"A Czech family is laying claim to a rare 1617 Amati violin once played by Chicago violinist Rachel Barton, on the grounds that it was stolen years ago. The heirs of the Lobkowicz family claim that the instrument was among many in a collection looted by the Nazis in the Second World War from their 16th-century Roudnice Castle outside Prague, in the Czech Republic. The instrument, valued at a sum in the mid six figures, ended up in America, and was played by Barton for 10 years until 1995 when she had a train accident that crushed her legs.
Maximilian Lobkowicz, son of the last Prince Lobkowicz, fled the country during the war with his wife and children a day before the Nazi invasion and spent the war in London as ambassador to Britain for the Czech government in exile. After the war Maximilian returned to Prague and reclaimed the family property. But no one still alive knows if the instrument collection was returned complete.
In 1948 history repeated itself when the collection was seized by the Communists. Maximilian again fled to London, this time suffering a nervous breakdown. With the fall of Communism in 1992, the property was returned again but several instruments were missing. It came to light that the 1617 Amati had been sold in America.
According to a single-page document from the New York dealer Rembert Wurlitzer, who is no longer in business, the violin was acquired in 1953 from "Max Lobkowitz". The violin was then sold on in America.
But Martin Lobkowicz maintains the instrument was stolen, either by the Nazis or the Communists, and sold to Wurlitzer by someone other than Maximilian.
The violin is currently in the hands of the Chicago-based Stradivari Society, which lends instruments to young virtuosos. Rachel Barton returned it after her accident and it has now been lent to 21-year-old German violinist David Roehn, who says it is the best he has ever played. "This violin has lived many lifetimes," Roehn says. "It's almost a miracle that it is still making music today.""
"In their articles, Reich and Gaines gave credibility to the claims of Martin Lobkowicz, a descendant of the important family of nobility from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Martin Lobkowicz claims that the Amati violin was pilfered from the family’s extensive collection of instruments stored in Czechoslovakia during the war. That the instrument is the Amati in question can be verified by the presence of a wax seal of the Lobkowicz crest on the back. The evidence against Martin Lobkowicz’ claim is a copy of the inventory card from the Rembert Wurtlitzer internal files wherein the violin is shown to have been purchased from one Max Lobkowicz, Martin Lobkowicz father, in 1957. The violin was paid for by check. The card further states an address in the city in Massachusetts, where Max Lobkowicz actually lived. The transaction over a period of 3 and 1/2 years from 1953 to 1957 is documented as well. Martin Lobkowicz answer to the evidence contained in the Wurlitzer file stretches credibility: he claims that someone impersonated his father in selling the violin to Wurlitzer. It would have been substantially easier, and far safer for a would-be plunderer of stolen treasure to have removed the Lobkowicz’ wax seal from the back of the Amati violin and invented a new provenance for the instrument rather than impersonate a member of a family of nobility for a period of years, right down to creating a bank account and maintaining a mailing address in the same town where the real Max Lobkowicz was living. Combine all of this with the unimpeachable reputation of the Rembert Wurlitzer firm, the most highly regarded string instrument dealership of its day, and Martin Lobkowicz claims don’t hold water."
Soundpost Online | Where players, makers and connoisseurs of the violin meet to exchange news, views and information, Stefan Hersh