The Red Violin: Wikis


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The Red Violin
Directed by François Girard
Produced by Niv Fichman
Written by Don McKellar & François Girard
Starring Samuel L. Jackson
Jason Flemyng
Greta Scacchi
Christoph Koncz
Music by John Corigliano
Cinematography Alain Dostie
Editing by Gaëtan Huot
Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment (USA)
Alliance Films (Canada)
Release date(s) September 10, 1998 (premiere at TIFF)
November 13, 1998 (Canada)
April 9, 1999 (UK)
June 11, 1999(USA)
Running time 131 min.
Language Italian
Budget US $18 million

The Red Violin (French: Le Violon rouge, German: Die Rote Violine, Italian: Il Violino Rosso, Chinese: 紅提琴), is a 1998 Canadian drama film. It spans three centuries and five countries as it tells the story of a violin and its many owners. The film was an international co-production between companies in Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom.


Plot and style

The film tells the story of a perfect violin known as 'The Red Violin' for its rich red colour. At the film's beginning, the violin is being auctioned in Canada. As the bidding starts, the violin's history is revealed, showing that the violin has been in existence for over 300 years, having been made in 1681.

Its history is told in five locations around the world: Cremona; Vienna; Oxford; Shanghai; and Montreal, these stories are told in chronological order except for the entire Cremona and Montréal stories, which are intersected into the others with each change of location and as the tarot reading and the auction develop. To its owners, the violin causes anger, betrayal, love, and sacrifice. In each setting the dialogue is spoken in the appropriate language. Also, a variation of the movie's signature violin solo by composer John Corigliano is played at least once in the period it is played, with the exception of Cremona, where the solo is being hummed by Anna herself. Throughout the movie, the solos are played by noted violinist Joshua Bell.

Introduction, 1681, Cremona

The Moon Tarot Card

Nicolò Bussotti (Cecchi) is a violin maker who is married to Anna Rudolfi (Grazioli), pregnant with their first child. Anna is worried about her own health, as she believes her age may complicate her pregnancy and birth, but Nicolo is confident, saying that he has the best people available when she is due for delivery. Anna sees her servant Cesca (Laurenzi) with questions about her child's future, Cesca uses a form of tarot cards to determine this. Cesca cannot determine the future of someone not born, but she does offer to read Anna's future instead. Anna chooses five cards, and Cesca's first card (The Moon) signifies that Anna would live a long life.

In the meantime, Nicolò has fashioned a new violin, one that he considers his masterpiece, with the hopes that their child will become a musician. He is about to varnish this violin when a boy comes, sent by the doctor attending to his wife. Anna had developed complications during childbirth and neither she nor the baby survived. Distraught, Nicolò brings her body back to his violin shop and begins varnishing the violin he had created for their child. It is later revealed that this violin would be the last one Nicolò would make. Much later in the film, it is revealed that the varnish contains some of his beloved wife's blood, giving it its distinctive red colour, its unique sound and is painted with a brush made from her hair.

After Anna's death, the violin is donated to an orphanage in Austria. There, a succession of choirboys play this violin for at least the next 100 years.

Throughout the film, we see Anna and Cesca talking about Anna's future, when in fact, she is talking about the journey the Red Violin would make, as it is her blood on the violin.

1793, Vienna

The Hanged Man Tarot Card

Cesca predicts the second card (The hanged man) means disease and suffering for those around Anna.

At the orphanage, the violin comes under the possession of Kaspar Weiss (Koncz), a young but brilliant violin prodigy. A violin instructor, Poussin (Bideau), arrives to assess the boy's talents and he is asked by the monks at the orphanage to adopt the boy to further his development. Weiss and the violin travel to Vienna, where Poussin introduces him to his wife, who complains that they cannot afford to raise the boy. Poussin is convinced that Weiss's talents would mean prosperity for Poussin's household: Prince Mansfeld (Denberg) is due to visit Vienna and is looking for a prodigy to accompany him on his way to Prussia. Such a trip would likely mean success for Weiss and a generous payment for Poussin from the monarchy. To prepare for the recital, Poussin has Weiss undergo a strict practice regimen assisted by a device Poussin calls his "Poussin Meter" (which in fact is a primitive metronome). Poussin has Weiss practice his piece slowly, then builds up the tempo of the piece to the point where he can play it at a fast tempo.

However, Weiss has a heart defect, the strict practice regimens are taking a toll on him, and he is attached to his violin to the point of sleeping with it. When Poussin tells the boy not to sleep with his violin, his heart starts to have issues and a doctor is summoned, Weiss's heart stopping for a full minute. On the day of the recital, Mansfeld shows an interest in the violin instead of the child to the point of offering to purchase it, but allows the child to play to assess his talents. Just as he is to start playing his piece, Weiss's heart gives out from the stress and he collapses, dead.

Weiss is buried at the orphanage he grew up in, and Poussin inquires about the violin, seeing how he would like to sell it to Mansfeld. The monks explain that the violin was buried with Weiss so he "could play it in heaven". The violin is later stolen by grave robbers travelling in a gypsy procession, where it is handed down, and played by several generations of gypsies, spanning another century before being taken to England.

In the present day in 1997 the monks of the orphanage want to return the violin to where it was first played. They attempt to bid via telephone on the violin when it goes on sale at an auction house, but pull out when the bidding price reaches $500,000.

Late 1890s, Oxford

The Devil Tarot Card

Cesca's third card is Il Diavolo (the devil), and she explains that Anna will meet an handsome and intelligent man, that will seduce her "with his talent and worse".

Frederick Pope (Flemyng) comes across the gypsy procession setting up camp in his own backyard, a female gypsy playing the violin. The gypsies rush to leave immediately, but Frederick has a different idea, he wants the violin instead, and offers sanctuary for the gypsy procession in addition to viewing one of his concerts. However, on the day of the concert, Frederick is having trouble coming up with a piece to play at the concert and sends for his girlfriend, Victoria Byrd (Scacchi). Frederick requires carnal inspiration, and Victoria serves as his fleshly muse, which inspires him to come up with a new piece. Victoria, an author, obtains her inspirations for her work through travel, and announces to Frederick that she needs to leave on a journey to Russia to seed a novel she is working on.

After Victoria leaves, the two lovers write letters to each other but while Victoria is finding much scope for creativity, Frederick has lost his inspiration to compose. He begins to deteriorate, bedridden, smoking opium. Frederick starts to cancel concerts soon afterwards as he has lost his will to play, and stops writing letters to Victoria. When Victoria does not receive his letters for a full week, she resolves to return immediately and sends one more letter stating so, but Frederick has stopped reading her letters. When Victoria arrives at Frederick's residence and hears him playing passionately, she knows he is getting his inspiration in someone else's arms. With gun in hand, Victoria bursts into Frederick's room to find him in the arms of a new muse, the female gypsy violinist. In a moment of rage, Victoria shoots the violin, the bullet grazing and damaging the neck of the violin. The tail-piece and strings come loose as the red violin spins out of Pope's hand. Victoria rushes out.

Frederick's final letter to Victoria states that he will be committing suicide and that he is leaving his entire estate to her. The violin however, ends up in the hands of Frederick's Chinese servant and he takes it back to Shanghai where he sells it to an antiques dealer. The violin is repaired, but a small jewel is removed from the violin's scroll work. It goes on display in the shop for over three decades, before being sold to a young woman with her daughter during the 1930s.

In the present day in 1997 a representative from the Pope Foundation (dedicated to Pope's music) arrives at the auction hall to "reclaim" Lord Pope's violin. He attempts to win the auction on it but becomes the final bidder to pull out when the bidding reaches $2.4 million.

Late 1960s, Shanghai

Justice Tarot Card

Cesca predicts the fourth card (Justice) means tough times ahead, featuring a trial and persecution, where Anna shall be guilty.

With the Chinese Communist Party in power during the Cultural Revolution, all items deemed unsuitable (or "foreign") to the ideology of Mao Zedong are being burned. One of these items includes a violin owned by Chou Yan (Liu), a music teacher. He is given a political show trial and is berated for his fondness for western classical music. A political officer, Xiang Pei (Chang) attempts to defend Chou by suggesting he teach Chinese traditional music, since he also plays the huqin, a remark that arouses the suspicions of her husband. Chou's violin is taken from him and tossed into a bonfire containing other "unacceptable" cultural items.

Xiang returns to her residence and starts disposing of all of the classical music which she can no longer keep, due to her loyalty to the State. She uncovers the Red Violin which was a gift from her mother. At this point, her son Ming walks in to the room and Xiang starts to explain the violin to him, even playing a piece for him. She tells Ming not to tell anyone about its existence, and tells him to go find his father. Xiang realizes her secret is in clumsy hands. Ming finds his father, and inadvertently lets slip of the existence of the violin. Xiang's husband and several Communist Party members arrive at their house intending to arrest her. However, they find Xiang gone, and all her "foreign" music burning in the wastebasket. They also find a photograph of Xiang's mother, who was an accomplished concert violinist.

Xiang arrives at Chou's house and pleads with him to take the violin to keep it safe. Believing that it is a trick to get him arrested or shot, Chou refuses until Xiang threatens to destroy the violin in front of him. He relents and vows to keep it hidden, while Xiang leaves to face possible prosecution from Communist Party officials.

Years later, Chou's home has become a "sanctuary" for dozens of musical instruments. The cache is discovered when police, acting on a complaint from a neighbour, find his dead body in his house. Upon this discovery, the present-day Government of China, far removed from the rule of Mao Zedong, ships these items to Montreal where they can be appraised and sold at auction.

A much older Ming arrives at the auction house in 1997, hoping to buy the violin which she once played for him. He pulls out when the bidding reaches $1.2 million.

1997, Montreal

Death Tarot Card

The final card (Death) Cesca sees does not predict death, but due to the positioning (the card is seen upside down), she sees it as something else, as a rebirth.

The movie starts with Charles Morritz (Jackson) arriving at Duval's auction house to witness the sale of the Red Violin. Throughout the movie, we see the various parties representing the different eras as seen in the film vying for the Red Violin. When the scene does finally shift to Montreal, we see a flashback of the events leading up to the auction.

Morritz arrives in Montreal as an appraiser for the violins sent by the Government of China. Almost immediately he notices the Red Violin and he has Evan Williams (McKellar) perform some work with it. To verify if it is the Red Violin, he has some varnish samples sent to the lab at the University of Montreal. Thinking that this may be the legendary last Violin of Nicolo Bussotti, he comes up with an idea to purchase a copy of the Red Violin from a private collection in London, the closest copy to the original available (apparently commissioned by Frederick Pope himself before his death). At the same time, a wealthy concert violinist named Ruselsky (Bogajewicz) arrives looking for the Red Violin. He sees it and tries it out, but Morritz convinces him that it is not the Red Violin. When the varnish samples test positive for blood, he realizes that he has indeed found the Red Violin. At the same time, the manager of the auction, Leroux, (Mercure) and the lead auctioneer (Feore) confront Morritz about the expenses he has incurred and ask him the purpose of his inquiries. Morritz gives in and lets them know that the violin in question is indeed the Red Violin. Ruselsky is furious at this discovery as he believes that the violin should have been his.

Using his own funds, Morritz has Williams buy the copy from London, and it arrives in time for the auction, Williams authenticating that it is indeed the closest copy to the real thing. With this, Morritz heads to Duval's, passing by the Pope foundation member in the process (recreating one of the first scenes in the film). He sees Ruselsky and they exchange glances, Ruselsky still furious at Morritz's deception. As the auction for the previous item winds down, Morritz, with Williams acting as a distraction, switches the Red Violin for its copy, accidentally dropping the auction tag in its storage area. As the copy is being sent to be bid on, Leroux notices that the tag is missing, and is about to call security when Williams finds the tag. As the monks in Germany, the Pope Foundation member, Ming, and Mr. Ruselsky bid on the copy, Morritz rushes out, nearly getting run down by a car in the process. Ruselsky eventually beats out the other three bidding competitors for the copy. On his way back to the airport, Morritz calls his wife at home in New York City and asks to speak to his daughter telling her he has a special present for her upon his return.


The film was inspired by one of Stradivarius's violins, the Red Mendelssohn (1721), which is currently played by Elizabeth Pitcairn, heiress to the PPG fortune, whose grandfather purchased it for her 16th birthday for $1.7 million at auction at Christie's London. She is one of the few soloists who performs the Red Violin Chaconne composed for the film by John Corigliano. The notion that the violin is red because it is painted with the blood of the maker's wife, who died during childbirth, is a creation of the filmmaker and is yet unsubstantiated. It is called "The Red Mendelssohn" because of a unique red stripe on its top right side, but how the stripe came about is unknown.

The 1991 novel Antonietta[1][2] by John Hersey, has some semblance to the concept of the movie.[citation needed]


The film received an Academy Award for the Best Original Score (John Corigliano), 8 Genie Awards, 9 Jutra Awards, a Golden Reel Award (for sound editing), and a Best Artistic Contribution Award from the Tokyo International Film Festival.



  • Carlo Cecchi - Nicolo Bussotti
  • Irene Grazioli - Anna Rudolfi Bussotti
  • Anita Laurenzi - Cesca
  • Samuele Amighetti - Boy







  1. ^ Hersey, John (1991). Antonietta: a novel. New York: Knopf. pp. 304. ISBN 0679401946. 
  2. ^ Antonietta (Magill Book Reviews)

External links

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