocrats. John Bruce, the son of the purchaser, died three years ago, saying it should remain in Britain.

Negotiations began over accepting the instrument in lieu of death duties but the amount the family owed was significantly less than the value of the instrument. The Royal Academy of Music wanted to purchase the instrument but needed around £2.1 m to pay the difference to the family.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund, the fund of last resort for national treasures, gave a grant of £250,000 and the Art Fund £150,000. A number of private and public donors came forward. The Inland Revenue agreed to extend the deadline for settling the death duties when the fund reached £1.2 m.

David Barrie, director of the Art Fund, said they were pleased to have solved the funding gap. "This is an exquisite instrument of extraordinary quality."

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