September 3, 2010 |  by Greg Rienzi

In the tradition of violin making, Giovanni Paolo Maggini holds a distinguished pedigree and place. The Italian, who made instruments between 1590 and 1630, learned his trade from Gasparo da Salo, dubbed the father of all fiddle makers. An exacting craftsman, Maggini only made 60 or so instruments in his lifetime. Collectors have long prized his violins and violas for their rich, deep, and powerful sound. One particular Maggini, finished in 1620 (and pictured here), has been owned by three of the most important string instrument collectors in history: Luigi Tarisio, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, and Royal De Forest Hawley. Now it calls Peabody home.

Karl Kostoff, 85, a former professional musician and longtime employee of the Applied Physics Laboratory, recently gave to Peabody the 1620 Maggini. Kostoff, who retired from APL in 1988, says that he wanted the instrument to be played and heard by current and future generations, not hidden behind glass in a museum. Some 40 years ago, he says, he saw the violin at a dealer’s shop, plucked it, and wrote a check on the spot, not knowing the instrument’s historical significance. The check was for $9,000. The Maggini was recently appraised at $350,000.

Kostoff joined APL in the mid-1950s and worked on the ground level of the lab’s computer programming efforts, writing programs for early IBM computers that filled an entire room. Before joining the lab, he played violin for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra. He brought his love of music to APL, where he was rehearsal director of the lab’s brass ensemble and principal conductor at the annual company concert.

Keng-Yuen Tseng, chair of Peabody’s Strings Department, says that thanks to Kostoff, Peabody has acquired a magnificent instrument. “In terms of sound, it has a darker quality, and with such an old age, it still has good power, which surprised me,” Tseng says. The instrument will be cared for by Peabody’s Ensemble Office, which provides instrument loans and rentals to ensemble participants, faculty, and students for practice, performances, and recordings.