Caspar Strnad Viola, Prague 1819

On trial, £22,500

Caspar Strnad ViolaI have to admit to being completely obsessed by the Prague School, and in particular the instruments of Caspar Strnad and his contemporaries or co-workers. Consistently adventurous in model, with exquisite workmanship and great tone, these instruments are generally rather better than Italian violins of the period.

Although this viola bears a Strnad label, it was made at a time when Strnad himself had retired due to illness. This instrument was made by the most daring of his apprentices, and my favourite violin-maker, Emanuel Adam Homolka. It’s a far cry from the typical Strnad of twenty years earlier, which would be high arched, rather rounded in model, and covered in a dark red gummy varnish. Here we have a beautifully refined approach, very flat arching, big yet elegant soundholes, first class tonewood, and an exquisitely slender head.

The condition is very good – there’s a long repaired crack travelling full length just outside the left bridge foot, but it’s very neatly repaired and it doesn’t draw the eye. There’s an equally neat button repair – otherwise the condition is excellent, and the original varnish is copious and relatively uncompromised.

Homolka was a real innovator, but he didn’t innovate just for the sake of it. He pursued a tonal goal with a success that few makers achieve. It’s a real mystery why his name isn’t better known. This is a typical example of his approach. Nothing is in itself that radical – he has simply stretched and tweaked here and there, but with a complete understanding of the medium. The sound that comes out of this relatively small viola has a richness and warmth which seem slightly unreal. Much of it must be in the choice of wood, but it’s also a very light construction, the soundholes enlarged in the upper portion, and the ribs gaining height towards the tailpin. Whatever the mechanism, this is a very smooth instrument with huge sustain and a big enveloping sound. One of the best small violas I’ve ever encountered.

Length of back 39cm

Certificate: Vladimir Pilar 1988

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Caspar Strnad viola Caspar Strnad viola Caspar Strnad viola Caspar Strnad viola

Caspar Strnad viola

Caspar Strnad viola

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