Juilliard Receives Gift of Rare Stringed Instruments

Thanks to the exceptional generosity and foresight of the late Ralph Hollander, Juilliard’s collection of rare stringed instruments now contains several additional noteworthy items—including a priceless Guadagnini violin that was once the favorite instrument of renowned Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931). When Hollander passed away in July 2008 at age 91, he left three violins (including the Guadagnini), a viola, and 10 bows to Juilliard, providing a very special gift that will benefit students for generations to come. (The Guadagnini violin also has a unique connection with Juilliard’s library, which holds the largest compendium of extant Ysaÿe materials in the United States.)

The late Ralph Hollander (c. 1940s) left three violins, a viola, and 10 bows to the School.

(Photo by Photo from the Juilliard Archives)

The Guadagnini violin donated by Hollander.

(Photo by Tucker Densley)


A distinguished alumnus of Juilliard’s violin department, Hollander (Diploma ’34) studied at the School with eminent faculty members Albert Spalding and Ivan Galamian, and was later a private pupil of Adolfo Betti, leader of the famed Flonzaley Quartet. He was a member of the Casals Festival Orchestra and enjoyed a long career as a concert violinist. He was also well known among string players as the inventor of the Dampit, a specially designed humidifier for stringed instruments that was endorsed by Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostrapovitch, and Yo-Yo Ma, to name a few. A talented composer, Hollander wrote a number of works for violin and other instruments; his Psalms of David was recorded with actress Agnes Moorehead as the narrator.

The 1754 violin by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, the most valuable item in Hollander’s donated collection, is known as the ex Ysaÿe, following the tradition of violins being named after their most famous owners. According to an article in a 1902 issue of Music magazine, Ysaÿe first saw the violin in the window of a pawnbroker’s shop in Hamburg, Germany. Although he was too “young and poor” to afford it, he asked the pawnbroker to set it aside for him. When Ysaÿe ran into an old friend later that day and told him about it, his friend told Ysaÿe he would have gladly loaned him the money to buy it, but didn’t have enough cash on hand. His desire for the instrument overriding his tact, Ysaÿe then asked his friend, a diamond dealer, if he would “just leave a few diamonds as security and get me the Guadagnini.” Overcoming his initial shock, the friend agreed. “In this way,” Ysaÿe told the interviewer, “I was married to my first love among fiddles—my beautiful Guadagnini.”

Ysaÿe later sold the Guadagnini and the violin found its way to New York, where it was purchased by a Mrs. Edwin Harris and passed on to her children, Edwin Harris Jr. and Glory Harris. In 1951, Hollander entered into an agreement with the Harris siblings to rent the violin for the sum of $1 a year. This arrangement continued for the next 23 years, until Hollander purchased the violin from Glory Harris Banks in 1974.

Other items of note in Hollander’s collection include a violin by Carlo Antonio Testore, dated 1745, and two Tourte bows—one a rare transitional swanhead bow made by Nicolas Leonard Tourte around 1785-90, and the other a Françoise Xavier Tourte bow (c. 1795) described by Bernard Millant, a renowned appraiser, as “a beautiful specimen of the ‘Stradivarius of bows.’”

Eric Grossman, the curator of Juilliard’s stringed instrument collection, first met Hollander when his wife, Ingrid Luce-Hollander, donated her Mathias Thier cello to the School in the late 1980s. Over the years, Grossman and Hollander attended many dinners and concerts together and developed a warm friendship. Grossman remembers Hollander’s zest for life and continuing vitality despite the glaucoma and macular degeneration that severely impaired his vision during his later years. Besides performing into his 80s, Hollander was a vegetarian who took long walks and yoga classes, and took great pride in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Grossman recalls Hollander asking him at one point why he should donate his instruments to Juilliard instead of another institution. Grossman assured him that they would be put to good use by deserving students and would be treated with the utmost care and respect. “I look forward to helping Juilliard preserve Ralph’s legacy by honoring that promise,” Grossman said.

The stringed instrument collection serves as the repository for Juilliard’s Instrumental Loan Program, which allows students to borrow items to use on occasions for which their own instruments are inadequate, such as public performances or competitions. It also provides longer term loans for students in need of a better quality practice instrument. Over the years, hundreds of students—including well-known artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, and Gil Shaham (alumni of Juilliard’s Pre-College Division), Angella Ahn, Catherine Cho, and Anna Rabinova—have benefited from the program. Almost all of the items in the stringed instrument collection were gifts from individual donors such as Hollander. Juilliard remains deeply grateful for their exceptional generosity.


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