A rare 17th-century viola da gamba, a musical instrument similar to a cello that is also known as a viol, allegedly worth around $200,000, has been severely damaged during a flight, provoking a burst of anger among musicians and music lovers from every corner of the world.
Brazilian-born Israeli Myrna Herzog, director of the Israeli classical music group Phoenix and one of the most prominent violists in the world, posted some shocking photos of her beloved instrument on social media, showing the level of damage caused by the unfortunate event.
Herzog was traveling on an Alitalia flight from Rio de Janeiro to Tel Aviv when the incident occurred. According to her Facebook post, the company assured her that the historical instrument would be loaded onto the plane by hand, but she was shocked to see that the front of her viola da gamba had been ripped off.
“Alitalia hates musicians! This is how Alitalia delivered to me my original 17th century Lewis viola da gamba, after ensuring to me that it would be TAKEN BY HAND into the plane and out of it! It was savagely vandalized, and it seems that a car ran over it,” Herzog wrote. Since then, her post has been shared nearly 60,000 times and received close to 1,000 comments. While some people express their concern and empathy, others claim that it was Herzog’s fault, commenting that she should have bought an extra seat for her instrument.
In an open letter, Herzog stated that she asked to take the instrument inside the plane but was told it was full and she couldn’t buy an extra seat for it. “Would Alitalia have warned me of any danger, and offered me the possibility to buy a seat for the viol, I would have done it without hesitation,” she added.
The company, though, shared a different version of the story, claiming that they offered Herzog an extra seat for the instrument, but according to their statement, even though they warned her that “the best solution for such a delicate item was to bring it with her in the cabin,” she refused the offer. “This is NOT TRUE. What happened was the opposite: when I asked to take the instrument inside the cabin, they told me that the plane was full and even if I wanted, I could NOT buy an extra seat,” Herzog replied in her open letter.
The debate seems to be ongoing, but the pressing question is: Can the 17th-century viola da gamba be repaired or not? Its owner, Myrna Herzog, has the answer: “Yes, it can, and with luck it will be singing again in next season’s concerts, marking 20 years of the Israeli PHOENIX ensemble.”
According to Herzog, the severely damaged instrument is division viol, a special kind of English viol. Described as a soloistic, show-off instrument, the division viol has its roots in Italy in the virtuosic genre named sonar alla bastarda. When the bastarda practices were introduced in England, a new genre was created: divisions upon a ground and later the special kind of viol, the division viol, came into being.
In her open letter, Herzog adds that “the viol which was broken is one of 2 twin viols made by Edward Lewis, which my husband Eliahu Feldman and I have located, identified, bought and restored over the time span of 15 years. According to the dendrochronology made by John Topham, the two viols were cut from the same tree around 1661/2, as was another extant Lewis viol (in the usual viol shape).
The unfortunate incident didn’t just spark a debate between Myrna Herzog and Alitalia, it also provoked many other musicians to raise their voice on the policies of some airlines concerning instrument transportation.
Herzog herself came out with a proposition on the subject. She stated on her Facebook profile that cellos, guitars, and viols should be stored inside the plane, which, according to her, is vital to prevent a similar incident in the future.