The Lipinski Stradivarius was stolen one week ago today. As Frank Almond, steward of the violin and concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, walked to his car on the evening of 1/27 he was approached by a man with a stun gun. Stunned, he dropped the violin, which was then quickly taken into a waiting minivan and whisked away. The thieves – police are looking for a man and a woman and believe it to be a very sophisticated crime – remain at large with the violin. Of course the instrument, on permanent loan to Almond from its anonymous, Milwaukee-area owner, is insured, but its loss is tragic and I feel terrible for Almond – money is not what Stradivarius are about.
The orchestra and the police are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the return of the instrument. Apparently Almond and the Lipinski Strad are well-known fixtures in Milwaukee – the town is in a bit of shock since it happened. Despite their value, the article referencing the reward indicates that outright thefts of expensive instruments are quite rare. There have been cases of loss, but exceptionally few heists. The value of the instrument is listed in the high seven figures. Due to its stature, the thieves will have an exceptionally difficult time doing anything with the instrument, unless they simply want to play it.
Frank Almond’s website has a large section devoted to The Lipinski Stradivarius, a 1715 long model that has a storied past. Tartini, master musician and composer, is credited with being its first owner, and one of his pupils gave the instrument to Karol Lipinski, likely the most famous violinist in Polish history, in 1818. Lipinski had been in Italy to meet and play with Paganini, and when Lipinski received the instrument he could scarcely believe Tartini’s student privileged his own playing over that of Paganini, an Italian master who was a local and a famous violin collector at that. One contemporary critic compared the two masters, “In Paganini, we forget about art and see the artist, in Lipinski, we forget about the artist and see art.” The two remained friends and sustained a mutual admiration throughout their lives, and upon his death Paganini willed Lipinski an Amati instrument. Prior to his own death in 1861, Lipinski had retired to the countryside and established a violin school for peasant children.
Subsequently the instrument passed to the concertmaster of the prestigious Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Germany, Engelbert Röntgen. It stayed in his family until 1962, when it was purchased by Evi Liivak, an Estonian showmaster based in New York who toured the world with her pianist husband. After her death in 1996, her husband kept the instrument until his own death in 2008, when it was acquired by the anonymous donor who now has it on permanent loan to Frank Almond in Milwaukee.
Almond is in my thoughts, and I was touched to read his take on the Lipinski Strad, “At this point my best consolation is something I often said in public, and that I now remind myself of every day — that for many years I have been incredibly fortunate to be passing through its life, not the other way around.” Let’s hope the violin passes back into his life very, very soon.
Thanks to Frank Almond’s site for the wealth of information on the Lipinski Stradivarius, where you can read so much more, and to the New York Times for its coverage of the heist.
Thanks for reading.