The “Da Vinci ex-Seidel” Stradivarius violin is expected to fetch a record bid of $20 million when it goes on auction next month.
If you’re a fan of classic films, you’ve probably heard this instrument. It belonged to Toscha Seidel (1899-1962), a Ukrainian-born émigré who was a film-studio musician during Hollywood’s glory years. He is known to have played his Strad in the soundtracks of “Intermezzo” and “Melody for Three,” and he may have been the violinist who accompanied Judy Garland as she sang “Over the Rainbow” in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Seidel was one of the group of Jewish violinists born in the tsarist Russian Empire, a contemporary of Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman and Efram Zimbalist Sr. – all students of the great pedagogue Leopold Auer – who profoundly influenced modern violin technique and performance, especially in the US.
Dating from 1714, the Strad was named for Leonardo da Vinci by an auction house in the 1920s. Seidel purchased it in 1924 for $25,000, telling The New York Times that he and the instrument “precisely suit each other, and I am convinced it is one of the finest examples of the famous violin maker.” (The article in which he was quoted ran on The Times’ front page. They don’t make violins or news editors like that anymore.)
Although Seidel was a celebrity in his time – he gave Albert Einstein violin lessons, performed in many concerts and was host of a CBS Radio show, as well as playing for films – “today he is all but forgotten,” Smithsonian Magazine’s Antonia Mufarech writes in an article on the coming sale of the famous fiddle:
Here’s Seidel playing his Strad, with pianist Max Rabinowitsch, in a 1927 recording of the “Méditation” from Jules Massenet’s “Thaïs.”
UPDATE (June 10): The violin fetched $15.34 million, well short of the record, in the auction on June 9. “This may indicate a slight cooling of Strad prices,” Norman Lebrecht comments on his Slipped Disc blog.