Summary of "The Red Violin"

by Toby Welch

The 1998 film "The Red Violin" shares the story of a violin that is known for its perfection and mystery. The violin was made in 1681 and the movie crosses five countries and spans over three centuries as it tells the story of the violin and its owners. The film was a collaboration between production companies in Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom.


"The Red Violin" is a compilation of five short stories that tracks the history of a red-hued violin. Each of the stories shares what happened to an owner of that violin. The movie opens as the violin is being auctioned in modern times, then flashes back to the instrument's previous eras.


Nicolo and Anna are expecting their first child. Nicolo has crafted a magnificent violin for their unborn child. As he is putting on the final touches, Anna and the baby both die during childbirth. A devastated Nicolo mixes Anna's blood from her corpse with the violin varnish, and he coats the instrument with it. The violin goes to an orphanage in Austria, where boys play it for the next 100 years.


Kaspar Weiss, a violin prodigy, plays the instrument at the orphanage. An instructor (Georges Poussin) recognizes they boy's talent and adopts him. In Vienna, Poussin's wife is unhappy with Weiss's arrival, but Poussin insists the boy will be prosperous for them. Weiss practices night and day, exacerbating a pre-existing heart defect. In the midst of a concert, his heart stops and he dies. He is buried with the violin, which gypsy grave robbers later steal. Many generations of gypsies play the instrument before it is returned to England.


Frederick Pope overhears a gypsy playing the violin, and he wants to own it. He offers the gypsies sanctuary in return for it. Pope and his girlfriend, Victoria Byrd, are in different locations seeking creative inspiration, and when she returns, she finds Pope in the arms of another woman. Byrd shoots Pope but misses, and hits the neck of the violin that is in his hand. Byrd panics and flees. Pope kills himself, and his servant takes the violin to Shanghai to sell it to an antique dealer. The violin sits in the shop for more than 30 years before being sold to a woman and her daughter.


During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, everything considered bourgeois is being burned. Xiang Pei starts burning the items she can't keep and comes across the red violin. She doesn't have the heart to burn it, and she flees with it to the home of a music teacher, Chou Yuan. Xiang begs him to keep it safe and he promises to keep it hidden. Years and dozens of hidden instruments later, Chou dies. When the police find his instrument stash, they send all the items to Montreal to be appraised and sold.

Montreal (Spoilers)

Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson) is sent by the government of China to appraise the instruments. He takes note of the violin and has a hunch that it is the infamous last vof Nicolo Bussotti. Analyzed samples indicate the red violin is the real thing. A concert violinist also discovers the red violin is the real thing, and wants it desperately. On auction day, Morritz swaps the red violin for a copy, and the violinist outbids everyone to buy what he believes is the real thing. At the end of the movie, Morritz heads home to give his daughter a special gift.


  • "The Red Violin"; 1998

Photo Credits

  • Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images