Steve Bur­nett’s hopes that his vi­o­lins will spread a mes­sage of peace

Steve Bur­nett ex­plains how he hopes his vi­o­lins will help spread a mes­sage of peace.

The People's Friend - - This Week -

THIS year sees the com­ple­tion of a re­mark­able project by well-re­spected pro­fes­sional vi­o­lin maker Steve Bur­nett. One hun­dred years ago, in 1917, the po­ets Wil­fred Owen and Siegfried Sas­soon met – along with Robert Graves – in mid-oc­to­ber at Craiglock­hart Hos­pi­tal, now a part of the Ed­in­burgh Napier Univer­sity cam­pus.

It was a treat­ment cen­tre for shell-shocked of­fi­cers. Here, Sas­soon in­flu­enced Owen’s style at a time when he was just start­ing to write about his ex­pe­ri­ences – all of Wil­fred Owen’s war po­ems were writ­ten be­tween the au­tumn of 1917 and his death in 1918.

Steve first marked the po­ets’ con­nec­tion with the for­mer hos­pi­tal in 2014, cre­at­ing an in­stru­ment from the branch of a sycamore in the grounds – the Wil­fred Owen vi­o­lin.

“I was try­ing to get the branch for many years be­fore that! Wil­fred Owen was one of my heroes – as a ro­man­tic poet as well.”

But it wasn’t un­til 2014, when Steve was able to get his hands on a large branch from the sycamore, that he was able to put his plan into prac­tice – the year that co­in­cided with the cen­te­nary of the War’s be­gin­ning.

“Luck­ily I got the branch at the be­gin­ning of the year. For mak­ing a vi­o­lin you must take the wood in win­ter time be­cause the sap is low – it doesn’t fill up the pores and have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the sound qual­ity.”

Once fin­ished, the sym­bol­ism of the vi­o­lin saw it in high de­mand, ap­pear­ing in an RSC pro­duc­tion in Strat­ford, then a memo­rial to the Quintin­shill Rail dis­as­ter, where over 200 Royal Scots sol­diers were killed on their way to Gal­lipoli.

Scot­tish fid­dler Thoren Fer­gu­son wrote and per­formed a piece in com­mem­o­ra­tion of this, and played it in an area the Scot­tish Wood­land Trust had set aside just out­side Ed­in­burgh to re­mem­ber the sol­diers.

Here, 216 small trees were planted by chil­dren from lo­cal schools, one for each soldier, with Princess Anne plant­ing the last.

Vi­o­lin­ist Maxim Vengerov, a Unicef Good­will Am­bas­sador, en­dorsed the vi­o­lin it­self as an en­voy for peace.

“He was taken by what it stood for. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is the most im­por­tant thing. One hun­dred years on and the world is still caught up in ter­ri­ble con­flicts. If th­ese vi­o­lins can get out there and add an ex­tra di­men­sion to the word peace, it can maybe help peo­ple.”

Steve is a self-taught vi­o­lin maker, who had long known he wanted some­thing to do with th­ese beau­ti­ful in­stru­ments, but wasn’t sure what.

“I had one chance when I was ten to play vi­o­lin in school, but af­ter a week of try­ing my teacher asked me to hand it back!”

Steve came across a box of old vi­o­lin-mak­ing tools in a sec­ond-hand shop and taught him­self the trade, mod­el­ling his work on the great vi­o­lin mak­ers of Italy – Stradi­var­ius and Giuseppe Guarneri.

The re­main­ing two vi­o­lins, the Siegfried Sas­soon and Robert Graves, were made this year to com­mem­o­rate the meet­ing with Owen.

Sas­soon had nar­rowly avoided a court mar­tial for anti-war com­ments in a let­ter to “The Times” – he could have faced the fir­ing squad.

Robert Graves con­vinced the au­thor­i­ties he was suf­fer­ing shell-shock and he went to Craiglock­hart in­stead.

“Wil­fred Owen had heard that this pub­lished poet au­thor, Siegfried Sas­soon, was in the build­ing and re­ally ad­mired his po­etry.

“He knocked on his door – a hum­ble knock on the door – and that mo­ment her­alded one of the most im­por­tant lit­er­ary meet­ings of the 20th cen­tury.

“So the Siegfried Sas­soon vi­o­lin was fin­ished from the same bit of wood as the Wil­fred Owen.”

Now the Robert Graves vi­o­lin has been fin­ished and has com­pleted the set. It was in­tro­duced to the world on Oc­to­ber 13, the cen­te­nary of the day the three of them played a round at Ed­in­burgh’s Baber­ton Golf Club.

Steve hopes that the set will con­tinue the work of the Wil­fred Owen vi­o­lin, star­ring at com­mem­o­ra­tive events and spread­ing the mes­sage of peace. n

Steve, left, with Thoren on the right at the golf course.

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