Skip to comments.Selling a 300-Year-Old Cello
Posted on 01/15/2012 2:25:59 PM PST by billorites
On a cold day last winter, an ailing Bernard Greenhouse, wearing an elegant bathrobe and attached to oxygen, was wheeled into the living room of his Cape Cod home, which was festooned with paper cutouts of musical notes. Relatives and students, locals and caregivers had gathered to celebrate the 95th birthday of one of classical musics most respected cellists, a founding member of the famed Beaux Arts Trio and a beloved teacher. Young cellists performed for him, and then Greenhouse indulged in a martini and a plate of oysters. Thus fortified, he decided he wanted to play for the company. He picked up his cello and, though a bit wobbly, rendered Song of the Birds, a Catalan folk melody transcribed by Casals, with whom he studied many years ago.
And then he laid down the bow and praised the cello for its beauty, Nicholas Delbanco, Greenhouses son-in-law, recounted. He said it had been his lifelong companion and the darling of his heart. Indeed, the instrument, known as the Countess of Stainlein, ex-Paganini of 1707 perhaps the greatest surviving Stradivarius cello had been with Greenhouse for 54 years. It was his voice on numerous recordings and a presence at up to 200 concerts a year. Toward the end of his life, Greenhouse asked his nurses to lay the instrument next to him in bed.
But in a twist of exquisite poignancy, Greenhouse was not actually playing his precious cello that day on Cape Cod. It was an exact replica that was made especially for him, a beautiful instrument but not the Strad. As they listened to him talk of his love for the cello, his daughter Elena grieved that he could not tell he was playing the substitute. We knew that this was the beginning of the end,
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
I heard Peter Frampton interviewed on NPR this past week talking about his long-lost guitar. Great story.
I know the feeling. I always consider Bruckner to be sort of Philip Glass for the 'thinking man'.
I sent the story to a friend that I’ve recorded with. He has played with Frampton many times, so he twittered him. Here’s Peter’s answer;
“Thanks Neil. I’ll date myself by saying it’s pretty trippy! Surreal is another word that comes to mind. Who’d a thunk?!”
Agree re: fascinating article. And you have a good story too. I just finished having a semi-grand harp fixed that I got from an elderly woman in Florida. I plan to learn to play it, which hopefully shouldn’t be too impossible given that I already play the piano.
It’s more likely that he used the replica cello as a practice instrument. I could see not wanting to use something so precious every day! And that might be what his daughter meant about why it was so sad he couldn’t tell the difference. Not that they were trying to set him up to look stupid.
Oh, be still my heart! I love the harp, and I always wished that my daughter would learn to play that instrument. (She is a music teacher with 2 degrees and already plays many instruments.) I once lived in a town where the high school owned 2 harps (willed to them) and would loan one to any student willing to learn to play it. The other harp remained at school for the student to use at school. Unfortunately, we moved away before my daghter got to HS, or she would have been on track to apply for the privilege.
I always loved the harp and never imagined I would ever own one. But my aunt met an elderly lady who had to get rid of hers and was willing to give it to someone who would otherwise never get a chance. So I bought it and had it moved to NJ, saved to get the money to fix the neck, and now need to move on to the next phase to see if I can learn to play it. The elderly woman has since passed away....but I promised her I would learn to play it and I intend to keep my promise :)
What a lucky school district that was that had the instrument! You don’t hear of that too often.
Lucky you! My daughter has some association with the Harp Society (no their exact name) in Richmond, VA and my granddaughter wanter to learn to play. But, then my granddaughter changed her mind and it never happened. She’s now playing the flute and the piano. I don’t remember how my daughter knew all those harpists — I think she was teaching music theory to them. She’s now teaching full time at a Catholic school — music from K-8. She loves it, but scheduling is really hard. She has all the vocal ensembles, as well as the regular classes. Every child in the school is her student, but she’s see them only once a week. Throw in Holidays and snow days and and sick days and sometimes she meets with them only 3-4 times during a semester, and then they move on.
No. This was a school district in a wealthy enclave in CA -- Piedmont. Somebody had willed the harps to the school with instructions on how they were to be used. I found out about it because I went to a tea in somebody's home and whe had a large living room with TWO harps in it, and she told me that one of them was a loaner from the school. Her daughter was the lucky harpist that year and she told me about the program. That was 40 years ago, so I don't know how those instruments have fared over the years. I certainly hope that they are still being played.
Some time ago, Mr. Greenhouse had had an extensive restoration of his cello done to correct and stabilize some old repairs and problems. This was a very difficult and complicated restoration that took two years. The copy was made around that time, if I recall correctly, so that he would have something to play during this process.
So, I don’t think the children were trying to trick him with a fake to steal the original. Also, his insurance might not have covered having or playing the cello in certain situations, like at a vacation house or at a medical facility.
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