The Davydov Strad

There is no luthier more famous than Antonio Stradivari. He was born in 1644, and died in 1737. According to the Hill brothers, Stradivari's cellos are "even more remarkable" than his violins. He was not the first to make cellos, but it was Stradivari who fixed the dimensions and standard proportions, and nearly all cellos today are patterned his perfected model.

The earliest Strad cello we know of was made by him in 1667, when he was 23 years old, and recently married. Between 1680 and 1700 he made approximately 30 cellos, all of which have not survived. These early cellos of the master were made on a larger scale, which was popular at the time. His largest instrument, made in 1696, is called the "Lord Aylesford," after the English Lord who purchased it from Giardini in 1780. This instrument was often used by cellist Janos Starker, especially in his recordings from the 1950's.

There are no existing cellos of Stradivari that may be dated between the years 1701 and 1707. From 1707 to 1730, we are able to account for twenty cellos, of which the majority are excellent in construction and sound. (The 'Paganini' Strad was made in 1707. It is owned by cellist Bernard Greenhouse. His Cello is also called the "Countess of Stanlein." He recently had it extensively restored to perfect condition.) Strad cellos are generally named after their more famous owners or performers, for example: the "Duport," the "Batta," and the "Romberg." The "Duport" was made in 1711, and is considered by the Hill brothers to be the finest cello every made by Stradivari.

The "Davydov" or "Davidoff" cello was made in 1712, and was given to the famous cellist of that name in the year 1870 by a wealthy benefactor. The dimensions, form and character of craftsmanship are virtually identical to the "Duport" Strad. The varnish is a rich, warm orange-red color. Unfortunately the appearance of the cello was somewhat marred during Davydov's ownership, and it bears the marks of wear and careless usage.

After Davydov's death, the cello was taken to Paris, where it was sold to a wealthy amateur, who sold it again in 1928 to Herbert N. Straus, an American business executive. When he died, his widow asked Rembert Wurlitzer to sell the instrument for her, in 1964.

It was then that the "Davydov" was purchased (for $90,000) for Jacqueline du Pre by her godmother, Ismena Holland, who had previously purchased for her an early model Strad, as well as a Guarnerius, a Ruggieri and a Techler of 1696. Du Pre's teacher, William Pleeth was with her when she tried out the cello, and recommended it to her as "one of the really great instruments of the world." Du Pre's recordings from 1965 to 1968 were all made on the "Davydov."

Jacqueline du Pre with the "Davydov"

She eventually became unhappy with the sound of the cello, which was sensitive to climatic changes, and reacted badly to aggressive handling, which was her style of playing. Yo-Yo Ma came into possession of the cello after Jackie's death, and remarked, "Jackie's unbridled dark qualities went against the "Davydov." You have to coax the instrument. The more you attack it, the less it returns." (Quoted by Elizabeth Wilson in her biography of Jacqueline du Pre)