Helena’s amazing book reveals why we love violins so much…

April 2022: Time at the bench is great but there are so many other ways to enjoy this rich subject. Favourites for me are ones that are worth sharing, and you never know you may be inclined to try! The book on my bedside table at present is a fabulous read by Helena Attlee ‘Lev’s Violin’.

The book is about a journey that Helena (pictured below) travels on as she happens to hear a violin, chats to the player, and is told it is an Italian violin named after its Russian owner. She cannot get this violin or the conversation out of her head and so embarks on a journey which takes her from Cremonese workshops in Italy, where Stradivari himself lived and worked, all the way to Russian flea markets.

‘Its story of luthiers and scientists, princes and orphans, musicians, composers, travellers and raconteurs, swells to a poignant meditation on the power of objects, stories and music to shape individual lives and to craft entire cultures.’

In it she talks of meeting colleagues of mine, and also how her discoveries excite and intrigue her.

It reminded me of a journey I took to Budapest many years ago, not long after the ‘Wall’ came down.

Although the wall most significantly changed the lives of those who lived in East Berlin, this had a ripple effect throughout Europe and 800km away in Budapest entrepreneurs were now well and truly out in the open.

An occupational hazard for me is that over the years I have found it virtually impossible to travel anywhere without seeking out a few instruments and ‘doing a deal’.

In Budapest, embarking on a dilapidated bus I travelled along dusty roads to an enormous market where just about anything could be purchased, without exception.

I was astonished to find numerous flea markets there with peasant stall holders selling violins alongside, wait for it! Kalashnikovs!!!

I have never seen so many weapons just lying around and I was taken aback by how relaxed everyone was about their presence.

But I only had eyes for the violins.

The stall holders were dishevelled, dirty, grey complexioned and looked as though they were from an earlier time, a previous century where rags for clothes were common place.

But the shock I had, for these guys knew exactly what they were selling, the wholesale price, the market price, their price and my price. I think I would have had better luck dealing in Kalashnikovs that day!

Needless to say, on this occasion I came away empty handed, but with a huge amount of respect for these business men.

  • You won’t be disappointed if you give ‘Lev’s Violin’ a read. It will take you on adventures to faraway places and with people who have so much in common with us, and where violins, violas and cellos are as precious as they are to you and me.

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