Music Video

What is the Chamber Music Society?

June 2017

Kenneth Slowik, curator of the Musical Instrument Collection at National Museum of American History and artistic director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society, tells us about the purpose and creation of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society.

Smithsonian Artifact Featured in this Video


This violin was made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, in 1687. It is the Ole Bull violin made of a one-piece table of spruce with even medium fine grain broadening toward the treble side, one-piece back of maple with beautiful broad descending figure slanting from treble to bass side, ribs of similar maple, modern maple neck terminating in the original pegbox and scroll of similar maple, and golden brown varnish. This violin has an original printed label:

Antonius Stradiuarius Cremonenfis
Faciebat Anno 1687

A brief history of the Ole Bull is cited in this excerpt from a letter in 1926 to Paul Kochansky from Alfred Hill, of W. E. Hill & Sons, the highly respected British firm of violin dealers and experts.

The history of your Stradivari violin is, as far as it is known to us, as follows:-
It was brought to England by Ole Bull, the violinist, who stated that he had bought it in Budapest, and from him it passed into the hands of John Hart who sold it to Mr Chas. Plowden, a well known amateur in his day, in 1861; on his death, in 1867, the Plowden Collection, which consisted of four “Stradivaris” & four “Guarneris”, was dispersed and your violin passed into the hands of Mr Joseph S. Hulse of Cheshire. On his death, in 1883, his instruments were sold by Public Auction and your violin was purchased by our late Father for £500 (five hundred pounds). It was then sold by us to Mr Chas. Oldham of Brighton, an enthusiastic amateur who possessed a superb quartet of Stradivari instruments, possession of which he retained until his death, stipulating in his Will that they should be offered to the British Museum: this was duly done but the Authorities decided that Musical Instruments were not fit objects for the Museum, so the acceptance thereof was refused. This violin came back into our hands and was sold by us to your late Father-in-law.

Paul Kochanski’s father-in-law presented the violin to him, and he played on it for the rest of his life. His estate sold it through the Wurlitzer Company of New York City to Mr. Samuel Fels of Philadelphia for his protege, violinist Ira Briselli. He later sold it to a very good amateur who played on it for several years until it was acquired by Jacques Français and sold to David Lloyd Kreeger of Washington DC. In 1981 it became the property of Herbert Axelrod as a companion to his Stradivari Greffuhle violin

Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a celebrated violinist and seminal figure in Norwegian music. After developing violin skills during his early years in his hometown of Bergen, his reputation secured him concerts throughout Europe. His technical facility led Schumann to regard him as at least Paganini’s equal, and with his enormous personality, Ole Bull dazzled his audiences. Americans were particular smitten by his performance tours, first in 1843 and again in the 1850s. A democrat and Romantic adventurer, he became involved in the creation of an utopian New Norway in Potter County, Pennsylvania, in a town to be named Oleana. However, in 1853, after just one year, the project collapsed. He continued to perform with undiminished success, and spent winters in America and summers in Norway for last ten years of his life.

There are a set of technical drawings of the Ole Bull violin by David Gusset, and a compilation of measurements by Gabriela Guadalajara available from the collections files. Computer Tomography (CT) scans were made of the entire instrument, courtesy of Bruno Frohlich, Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Ole Bull violin is part of The Herbert R. Axelrod Quartet of Decorated Instruments by Antonio Stradivari, consisting of the Ole Bull violin,1687; the Greffuhle violin, c.1700; the Axelrod viola, 1695; and the Marylebone violoncello, 1688.

Currently not on view
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Stradivari, Antonio
Date made
Credit Line
Gift of Evelyn and Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod
Physical Description
spruce (overall material)
maple (overall material)
overall: 23 5/8 in x 8 1/4 in x 3 7/8 in; 60.0075 cm x 20.955 cm x 9.8425 cm
Object Name