A 300-year-old violin, reputed to have been played on the Oscar-winning “Wizard of Oz” score, will go on the auction block next month and could fetch as much as $20 million.
The rare Stradivarius belonged to Odessa-born Toscha Seidel, widely considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, famed for his rich tone and emotional intensity.
Estimates are that the violin could bring between $16 million and $20 million at auction, partly because of its excellent condition and partly because of its history. There are about 600 Stradivarius violins in existence worldwide; the highest price paid for a Strad was $15.9 million in 2011, so the Seidel instrument could mark a new world record.
Seidel made his American debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1918 and toured the U.S., Europe and Australia throughout the 1920s. He was a frequent performer on New York-based CBS Radio in the early 1930s but moved to California in 1938 to pursue more lucrative movie studio work.
His best-known film work was in 1939’s “Intermezzo,” which starred Leslie Howard as a violinist who falls in love with his accompanist, played by Ingrid Bergman. Seidel played the violin solos heard throughout the soundtrack. He is also known to have performed on “The Great Waltz,” “Balalaika” and “Melody for Three,” music-themed films from the 1938-41 period.
As for the beloved Judy Garland film: “There is some glorious solo violin work in the underscoring,” reports John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz” and foremost historian of the MGM classic, although he was unable to confirm that Seidel was the violin soloist in Herbert Stothart’s Oscar-winning score.
It is possible, perhaps even likely, as Seidel is known to have been placed under MGM contract in February 1939 and most of the “Oz” score was recorded in May 1939.
In any case, Seidel played his Stradivarius for nearly four decades and it has been more than 15 years since any instrument from Antonio Stradivari’s so-called Golden Period has been offered at auction. This one, crafted in Italy in 1714 and nicknamed “da Vinci,” made front-page headlines in The New York Times when it was acquired by Seidel for $25,000 in 1924.
Seidel also gave violin lessons to renowned physicist Albert Einstein; together, they later played a Bach double violin concerto at a fundraiser for German-Jewish scientists fleeing the Nazis.
“It is our tremendous pleasure to present this instrument, whose exquisite voice still speaks to us through many classical recordings and film scores performed by the incomparable Toscha Seidel,” said Carlos Tome, director at Tarisio, which will auction the violin on June 9. “We can only imagine the thrill that this instrument has generated for countless musicians and audiences over the centuries.”
Tarisio will exhibit Seidel’s violin in London, Berlin, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York between now and auction day.