Run but don’t forget your Strad!
The incredible story of Emil Herrmann escaping the Bolsheviks
Recently we’ve blogged about Desmond Cecil’s diplomatic and musical adventures published by Quartet Books. It reminded us of another highly entertaining story told this time by Tony Faber in his wonderful book Stradivarius: Five Violins, One Cello and a Genius. Reporting on how four fine Stradivaris arrived to the United States, Faber tells the incredible succession of events that led Emil Herrmann, a young violin dealer who lived in Berlin at the turn of the 20th century, to America, only to become the country’s premier violin expert years later. “The son of a Berlin violin dealer, Herrmann had spent his childhood in training, writing a one-page analysis of a new violin every day and always discussing instruments at the dinner table. By the time he was eighteen, in 1906, he was ready to be sent on the road. Not only could he identify great violins, he could sell them as well and almost immediately sold a fine Amati for 21,000 marks [$3m in today’s money]. All Herrmann’s skills, however, were not enough to save him from war service eight years later. He went on to fight on Germany’s Eastern Front, only to be taken prisoner by the Russians. Fortunately for the young Emil, a local commander, the aristocratic General Yurkevitch, needed chamber music partners... Eyes met over the music stands; one thing must have led to another; Herrmann ended up marrying his jailer’s daughter. With the Revolution [in 1917], the tables were turned. Yurkevitch found himself a fugitive; it was his new son-in-law who spirited the whole family out of the country, arriving in the United States via Vladivostok [after an incredible 6,000 miles Eastwards journey across the whole of Russia, a/n]. Hermann then returned to Berlin, having circumnavigated the globe."
To survive war and revolution, and then to flourish as a businessman, Herrmann needed charm, initiative and nerve and he had plenty of them all. It is no surprise that by the 1920s he was back in New York where he soon established himself as one of America’s premier violin dealers. Faber also points out that “Herrmann’s Russian experience brought him more than a wife. He seems to have built much of his initial success on rescuing instruments from the Bolsheviks..“
I don’t know about you, but given the lack of imagination of current scriptwriters in Hollywood, please do forward this story to Steven Spielberg. It would make for great entertainment, and count on us to provide you with fine Stradivaris! ;)