The estate of the violin's last owner has given the violin, valued at Ô£3.5 million pounds, to the British tax authority in order to wipe out a Ô£1.4 million tax bill. The Academy must raise Ô£1 million by March 31 in order to purchase the instrument; otherwise, it will be sold to the highest bidder.
According to the Independent, the Viotti violin served a crucial role in the development of the Stradivarius legend. Created about 1710 during Antonio Stradivari's "Golden Period," it eventually wound up in the possession of Catherine the Great of Russia. She gave the violin to Giovanni Viotti, a musical prodigy on a tour of Europe.
Viotti's virtuoso performances on the violin in Paris and London in the late 18th century made him into a star, and brought new attention to Stradivari's instruments. "Before Viotti," historian Toby Faber told the Independent, "Stradivari was just one violin-maker among many. After him everyone wanted to play a Strad."
After Viotti's death, the violin was sold in Paris to repay his debts. In 1897, the British company W.E. Hill and Sons bought it; it passed through the hands of several British collectors over the last century, but was rarely played.
Last week, Royal Academy professor Clio Gould performed on the instrument at the institution's Dukes Hall, marking its first public performance in two centuries. "It was magnificent," principal Curtis Price told the Independent. "Those of us that were lucky enough to be there had tears in our eyes."