Владислав Михеев
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JOSHUA BELL’S RED VIOLIN: hundreds of years between God and devil …

JOSHUA BELL'S RED VIOLIN: hundreds of years between God and devil ...
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Director: François Girard. Country: Italy, UK, Canada. Year: 1998 / themoviedb.org


He is called a “living legend”. Many people compare his playing with the playing of Niccolo Paganini – the “ideal image” of the violinist in world culture. He shone on stage with Placido Domingo, Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman, Charles Aznavour, Sting … His performances in Kiev and Odessa can be safely called a cultural event of 2021.

Joshua Bell is one of the most distinguished and award-winning musicians of our time. For those who could not hear the brilliant performance live, our almanac recommends watching the Oscar-winning film The Red Violin, where Bell’s music sounds.




The list of all Bell’s awards and titles took up a lot of space. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to mentioning the most significant event, thanks to which his name became known throughout the world. In 2007, on the initiative of the Washington Post, Bell played for 43 minutes in the lobby of a subway station on a Stradivari violin worth $ 3.5 million.

Bell is asked about this performance so often that he often refuses to discuss it in interviews. He believes that his playing in the subway was an experiment not on music and violin, but on people – how much are they susceptible to harmony and beauty in the frantic rhythm of a modern metropolis?

It must be said that the metro visitors estimated Bell’s play at only 35 dollars, which they put in a case during his performance. His music attracted only 6 people ofthe hundreds who passed by. But in general, the role of street musician Joshua was no worse than the role of the “star” of pompous concert halls.

Obviously, this example explains his romance with cinema, which certainly expands the boundaries and possibilities of playing the violin. Bell may not have made much music for films, but these experiments were all unique in their own way.

In 2005, he was inducted into the Hollywood Hall of Fame, although as an actor he played a number of cameo roles in only a few TV series. But, of course, the main cinematic achievement is not the acting, but his music. We can say that Bell’s violin, which sounds in film soundtracks, becomes a full-fledged hero of the films.

The crown jewel of his film music collection is undoubtedly the performance of the music by John Corigliano – the soundtrack to the movie The Red Violin. Released in 1998, the film deservedly received an Oscar for Best Music.

And Corigliano personally thanked the musician for his inspired performance. In addition to the Oscars, the film received numerous Grammy, Genie and Golden Globe nominations. And not only for music, but also for the best script, direction, costumes, camera work.


JOSHUA BELL'S RED VIOLIN: hundreds of years between God and devil ...
Shot from the film The Red Violin




Great musical instruments always have a very difficult fate, so many legends are formed around them. The film by the French-Canadian director Francois Gerard tells people about the detective and mystical story of the Red Violin – the legendary instrument of the 17th century, created by the genius of the great master Nicolo Bussotti. The film is a series of short stories, the main character of which is a time-traveling violin, connecting different historical epochs, countries, cultures and human destinies.

Gerard uses a unique editing technique that demonstrates from different angles the same scene of the Duval auction, where the Red Violin is being sold. This instrument is born in the Bussotti workshop on the day of the death of the beloved wife of the master Anna.

But why did the Tarot cards predict Anna a long life full of passion, adventure, great misfortunes and great love the day before? Didn’t the prediction come true? At the edge of despair, Bussotti works all night and by the morning he finishes work on the violin …

And the violin, as in the prediction made for Anna, sets off on a mystical journey around the world, remaining timeless – the same as on the day of creation. In the hands of geniuses, it worked wonders with the souls of people, filling them with incredible emotions.

It began its journey in 1681 in Cremona, the violin capital of Italy. A hundred years later, it is buried in a Vienna monastery, together with an orphan boy – the brilliant little violinist Kaspar Weiss.

At the end of the 18th century, it is shot by the jealous mistress of the British violinist Lord Frederick Pope. After that, the violin ends up in China, where in the 1960s it almost perishes in the fire of the “cultural revolution”. In 1997, it went to Montreal, where the instrument was rediscovered to the world as a masterpiece by Bussotti.

The secret of the violin is that the master covered it with varnish, to which he added the blood of his deceased wife. And Anna’s soul mystically continued to live in this instrument … Joshua Bell remains behind the scenes, but it is his performance that helps revive the violin, introducing us to the great and mystical mystery of music.




The plot of the film is not just fictional fiction, as it might seem at first glance. This is a kind of fusion of old wandering plots and the latest legends. Stories about the instillation of the soul into a musical instrument are often found in the legends of different countries of the world. The legend of the Red Violin, which took the soul of the beloved after her blood was added to the violin varnish, is perhaps one of the most famous mystical legends.

In European culture, the violin is ambivalent: it always exists on the verge of life and death, love and suffering. A magical voice is often conveyed to it by otherworldly forces. This is primarily due to the attitude of the church to the “low”, folk instrument, which was originally considered to be the violin, which appeared in Italy around the 14th-15th centuries.

The “clean” church vocals were contrasted with the “unclean” voice of the violin, which often sounded during the night round dances around the fire, which were a clear relic of ancient paganism. As a result, it was unthinkable to imagine that playing the violin brilliantly without the protection of the dark forces and the devil himself!

Numerous skeletons and Death itself are scattered over the engravings of the 16th – 17th centuries, playing the violin with pleasure. In general, the violin was not associated with anything good for a long time. In 1711, Jonathan Swift explained why a certain man was guilty of rape, as follows: “He is a violinist and, therefore, a scoundrel!”

The devil, the violin and the musician in numerous European legends share a wide variety of, often uneasy, relationships. The great violinists Tartini and Paganini brilliantly used these performances for self-promotion. Not spared stories about the violin as an instrument of the devil and the genius Antonio Stradivari. It was rumored that the devil was helping him, and the master from Cremona added human blood to the varnish.

Interestingly, Stradivari actually has his own Red Violin, or Red Mendelssohn (named after one of the owners, composer Felix Mendelssohn). It is one of the five best and most expensive violins in the world. It is believed that its live sound cannot be recorded and transmitted through digital media: the recording creates “discontinuity”, which the human brain replenishes on its own.

It was the legend about this instrument that formed the basis of the film The Red Violin: the fates of Bussotti, Stradivari and their violins are in many ways similar. Joshua Bell himself, however, plays not on this violon, but on another masterpiece of the great master – the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius violin – the French bow of Turt of the eighteenth century.

JOSHUA BELL'S RED VIOLIN: hundreds of years between God and devil ...
Shot from the film Red Violin


As the violin from a pagan common folk instrument turned into the queen of high musical art, the attitude towards it changed. The idea of ​​it as an archetypal instrument of the devil was receding into the past, giving way to brilliant poems, symphonies, opera and ballet performances that played on the “wandering plot.”

About 200 years ago, a new myth appeared in European culture, where the source of the unique sound of Stradivarius instruments was interpreted differently. It turns out that the Lord blessed little Antonio to create magic violins and gave him a wonderful myrrh to add to the varnish. That is why the divine sound of Stradivari violins resembles the music that angels hear in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Huxleў Almanac recommends you to watch the film The Red Violin, enjoy the great music performed by Joshua Bell, and then decide for yourself which version of the world culture is correct.

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