The Greatest Violin No One’s Ever Heard

Messiah-Strad-2The most famous violin in the world has never been heard. What’s more, it gained its reputation by being invisible. “The Messiah” sits in its glass display case just outside the Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford. Measuring just less than 23 inches, with a 133/16- inch body, the famous fiddle soon grew gargantuan in stature not because of its sound but because of its story. In fact, the conundrum is that nobody knows how the old fiddle actually sounds. A big part of its mystique lies in the fact that, as the only Stradivari in existence still preserved in pristine condition, it has virtually never been played!

The Messiah is not unlike clockmaker John Harrison’s H-4, the last of the four famous clocks that reside in the Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, in the place where east meets west on the prime meridian—zero degrees longitude. All four Harrison clocks—H-1, H-2, H-3, and H-4—keep accurate time and so made the determination of longitude possible. But H-4 is the only celebrated clock of the four that never runs. As Dava Sobel explains in Longitude: “It could run, if curators would allow it to, but they demur, on the grounds that H-4 enjoys something of the status of a sacred relic or a priceless work of art that must be preserved for posterity. To run it would be to ruin it.” Full story.

Quincy Whitney (Literary Hub) / 8 April, 2016

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