The ‘ex-Károlyi’, a concertmaster’s Guadaganini

In this week’s Carteggio, Tarisio’s Founder, Expert and Director, Jason Price, takes a photo tour of the c. 1745-49 ‘ex-Sándor Károlyi’ Guadagnini violin, the star lot of our October auction in Berlin.

By Jason Price September 27, 2023

Guadagnini violins are always in demand. They sit first desk of orchestras all across the globe; they fill concert halls; they inspire collectors; they work for all repertoire; they inspire and people want them. In this week’s Carteggio, Tarisio’s Founder, Expert and Director, Jason Price, takes a look at the c. 1745-49 ‘ex-Sándor Károlyi’ Guadagnini violin.

The c. 1745-49 'ex-Sándor Károlyi' Guadagnini


The model and outline

Guadagnini’s outlines, particularly during his piacenza period, have a tendancy to bulge at the upper and lower blocks. The outline of a Stradivari (right) makes a “D” shape, whereas Guadanini makes the curve of an “O”. I have exaggerated the yellow tracing lines for effect. View the next slide to see without tracing lines.

The soundholes and edges

Guadagnini’s soundhole shapes varied tremendously over the course of his over four decade working career. He frequently made almond-shaped lower lobes and often reversed the position of the notches. But on this violin, the sound holes follow a conventional model and setting. It seems doubtful that Guadagnini used a round circle-cutter as was common in other schools of making, however, the intention, at least with this instrument, was to make more or less circular holes.

The head

The volute of this violin is dramatically undercut and asymmetrical but still follows an elegant line. The yellow lines above illustrate the extreme angles and asymmetry of the volute cylinders.

The date and period

In the absence of a label, we must use clues from the instrument's model and features to ascribe it to a period and date. By comparing it to reference examples, we arrive at a circa date of 1746-49, representing the second half of the maker's Piacenza period. The following slides show comparable violin that were useful in dating the 'Károlyi'.

About Sándor Károlyi

This Guadagnini was acquired by Sándor Károlyi, probably from the Budapest dealer László Reményi in around 1962.

Born in Budapest on September 24, 1931, Károlyi studied at the Franz Liszt Conservatory with Ede Zathureczky and at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels with André Gertler. He won prizes in several international competitions: Geneva (1947), Budapest (1948), Darmstadt (1952), London (1953) and first prize at the Vieuxtemps Competition in 1959. Károlyi served as the Concertmeister at the Frankfurt City Opera for more than 40 years, playing under world renown conductors including Sir Georg Solti, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Michael Gielen, Sylvain Cambreling. He was also a professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt am Main.

Károlyi managed to keep a diverse and rich musical life: he was a longstanding member of the Deutsche Bachsolisten orchestra, with which he toured all over the world, and gave numerous concerts, radio broadcasts, television and LP recordings, including some with his wife, Belgian pianist Suzanne Godefroid. He spent many summers playing under the direction of Guy Marocco in Lugano, was part of the series of ‘Sonntagskonzerte’ with the Frankfurter Museumsgesellschaft, played concerts at the Frankfurt Palmengarten, and took part in festivals in Schwetzingen, Bad Kissingen and elsewhere.

Károlyi’s children shared with us that he also loved jazz music and admired Stéphane Grapelli, Helmut Zacharias, Erroll Garner and others. Outside of music, Sándor was interested in technology, especially photography, and was a peace-loving person who profoundly respected nature. He loved funny films and could burst out into roaring laughter watching Looney Tunes, Abbott & Costello, Louis de Funès, Totò, Latabár, Billy Wilder movies. He died on August 12, 2022 in Frankfurt am Main.

This instrument is being sold by the Károlyi family. To the next caretaker of this fine Guadagnini violin, the Károlyi family would like to say:

“Be thankful for the artisan wonder you have the privilege to hold in your hands and speak your love and joy through that unique language the whole universe understands and may the many, many beautiful sounds you produce with it help turn double as many swords into plowshares.”

This Guadagnini will be sold in our October 23rd auction in Berlin with a pre-sale estimate of €500,000-800,000. The catalog goes online on October 4th. Viewings are available by appointment.

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