Chapman University music student Christopher Nelson is entrusted with a rare and priceless violin
It is a quiet Friday morning at Chapman University, until you enter the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music. William Fitzpatrick, the Henri Temianka Professor of Violin, sits in his office rehearsal space as one of his students enters his office rehearsal space. The echo of voices, woodwinds and strings leak from under practice room doors.
The mentor and his protégé are joined by a unique, rather pampered guest.
Much beloved, well cared for. Taken out for play frequently, with a full schedule. That is the day-to-day life of the Henri Temianka-Albert Saparoff violin, presently in the care of Chapman freshman Christopher Nelson ’21, a Temianka Violin Scholar.
So, how does it feel having this instrument entrusted to your care?
“Amazing,” Nelson offers. “Also, unnerving. It’s a fabulous instrument. Then, there’s also the fact that it’s worth more than tuition at Chapman. So, you probably don’t want to accidentally drop it,” he adds humorously.
The Temianka Professorship and String Studies Scholarship program connect Chapman students to the remarkable story of violin virtuoso, conductor and Paganini Quartet founder Henri Temianka.
Born in 1906, Temianka displayed prodigious talent before crossing the Atlantic to attend the Curtis Institute of Music.
He performed in high-profile venues around the world, making connections that ultimately helped extract his parents from Nazi captivity and later, a Fascist prison.
The violin is the touchstone to this trove of experiences.Henri’s fascinating legacy also lives on through the university’s Temianka Archives, which contain, among other memorabilia, decades of preserved correspondence with influential musicians, politicians and luminaries from every place imaginable.
Take, for example, a letter critiquing Temianka’s conducting of famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14 – from Shostakovich himself, who wrote:
“In general the performance is wonderful…if you take into consideration all my remarks, it seems to me, that the performance would be even better.”
Temianka Project Archivist Nick Dantes says it’s important for young performers to see this kind of communication, however critical.
“It shows how artists talked to each other about music,” says Dantes.
The Temianka-Saparoff violin is well more than a century old — and an oddity. Its unknown creator blended Germanic woods and Italian violin-making techniques, making the violin’s voice exceptionally responsive, according to Boris De Granda, the luthier who maintains it.
“Human connection is important for violins,” De Granda explains. “Frequent vibration encourages the violin to ‘waken’ and its tone to mature. Without human conditioning, a violin cannot achieve its full potential.”
At every level, music is a complex and profound relationship.
“Music — it’s created on the spot. It’s happening right now, it’s what you make of it,” says Daniel Temianka, Henri’s son.
Sharing the impact of musical experience is why Daniel and his wife, Chapman trustee Zeinab Dabbah (JD ’12), entrusted the Henri Temianka legacy to the Chapman community by establishing the Temianka Archives, Professorship and String Studies Scholar program.
“When I hear students play … what I hear much more than music is that the students are creating,” Daniel says. “They’re discovering it — they’re developing a relationship with it.”
A Lifetime, An Experience
With great care, Nelson takes the violin out of its case. There’s no accidental twanging of the strings, no bumping of the neck.
“It has brought me the greatest amount of satisfaction and joy into my life,” he says, reflecting on his journey learning to play the violin.
There is no pretense, no flourish, when he begins to play. He simply stands relaxed, closes his eyes and launches into a sweep of brilliant sound.