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Fiddling with finance and violins

Monday, 19 March, 2012

Greg Smith, the Goldman Sachs director who dropped the bomb on Wall Street last week in a public resignation letter, said he was leaving the firm after 12 years because it was “morally bankrupt”. Indignation and outrage, especially in Europe, followed Smith’s condemnation of his ex-employer, but this was tempered by the recognition of the key role, especially in Europe, that the Goldmen now play in the continent’s financial affairs. Alban violin Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, was once a Goldman Sachs director; Lucas Papademos, the Greek Prime Minister, was head of the country’s Central Bank, where he worked closely with Goldman Sachs to help the government disguise the true extent of its deficit, and Mario Monti was an international adviser to Goldman Sachs from 2005 until his nomination to lead the Italian government in November last year. And on and on and on.

What a pleasure it is, then, to leave the corrupt world of global finance to one side and turn to the violin. Rosin the bow, tune up, play a melody and one is instantly transported to a serene state in which the soul soars above the grubby world of Mammon. But wait, what’s this? “I can remember selling a violin which was considered to be by this maker at auction, and which was described as Tyrolese. It had a label inside: Matthias Alban, geigenmacher in Bozen. I saw it again a few months after the sale, now described as an Italian violin, and with a label which read Matteo Albani fece in Bolzano.” Oh, dear. The post “How the violin trade works” makes for sobering reading. Snippet:

“Italian violins, though, are far easier to sell, and far more expensive than Tyrolese examples. Since the early 19th Century, therefore, Alban’s original labels have been removed and fake labels, in Latin, have been inserted… All these labels are completely different — some are printed, some are written in ink. Those that are printed have completely different fonts. Those that are written have completely different handwriting. They’re all fake, of course.”

Truly, the serpent that tempted Eve in the garden has found eager disciples in every trade on every street and the wonderful works of Matthias Alban have not been spared, alas. But all is not lost and visitors to the Tiroler Landesmuseen in Innsbruck in Austria can explore a comprehensive violin collection that includes the finest example of his work: Built in 1706, “This extraordinarily beautiful master instrument was acquired in 1966 from a Swiss collection. The violin is preserved largely in its original state; only the neck was re-fashioned to meet the increased demands for intonation that most composers called for after 1800.”

Tomorrow, here, purple pencil prose.


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