Roman Tottenberg‘s daughter has today named the person her father suspected of stealing his 1734 ‘Ames’ Stradivarius, in 1980 from the Longy School of Music.
“While he was greeting well-wishers after a concert, it was snatched from his office,” Nina Tottenberg has told NPR, “… my father would dream of opening his violin case and seeing the Strad there again, but he never laid eyes on it again.”
“My father had always suspected who had stolen the violin — a young aspiring violinist named Phillip Johnson, who was largely unknown to my father but had been seen outside my dad’s office around the time the violin was stolen.”
“Soon thereafter, Johnson’s ex-girlfriend went to my parents and told them she was quite sure Johnson had taken it,” Nina has said.
The family, at the time, were told by law enforcement officials that there was not enough evidence of Johnson’s involvement to issue a search warrant, Nina has gone on to explain.
“My mother was so frustrated that she famously would ask friends if they knew anyone in the mob willing to break into an apartment and search for the violin.”
Phillip Johnson later moved to California, had an undistinguished musical career and died of cancer in 2011, aged 58 – one year before Mr Totenberg passed away, aged 101.
The ‘Ames’ Stradivarius surfaced in June of this year, some 35 years later, when Johnson’s former wife unknowingly brought the instrument to Pittsburgh violin dealer Phillip Injeian for appraisal – and it was identified and reported to the authorities.
Mr Tottenberg’s ‘Francois Tourte’ bow, also stolen at the same time, has never been recovered.
“It was a crushing loss for my father …. he would ultimately buy a Guarneri violin from the same period as the Stradivarius, but had to rework the fingering of his entire repertoire for the new instrument.”