Let’s Conduct An Experiment


I love hypothetical questions! What if you find a violin and you are certain it is worth something? What if that violin owned by a famous person? And what if the original owner was connected to major historical event? It would be a no-lose investment, right?

Well you’d certainly be dancing the money dance if you thought you found the RMS Titanic bandmaster’s violin, the violin that was played while the ship sank. That is the claim is circulating the internet as of late.

But within a month of the first news release, serious questions of authenticity have surfaced, as well as questions from the curator of a Titanic museum.

As a violinist and a Titanic aficionado, I just want better proof than the auction house is providing. For example, it’s difficult to believe the instrument was plucked from the frigid waters of the North Atlantic and survived all of these years, all but forgotten, and in the condition of the instrument going up for auction.

Luckily, the answer is simple.

Let’s Conduct An Experiment

For 20 days, Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley and the violin in question floated in the water until his body was recovered. I doubt an instrument could undergo those conditions and emerge in the shape of the one being auctioned and although I’m a professional violinist, I’m certainly not a luthier so my opinion is of limited value.

At the same time, I’m confident it wouldn’t be all that difficult to figure out.

Let’s take a violin of similar make, manufacture, and time period in playable condition, put it in a leather bag, tie it to a man sized weight with a life vest identical to the ones used on the Titanic, then toss the weight into the freezing salt water of the North Atlantic on this April 15th. Have the instrument retrieved on May 4th and see what sort of condition the instrument is really in.

Granted, folks who conduct experiments like this for a living will do a better job at putting together specific test conditions capable of making the results stand up to scrutiny (and I’d love to hear from anyone out there who is), but that’s probably not necessary.

Instead, let’s try to not get so wrapped up in authenticity that we forget to ask obvious questions. For example, if Hartley was like most violinists, he owned two violins. Most professional violinists own two violins or more, it’s handy to have a spare, and it wasn’t much different in Hartley’s era.

Has anyone even bothered to search records to determine if this instrument was simply Hartley’s other violin, left behind while he was away on the Titanic gig?

An Even Better Idea

Better yet, let’s forget the violin altogether and instead remember the loss of life. The violin’s value has trumped the value of human life and, at least according to White Star Lines, Wallace Hartley’s life.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Conduct An Experiment”

  1. Drew, I’m an e-friend of Holly Mulcahy, the one who initially twigged her to the story of the “Hartley violin.” I would like to invite you to review the three blogs on the subject which I posted on my website, here: http://www.danielallenbutler.org. There is a lot more going on in this story than Holly has had an opportunity to cover, and I believe that, as a professional musician, it will be of interest to you.

    All the best,

    Daniel Allen Butler


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