Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri 'del Gesù', Cremona, c. 1740, the 'Heifetz, David'

Violin: 40097

Label not original, bearing date 1742.

Back: Two-piece flamed maple, very similar to the 'Sauret'

Top: Unmatched sides, one from the same log as the "Kortschak," and the other from the same log as the "Ole Bull"

Scroll: Scroll almost certainly by Giuseppe 'filius Andrea'

Length of back: 35.4 cm

Upper bouts: 16.5 cm

Middle bouts: 11 cm

Lower bouts: 20.5 cm


"But this Guarnerius violin was the prized possession of Jascha Heifetz, generally considered the best violinist of the 20th century. It has been played only occasionally since 1987, when Heifetz died and the instrument was bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Under an agreement struck this summer, Barantschik will get to play the Guarnerius often over the next three seasons. Months after the announcement, Barantschik still can't believe his eyes -- or his ears.

"When I look at it, it's striking," said Barantschik, entering his second season as conductor Michael Tilson Thomas' top violinist. "You can't avoid thinking about people who have touched it and what they played and how they played.

"The complexity of the sound is different from anything else I've tried in my life. It has a dramatic, dark sound. It's very inspiring."

How the violin landed in Barantschik's lap is a story of craftsmanship, luck, collaboration and two baffling questions that remain unanswered.

The first mystery is how the Guarneri and Stradivari families managed to build instruments that, nearly three centuries later, are the preferred brands of the world's top violinists. After all, how many other devices made in 1742 are considered superior in 2002?

"There are many theories about it, but nobody knows exactly," Barantschik said of the Guarnerius secret. The type of wood is an obvious possibility, but no one is certain.

His model is one of about 130 remaining built by Giuseppe Guarneri of Cremona, Italy. He's also known as "del Gesu" because he added the Greek abbreviation for Jesus to his labels.

Del Gesu was merely continuing the family tradition of violin making, and it wasn't until the 19th century that Guarnerius instruments became popular, according to Joseph Grubaugh, a well-respected violin maker and restorer in Petaluma.

"This is not to say that we don't think of him as a genius, but I'm sure he didn't consider himself breaking new ground, Grubaugh said. "Gesus were probably first discovered maybe around 1810, where people started bringing them out of Italy, saying, `Wow!'

The same instrument Barantschik plays this week was used by German violinist Ferdinand David, who used it for the world premiere of Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in 1845. So the violin picked up a nickname: "The David."

Heifetz bought "The David" in 1922. He played it in nearly all of his concerts and recordings.

When Heifetz died, the second great mystery surrounding "The David" was uncovered.

In his will, Heifetz gave his prized violin to the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Nobody knows why.

"He had been in San Francisco in an important period of his life," said Fine Arts Museums director Harry S. Parker III, taking his best guess. "But there was nothing to indicate in his will why he would give it to an arts museum as opposed to a symphony or conservatory."

Heifetz also ordered in his will that the instrument be used "on special occasions by worthy performers."

Until this year, that meant "The David" was under glass except for the occasional performance by world-class artists or specially selected students of the San Francisco Conservatory.

Former San Jose Symphony violinist and Conservatory student Heidi Kim got her chance last year.

`Amazing experience'

"It's a pretty amazing experience," said Kim, of Mountain View, who like all students was watched by security guards the entire time. "The sound is so incredibly sweet. It really doesn't compare to anything else."

You can listen for yourself Wednesday, Thursday and at various other symphony concerts throughout the year. It's Barantschik's choice.

Under the agreement, he will play the violin in three chamber music concerts at the Legion of Honor in the spring. He said he will definitely use it when the orchestra makes its live recording of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony later this month.

And when it's not being used, the violin will be under tight security.

San Francisco Symphony executive director Brent Assink, who helped broker the deal with the Fine Arts Museums, said: "We're taking all the necessary precautions that one would take."

Just like you would for any standard $6 million loaner."

Heifetz Violin, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


until 1860 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume
c. 1840 - 1873 Ferdinand David
1873 - 1884 Paul David
from 1885 Florian Zajić
until 1922 Emil Herrmann, Berlin
1922 - 1987 Jascha Heifetz
from 1987 Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco

Known players

Alexander Barantschik, Ferdinand David, Florian Zajić, Jascha Heifetz

Certificates & Documents

  • Dendrochronology report: Peter Klein, Hamburg (1998) Dating the youngest tree ring to 1734; rings on the treble side match the wood used for the table of the 1739c "Kortschak", and the rings on the bass side match the wood used for the bass side of the 1744 "Ole Bull" (ID=453)
  • Certificate: W. E. Hill & Sons, London (1922)
  • Letter: W. E. Hill & Sons, London (1922) "The label the instrument bears is not the orignal but I am sure that it dates from 1739, 40 or 41, and I consider it to be one of the fine existing examples of this period of the maker's work."

Cozio holds copies of many certificates and other documents, some of which are available to view on request. Please contact us if you wish to view a particular document. (Note that we do not always have permission to share documents.)


  • The Strad 2006 Calendar, Newsquest Specialist Media, London (illustrated)
  • Berühmte Geigen, December 21, 1896
  • Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesú (2 volumes), Carlos Chiesa, John Dilworth, Roger Graham Hargrave, Stewart Pollens, Duane Rosengard & Eric Wen, Peter Biddulph, London (illustrated)
  • Heifetz Violin, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Interview with Alexander Barantschik
  • The Strad, January, 1995, Kenway Lee, Orpheus, London (illustrated)
  • Rare Violins in the Possession of Emil Herrmann: 1926-7, Emil Herrmann, Berlin (illustrated)
  • The Strad, December, 1988, Stewart Pollens, London (illustrated)
  • The Strad 1996 Calendar, Orpheus Publications, London (illustrated)
  • The Violin Masterpieces of Guarneri del Gesù - Exhibition, Peter Biddulph, Peter Biddulph, London (illustrated)


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