Saga of Stradivarius Stolen in 1980 Ends on High Note

Roman Totenberg's family to hear stolen violin for first time in 37 years
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 10, 2017 8:00 AM CST
Tears Guaranteed When This Stolen Stradivarius Is Played
The Ames Stradivarius violin is seen in New York.   (Seth Wenig)

After a meticulous restoration that took more than a year, a Stradivarius violin that was stolen from violinist Roman Totenberg and missing for decades is about to return to the stage. Violinist Mira Wang, who studied under Totenberg, will play the instrument at a private concert in New York on Monday, and more performances after that are possible, reports the AP. The violin known as the Ames Stradivarius is one of roughly 550 surviving instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, history's most renowned violin maker. Built in 1734, it's likely worth millions, though it hasn't been appraised since it was recovered. It was stolen in 1980 after a performance by Totenberg in Boston, and wasn't recovered until 2015, three years after Totenberg died at age 102.

The presumed thief, journeyman violinist Philip Johnson, was himself dying of pancreatic cancer when he showed his ex-wife a locked violin case in his basement. She later learned it contained the stolen Stradivarius. "I'm sure we'll all cry" to hear it again, says Totenberg's daughter, Jill. "I'm absolutely sure of it. When that violin was returned to us, we really felt like our father was back in the room with us." Another happy surprise: 35 years after it disappeared, the violin wasn't in bad shape. Johnson couldn't take it to a repair shop without being discovered, and he used Super Glue and Elmer's to patch a few spots. It was unplayable because it had no strings and the sound post inside was broken. Bruno Price of Rare Violins of New York and the Totenbergs believe Johnson couldn't have played it all that often. (More Stradivarius violin stories.)

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