Music Miracle: Roman Totenberg’s Stolen Stradivarius Found After 35 Years

Roman Totenberg's Stolen Stradivarius Found After 35 Years

Polish-American violinist Roman Totenberg got separated from his beloved Stradivarius 35 years ago, and he never lived to see it again. His daughter, Nina Totenberg, 71, tells the story of the missing violin via NPR.

According to Nina, the Stradivarius was stolen from his father 35 years ago in his office at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Roman was greeting people after he finished a concert, and when he came back to his office, the Stradivarius was gone. It simply vanished.

Nina said that his father got another violin, but it was never the same as the stradivarius that he had.

“My father would dream of opening his violin case and seeing the Strad there again, but he never laid eyes on it again. He died in 2012, but the Stradivarius lived on — somewhere.”

Totenberg purchased the Ames Stradivarius in 1943 for $15,000, a large sum of money back then. Now, as CBS News reports, a Stradivarius can be worth as much as millions in auctions, with the record amount being $15.9 million in a 2011 auction.


Roman suspected some people of stealing his violin, but there was just not enough evidence for a search warrant. Totenberg died at the age of 101, never finding his violin.

Now, after 35 years, the missing Stradivarius has been found.

The missing Stradivarius was found by a California woman who was cleaning her house and came across a violin case, which was left to her by her-ex husband, Phillip Johnson. The violin case still had its combination lock, and the woman broke it to see what’s inside. There lay the missing Stradivarius, with a label of authenticity that said it was made by Antonio Stradivari in 1734.

The woman then brought the Stradivarius to an appraiser, who had both good news and bad news, as reported by NY Times.

“I said: ‘The good news is that it’s a Stradivarius. The bad news is that it’s a stolen Stradivarius. And this is one that has been gone for 35 years.'”

The appraiser called law enforcement officials, and on Thursday afternoon, the Stradivarius missing for 35 years was finally back where it belongs — to the Totenberg family. Roman’s three daughters — Nina, Jill, and Amy — received the Stradivarius their father has long been searching for.

It turns out, the ex-husband of the woman who found the violin, Phillip Johnson, was the one Roman suspected of stealing his violin. Although law enforcement officials believed Roman, they couldn’t supply a search warrant if there was no evidence. Johnson died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 58.

Jill, Roman’s daughter, expressed how happy they are to have their father’s Stradivarius back after 35 years.

“This loss for my father was, as he said when it happened, it was like losing an arm. To have it come back, three years after he died, to us, it’s like having him come alive again.”

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 06: (L-R) Amy Totenberg, Nina Totenberg and Jill Totenberg view their father's Stadivarius violin, which was stolen after a concert 35 years ago, at an FBI press conference announcing the recovery of the violin on August 6, 2015 in New York City. Roman Totenberg, their father, was a famed violinist who died three years ago. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Stradivarius will be restored, and the family plans to sell it, but not to a collector. Instead, they want it to be in the hands of someone who will make sweet music with it again, just like their father did, said Nina.

“I’m just glad that the violin, once it’s restored to its full potential again, will eventually be in the hands of another great artist, and it’s gorgeous voice will be heard in concert halls around the country.”

[Photos by Andrew Burton/Getty Images/]