Sotheby’s listing of the Barjansky in their June 1983 sale catalogue of ‘Highly Important Musical Instruments’.
The Strad, October 1983
The “Barjansky” Strad
Brian Jones talks to Julian Lloyd Webber the new owner of the cello which was sold recently at Sotheby’s.
ON JUNE 23, at a Sotheby’s auction, a Stradivarius cello sold for a world record price. The instrument is known as the “Barjansky” Strad, after Alexandre (Serge) Barjansky, its previous owner, and is now the proud possession of Julian Lloyd Webber.
The actual date of the instrument is something of a mystery: “The catalogue date is 1684 and the label inside the cello says 1684. But before the sale I did some research on the instrument and found it listed rather erratically in Henley’s book on Stradivari’s instruments. It is listed there as the “Barjansky” Strad, 1736, the last cello he ever made. Dealers who know the cello think that it is certainly not so early as 1684 which is a good thing. According to the Henley book he didn’t really establish his cello model until round about 1700 at which time the cello was only first becoming established as a solo instrument.”
An article on the “Barjansky” Strad appeared in THE STRAD, November 1909, and referred to its owner Serge Barjansky of Odessa” who played it at a concert in London in June that year. Quite what happened to it after that date is again something of a mystery but some detective work by Julian Lloyd Webber has resulted in a strange and remarkable coincidence concerning the Delius Cello Concerto which he has done so much to popularize in recent years. “The famous Russian cellist Alexandre Barjansky premiered the Delius Concerto in 1923 (in Frankfurt, January 30) so I am now playing the cello on which the Delius Cello Concerto was first performed!”
Buying a new instrument, especially if you are a busy, professional concert artist, can be a fraught experience, dependent on time and, naturally, money being available. There is also a problem as far as “getting to know” the instrument is concerned, something which Julian Lloyd Webber noticed on this occasion: “The catalogue arrived while I was away so I had only 10 days in which to familiarize myself with the cello. Sotheby’s were very helpful but basically a player needs to take the instrument away, play it in concert, try it out at home etc. Really, it’s very difficult to decide to go out and spend all that money on an instrument when you’ve never had the opportunity to go away and play it under proper concert conditions. Also the length of time involved. A dealer can have his sums of money already worked out. I certainly didn’t- I still haven’t! I was lucky I put those two weeks aside to sort it out. Normally I couldn’t have done it; had I been in the middle of a run of concerts I just couldn’t have bought the cello. There is a great deal to be said for allowing people more time before the sale and players should have far more notice that things are coming up for auction so they have time to think about it and to try the instruments.
Julian Loyd Webbers previous cello had been a Guadagnini, an instrument to which he feels very attached but which he now regrettably must sell: “I was very devoted to the Guadagnini which I’ve had for the past three years. All my recent records have been recorded with it. But when I tried the “Barjansky” I knew it was in a different league. Having first tried it at about midday I played it until the end of the afternoon. I then played the Strad and the Guadagnini one after the other to get a comparison and also got a cellist friend to play them so that I could get a good idea. So I made up my mind, put down my maximum figure and added a bit on top. Actually, if I hadn’t added £5,000 on the morning of the sale I wouldn’t have got the instrument.”
The high price paid for the Barjansky Strad is indeed remarkable but, as Julian Lloyd Webber is keen to point out, it is a remarkable price only as far as the salerooms go: “It is nothing like the price some Strads have changed hands for. Charles Beare told me that anyone who had got I Strad cello for under $300,000 had done really well. I’m convinced that if it had been sold in New York it would have gone for a lot more money. I know that my underbidder was bidding for an American dealer so it would definitely have gone out of the country if I hadn’t got it. I didn’t think I would get it at that price. Having tried the instrument I knew it was very special and they just don’t come up all that often. I was once offered a Strad cello – the “de Pawle’ – by a New York dealer at what he called a rock bottom price: $650,000. So that puts the price of this instrument into perspective. I’m quite sure if Rostropovich’s “Duport” Strad was put on the market it would sell for millions. The prices are terrifying but at the end of the day I think I got this cello very cheaply.”
The instrument is in excellent condition with no serious problems at all. A new spike had been added and a new bridge fitted. Physically the instrument is a little smaller (length; 29 15/16″ ; breadth upper part 13 ½” breadth of lower part 17 3/8″) than Julian Lloyd Webber’s Guadagnini yet the tone is far more full and rich. There is some very high arching and the scroll is made of pear wood. The neck is definitely original. When played, even quietly, there is a true singing tone, which lingers long after the bow has finished drawing across the string. As far as technical adjustments on his part are concerned Julian Lloyd Webber says, “Early days. The actual number of times I have practised on the instrument have been quite few but I think the better the instrument the more it is going to tell you how it should he played. You certainly can’t dictate to it how it’s going to play. In concerts it will be revealing. It will take about six months of solid concert work to get to know it and also what it’s going to be like to record with. The Strad is going to have its own problems in the studio; its sound is so big they can’t close-mike it. I think the answer is to let it speak – and take the mikes away!
“So many people have copied Strad all the way down the line and not got it right – why not? Something of the maker must have gone into his instruments. In the end you are paying for genius – something which is indefinable”