matesic

Members
  • Content Count

    251
  • Joined

  • Last visited

About matesic

  • Rank
    Senior Member

Profile Information

  • Location
    London's orbital motorway

Recent Profile Visitors

The recent visitors block is disabled and is not being shown to other users.

  1. matesic

    Intonation

    Too dense for me. I skipped to the end where he says this "should be known" by all musicians but I'm not sure why he thinks it so important. For me (as an ex-scientist whose left-brain is in retirement) one of the most attractive aspects of music is that to participate and enjoy it doesn't depend on intellectualising its mathematical basis.
  2. Are you suggesting..? No, of course not. My most cherished lumps of wood came from Bromati
  3. When you say "provide", do you mean "stick inside"? To me that seems almost as inappropriate as signing a picture on the artist's behalf. Even if the attribution is correct, the label is still a fake
  4. My endoscope is too thick to go through the f and too stiff to get anything other than a very oblique view of the table but I'll see if I can find a smaller one and enter via the end hole - thanks!
  5. No time capsule but a label recently placed inside my early 1800's violin says "Made by Charles Harris, London. Signed on Table". I'd love to get confirmation of that, but although we have the technology to see inside the human body and the brain non-invasively, isn't it frustrating that we can't read what's written on the underside of a violin table without major surgery?
  6. Mane-tossing is a favourite gesture amongst cellists. It's expressions of rapture that I find counter-productive.
  7. So let's go with Markies, Mitties, Mirkies, Bubies and Lubies! (see what I did with Schönbach?)
  8. A Spray Gun for the Varnish by Joseph Wechsberg (from The New Yorker, February 18, 1956, p. 94 et seq.) EVERY now and then, someone cleaning out an attic comes across a dusty old violin with a label bearing some such legend as “ANTONIUS STRADIVARIUS CREMONENSIS FACIEBAT ANNO”--and a date within the lifespan of that celebrated violinmaker of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, whose home and shop were in Cremona and whose name in Italian was Stradivari. Countless families have tingled with anticipation upon making such a find and countless more probably will tingle with anticipation in years to come, but the unhappy fact is that nearly all these violins turn out to be “factory fiddles,” manufactured by the gross and finished off with fake labels in places like Mittenwald, in Bavaria; Markneukirchen and Klingenthal, in Saxony; Schönbach and Graslitz, in Czechoslovakia; and Mirecourt, in France. Many a jubilant discoverer of one of these instruments has been crestfallen to learn that it has as much in common with a Stradivarius, or an Amati, or a Guarnerius, as a comic strip has with a Renoir; that it is not two hundred and fifty years old but, say, fifty; and that it is worth, at most, thirty dollars. A few attics, of course, have yielded fine old violins, and there is always a chance that other attics will yield them, but it is a remote one, for violin connoisseurs now seem to have a pretty good line on the past history and the present whereabouts of nearly all the five or six thousand stringed instruments that survive from the magnificent Italian period. My first fiddle--a three-quarter specimen that my mother gave me on my eighth birthday--was labelled “STRADIVARIUS,” cost the equivalent of four dollars, and came from Mittenwald. It didn’t remain in my possession long. My young cousin Raoul and I lived in the same apartment building and were studying the violin with the same teacher, and one day while I was practicing an étude, Raoul came upstairs to our fourth-floor flat, carrying his fiddle under his arm like a swagger stick. Without a word, he went to a window, opened it, and threw the violin into the courtyard. It landed with a hollow crash, and there was a half-muted cry from the E string--a cry that I can still hear after all these years. Then, beaming, Raoul wrested my Mittenwald Stradivarius from me, and threw it out, too. For days, he was lionized by all the little boys in town whose parents were compelling them to take violin lessons, and he had the added satisfaction of seeing his direct action accomplish his purpose; his parents dropped the idea of making a fiddler out of him and gave him a chemistry set. He grew up to he an industrial chemist. As for me, I liked playing the violin, so Raoul’s mother bought me another Mittenwald instrument with a Stradivarius label, and I continued to practice. There were trying moments during my forays into the underbrush of staccato and the stretches of aridity in Ševčik’s “Preparatory Studies in Double-Stopping” when I almost followed my cousin’s example, but I’m glad didn’t. Over the years, I’ve had a succession of other fiddles with fancy labels and no tonal qualities worth mentioning, and for the past few years I’ve been the proud owner of a violin made in Cremona, in 1608, by Antonio and Girolamo Amati. Playing it is sheer delight, but in some respects I miss my Mittenwald Stradivarius period. In those days, when I received a compliment from my fellow string-quartet players, it was clearly meant for me. “You played the Smetana well tonight,” they might say, or, “You outdid yourself in the Verdi.” This didn’t happen often, and when it did it was highly gratifying, for chamber musicians, like the writers of letters to the editor, are given more to carping than to eulogy. These days my colleagues say, “The Amati sounded beautiful tonight,” or “The Amati is perfect for that Dvořák quartet,” and I suspect that people invite my Amati--not me--to chamber music sessions. “Tuesday at seven,” they say. “Don’t forget the Amati.” I’ve become an accessory to a violin. For the last fifteen or twenty years, the authorities concerned with such matters have been keeping an eye on the labelling of fiddles, and few, if any, of today’s factory fiddles carry misleading labels. As for the factory fiddle without false pretenses, it is, of course, a necessary and thoroughly honorable part of the musical world. Even if there were an unlimited quantity of the superior Italian instruments, it would be a desecration to put them in the hands‘ of street fiddlers, beer-garden gypsies, high-school orchestras, land television comedians, to say nothing of small boys with penknives bent on finding out what’s inside. A fairly large and steady market exists for inexpensive violins that are sturdy in body and strong in tone; in these mixed-up times, reliable violin-production figures are hard to come by, but just before the Second World War the town of Markneukirchen alone was turning out fifty thousand factory fiddles a year. In spite of my interest in violins and violin playing, until very recently I had never taken the trouble to see how factory fiddles are made. As a matter of fact, what little thought I’d given to the matter was not of a kind calculated to stimulate my curiosity. We chronic fiddlers--or, at any rate, those of us most badly bitten by the bug--have an anthropomorphic attitude toward our instruments. We look upon them as personalities, capable of being bored, amiable, angry, loving, and otherwise temperamental. My Amati, for instance, dislikes bright lights and cigar smoke and becomes gloomy on damp days. Unlike pianists and trumpeters, who merely play their instruments, we fiddlers live with ours, and the thought of an assembly line for violins like the assembly lines for snare drums and slide trombones gives us the horrors. IT was by accident, and not by design, that I had a look at a fiddle factory--a small establishment, to be sure, but a growing one--a few weeks ago. I was driving from Munich to Merano, through the Tyrol, but I was delayed by bad roads, and when dusk fell I found myself in Mittenwald, where my first violin had been made. A thousand-year-old town, known in the Middle Ages as Media Silva, Mittenwald lies in a thickly wooded valley at the foot of the Karwendel Mountains. It is not only in the middle of a forest, as its name declares, but in the very heart of Europe. It has a population of about seven thousand, and calls itself a Marktgemeinde, or market community. Its somnolent squares are surrounded by old, patrician houses whose facades and gables are adorned with eighteenth-century baroque frescoes of apostles, Madonnas, and saints, and here and there one sees elderly men who look like Bavarian woodcuts come to life. Violin forms hang before many brightly painted shutters, indicating that the owner of the house makes--or, in a great majority of cases, used to make--violins, and in front of the baroque church there is a monument to Mathias Klotz, the founder of Mittenwald’s most famous dynasty of fiddlemakers, put up by his grateful fellow-citizens. Klotz was by no means a Stradivari, but this is more than the people of Cremona have done in honor of their illustrious fellow-citizen. Klotz was born in 1653, when Stradivari was nine years old. At the time, Mittenwald was in the midst of a severe and prolonged economic depression. During the fifteenth century, it had become a stopover on the busy trade route from Augsburg to Venice, and for more than a hundred years the Venetian merchants used to store their goods in the town and hold fairs there. The great trading families--the Fuggers, the Welsers, and the rest--had branch offices in Mittenwald, and one still sees their houses, with arched entrances leading to cobblestone courtyards where drivers drew up their heavily loaded wagons. But in 1618, the Thirty Years’ War broke out, and soon the whole pattern of European trade changed; the fairs were held elsewhere, commerce moved along other roads, and Mittenwald went into a slump that lasted half a century. Finally, salvation came, in the person of Mathias Klotz. He had left Mittenwald as a young man, and had learned the rudiments of violinmaking in nearby Vils, spent six years in Padua as an apprentice to the well-known violinmaker Railich, and is believed to have worked for a time under Nicolò Amati in Cremona. In 1683, when the depression was at its worst, he went back home, and started making violins on his own, using the fine, resonant pine from the neighboring forests for the bellies, and the splendid maple of the Tyrol for the backs. Klotz’s subsequent reputation for fine violinmaking owed a good deal to the pains with which he studied the violins of Jacob Stainer, a famous Austrian craftsman who lived thirty miles away, in Absam, near Innsbruck. Stainer was born twenty-three years before Stradivari. His violins had strongly curved bellies and a beautiful amber varnish, which gave them magnificent tonal qualities, and they were even more highly valued by contemporary musicians and collectors than the instruments of Stradivari. Johann Sebastian Bach and young Mozart played Stainer fiddles. In design, Klotz’s violins resembled Stainer’s, but when it came to varnish, he preferred the methods he had learned in Italy. His instruments may not have been superlative but they were far above average, and before long they were selling so well that he found it necessary to hire and train a corps of assistants; fortunately for him, many of the people of Mittenwald were experienced wood carvers. Klotz had five sons, and they all learned their father’s trade. So did their sons, and their grandsons. All told, thirty-eight violinmakers named Klotz have lived in Mittenwald in the past two hundred and fifty years, but old Mathias still rates as the most talented. By the time of his death, in 1743, violinmaking was the big business of Mittenwald. As the years passed, however, Klotz’s standards of craftsmanship were less and less rigidly observed. Not only did most of his successors start imitating Stainer’s work slavishly--varnish and all--but some of them took to faking Stainer’s labels. Partly on the foundation of this shoddy practice and partly on the foundation of conscientious and ethical violinmaking, the town prospered. The Mittenwald violinmakers soon organized their own guild, and they were usually their own salesmen, too. When one of them had assembled half a dozen instruments, he would string them together, sling them over his back, and set out to peddle them, sometimes going as far as Augsburg, Nürnberg, and Frankfurt. The Mittenwald violinmakers knew how to play their instruments, and when they couldn’t make a sale, they weren’t above earning a few marks as entertainers. As the violin business expanded in Mittenwald, it began to be dominated by some enterprising men called Verleger, or suppliers, who proceeded to, introduce mass-production methods. Under this system, which had already been adopted in scattered towns in France, Saxony, and Bohemia, some artisans made the bodies, others specialized in scrolls, others cut finger boards, others chiselled pegs and bridges, and still others put these parts together--all as employees of the Verleger. Although a few diehards clung to the notion that a whole violin should be the work of one man, violinmaking became pretty much a piecework cottage industry, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, one violin part or another was being manufactured in almost every house in Mittenwald. Some of the Verleger were honorable men who turned out reputable products, but others were interested only in making money, and weren’t finicky about how they made it; it was common in Mittenwald to see children innocently busying themselves at the task of stencilling beautiful labels inscribed Stainer or Stradivarius. Things went well for the Verleger, and soon they bought forests and sawmills, hired crews to cut the trees, and built warehouses for storing the lumber until it was properly aged. Production kept increasing up to the First World War, and prices kept going down, as did wages. By 1914, some of the Verleger were paying as little as sixty cents for a violin body. An experienced pieceworker had to put in long hours to make a few dollars a week, but, fortunately, life was inexpensive in Mittenwald--people had their own gardens and livestock, they could get all the fuel and building material they needed from the nearby forests, and their taxes were low--and everybody was at least getting by. The Verleger were rich men. For a time after the war, business boomed again. In 1925, the town’s oldest violin firm--Neuner & Hornsteiner had a hundred and eighty employees on its payroll, and J. A. Baader & Cie. had a hundred and sixty. But then the depression came, and Mittenwald was unable to compete with the Czechoslovakian violinmaking towns of Graslitz and Schönbach, which had an even lower going wage and which were selling fiddles for half a dollar apiece. Even the least finicky Mittenwald Verleger couldn’t match that price, and in the thirties the town found itself in its deepest slump since the one cured by Mathias Klotz. Neuner & Hornsteiner went out of business, J. A. Baader & Cie. barely staggered along, and the few remaining independent craftsmen had to look for other work. By 1938, highly skilled Mittenwald violinmakers were glad to get government jobs as carpenters and masons putting up barracks for the Wehrmacht, and their wives were glad to take in tourists. THE Hotel Post, where I decided to spend the night, is a two-hundred-year-old building on Obermarkt, Mittenwald’s main street; its walls are two yards thick, and it has a colorful baroque fresco entitled “The Honeymoon” on its facade and an old-fashioned post horn hanging over its entrance. After getting settled in my room, I went out for a brief stroll before dinner, and the first shopwindow I looked into, right next to the hotel, was that of J. A. Baader & Cie. The establishment is now half store and half museum, and on display in the window, along with a clutter of non-musical bric-a-brac, were a few guitars, half a dozen harmonicas, and two sad-looking unvarnished fiddles. This drab remnant of what was to some extent a worthy tradition depressed me, and I went back to the hotel. Later that evening, with nothing better to do, I thumbed through the local telephone directory, a slender volume, to see what clues it might offer to the state of violinmaking in Mittenwald today. Almost at once I came upon the entry “Fürst, H.--Geigenbau und Damenschneiderei.” Violinmaking and dressmaking! It was as startling as finding a man listed as “brain surgeon and cigar manufacturer” in the Manhattan directory. I resolved that before leaving Mittenwald I would visit the versatile Herr Fürst. His address was Schiesstattweg 8, and his telephone number 3-24. After breakfast the next morning, I called him up and was invited to come on over. Schiesstattweg proved to be a narrow lane in a new residential district on the outskirts of town, with rows of pleasant but inexpensive-looking little houses. The house at No. 8 was white and had red shutters, and over the front door was a large painted sign reading “GEIGENBAU.” There was no mention of dressmaking. A man in blue overalls and a heavy overcoat was sweeping the walk, and as I came up, he put his broom aside and greeted me. He was Herr Fürst, he said, and he invited me to come inside. He was in his fifties, I learned later, but a three-day beard and a certain listlessness in his gestures made him look older. He led me around past the front door, in through a side entrance, and then up a brightly varnished stairway, where I detected the agreeable smells of fresh-cut wood and floor wax. On the second floor, Fürst ushered me into his workshop. On a shelf near a window there was a neat array of violinmaking tools--calipers, chisels, and knives--together with some small bottles of varnish and oil, and close at hand stood a workbench with the body of a zither lying on it, but nowhere in sight was a violin. I remarked on this. “Goodness! I haven’t made a violin for weeks,” Fürst said, with a shrug of resignation. “Hardly anybody comes to Mittenwald for a custom-built violin any more, and that is the only thing I know how to make. People want cheap stuff. Well, I just won’t have any part of that. I’m a sixth-generation violinmaker. My great-great-great-grand-father was a friend of Mathias Klotz--you’ve heard of him, of course. Years ago, most of my twelve brothers and sisters and I were in business together. Some of us made parts, and the rest of us put them together. Now my brothers are construction workers and road builders. They’ll never make violins again, because their hands have lost the all-important sensitive touch. My son in Hannover is the only member of the family who is still working regularly as a violinmaker. He’s doing quite well. But the rest of us here...” He shook his head sadly, then turned and opened a door to a small room in which I saw a glass chest containing several old violins. “They were made by my grandfather,” Fürst said. “Choice wood. Good workmanship. Once in a while, when we need money, we sell one. Violinmaking used to be a fine profession, but it looks as if it’s finished--for us, at any rate. There are still some good violinmakers in other parts of Germany, but here in Mittenwald it’s all but impossible to carry on in the old manner. The new manner--that’s something else again. Take that fellow over there.” He pointed through the window in the direction of the railroad station. “He’s a newcomer named Anton Dietl, from Schönbach, in Czechoslovakia. He showed up here at the end the war and moved into those Wehrmacht barracks you can see on the other side of the tracks. Now he’s making more instruments than all of us old-timers put together. He manufactures fiddles the way you’d manufacture matchboxes or frying pans, and all he talks about is exports and turnover and overhead and cost per unit. In fact, he talks about everything but tonal qualities and grades of varnish. The German Cremona, they used to call Mittenwald. Ja, ja. All I know is I would be in a nice fix if my wife wasn’t making good money as a dressmaker. And in summertime, we take in vacationers. That’s the end. Go and talk to the others, why don’t you? Talk to Johann Evangelist Bader, the finest of our old masters. He lives just down the street.” Having worked himself from listlessness into despondency, Fürst sat down at his bench and absently ran a hand over the zither belly. I thanked him, and left. As I passed the front door, a plump, energetic woman with a piece of cotton print in her hand was assuring another woman that her dress would be ready by the following Sunday. “But you promised me that that other dress would be ready for Easter, Frau Fürst, and then it wasn’t,” the customer said. “You’ll have your dress,” Frau Fürst said peremptorily. The customer sighed and said a meek “Auf Wiedersehen.” Frau Fürst walked to the side door and called up to her husband to finish sweeping the walk. JOHANN EVANGELIST BADER’s house was a pretty white Bavarian-style chalet with blue shutters. Through a window I could see a deserted workshop. I rang the bell, and after a minute a woman came to the door. I introduced myself, and she told me she was Frau Helene Aichinger, Bader’s daughter. Her father was having his second morning nap, she said, but she asked me in, and we sat down in the living room; there were dust covers over the armchairs, and in general the room had a tidied-up, unlived-in feeling. On a couch lay an open violin case with a reddish-brown violin in it. “I made that in 1927, while I was a student in the Old-Mittenwald violinmaking school,” Frau Aichinger said as I bent over to look at the instrument. She added that she had also studied violinmaking with her father and had I helped him in his workshop for a while but that now there was little of that kind of work for either of them. Presently, Herr Bader came into the room--a white-haired octogenarian with pink cheeks and sleepy eyes. He said he had enjoyed his nap, and settled himself comfortably in one of the armchairs--all ready, it seemed to me, for a third nap. I asked him if he would show me a violin he was working on. Bader shook his head. “I haven’t made a violin for a long, long time,” he said “There isn’t--” “Father thinks there is no demand for good violins,” his daughter broke in. Bader nodded several times, his eyes half closed. “When I was a young man” he began again, “I used to--” “Father used to work for the great dealers in Berlin and Milan,” Frau Aichinger said. “He repaired famous violins for them, and they bought many of his violins, and these were much admired by musicians with taste. But today! Fürst--you said you’d met him? Well, he’s lucky. His wife earns some money as a dressmaker. Reiter sells ukuleles. And the others...” Her voice trailed off. Mittenwald seemed to be a great town for unfinished sentences. The level of Bader’s chin was dropping steadily, and just before his third morning nap began, I took my leave, having learned from Frau Aichinger that the Old-Mittenwald violinmaking school was still in operation, and where I could find it and the ukulele man. A SIGN on the gable of a white house on Obermarkt read, “JOHANN REITER, 271 YEARS OF OLD-MITTENWALD VIOLINMAKING.” The digits, I noticed, were removable, so the sign could be kept up to date. Through a large window, I saw a low-ceilinged workshop in which two men sat facing each other across a workbench. I opened the door, and found myself in a corridor that was filled with quaint pieces of furniture, obviously intended less for use than for atmosphere. Reiter’s workshop was crammed with a colorful collection of old and new fiddles, violas, violas da gamba, cellos, guitars, lutes, zithers, and other instruments, in various stages of manufacture or repair, varnished, half varnished, or unvarnished, hanging from the ceiling, lying on shelves, or leaning against the wall. Scattered about the room were bows, tools, violin bellies, bottles of oil and alcohol, and piles of sheet music. The place reminded me of prints I have seen--probably unauthentic--of Antonio Stradivari’s Workshop, at 2 Piazza Domenico, in Cremona, and I suspected that it had been deliberately arranged that way. Whatever else Reiter was, he certainly seemed to be more interested in attracting customers than Fürst and Bader were. When I went over and asked the two men if Herr Reiter was around, the older of them stood up, held out his hand, and said he was the man I was looking for. The other chap, he added, was his apprentice. Reiter, a cheerful, vigorous man in his seventies, was wearing a leather apron, a waistcoat, and a white shirt. (That’s the way Stradivari is dressed in those prints.) He greeted me cordially, managing a toothy smile under his walrus mustache, and told me that he had many American customers, especially members of the Oo Ess Marines, who came to buy ukuleles. By way of confirming this improbable bit of information, he took a ukulele down from a peg on the ceiling and launched into “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” “I buy my ukuleles from a factory,” Reiter said when he had finished. “Four dollars apiece. I keep in step with the times. I’d get bored if I did nothing but make violins. Reiters have been living in this house and making violins in this very room since 1685, the year the violin was born.” It is by no means certain that the violin was “born” in any specific year--a great many experts think that it just emerged gradually, as a composite of several other instruments--but if it was born, it was certainly born a good many years before 1685. Nevertheless, I found myself nodding in agreement, for Reiter tossed off statements with the assurance of a spellbinder. He handed me a booklet that had on its cover “25 Years of Mittenwald Violinmaking, by Johann Reiter” and on its back “OLD TRADITION: Amati-Klotz-Jais-Reiter.” (Reiter explained that Johannes Jais had made violins with his great-great-great-grandfather and had been a close friend of Mathias Klotz.) Then he picked up an unvarnished instrument that looked like a viola except that it had very high ribs, tucked it) under his chin, and began to play “Wie Mein Ahnl Zwanzig Jahr.” The instrument had a tenor timbre, lower than a viola, higher than a cello. “My own invention,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice. “I call it an octave violin. The strings are tuned in G, D, A, E--one octave below the violin--and, as you see, it requires a very heavy bow. The larger depth of the body produces more air volume and lower tone color. I’ve got a German patent on it, and I’ve sold over fifty so far--some to Americans. The price is a hundred dollars.” He looked at me speculatively. I refrained from asking whether by any chance the octave violin was related to the tenor viol Fernando Gagliano had made in Naples almost two hundred years ago, although that would have been a pertinent, as well as impertinent, question. Reiter handed me the instrument and the bow, and urged me to try my hand. I found it difficult to keep the high, heavy instrument under my chin, and I told him so. “It takes a while to get used to it, but once you do, you’ll never want to play anything but an octave violin,” Reiter assured me. “It adds new color to conventional chamber music. When we get up string quintets here, I always play my octave violin, instead of the cello or the viola. ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ sounds better with it, and so does a good deal of Bach. And it’s useful for café orchestras, too; it can replace the horn, the fagott, or the tuba. You can also use it as a solo instrument. Quite a few members of the Berlin and Munich Philharmonic Orchestras spend their summers here, and they always come in to borrow an octave violin and practice. It’s a real bargain for a hundred dollars.” A man came in to buy a cake of resin, and Herr Reiter began to chat with him, leaving me free to wander around. At the rear of the shop and partly cut off from it by some bookcases stacked with sheet music was what appeared to be a combination dining and living room. Seated there at a heavy oak table under a low-hanging lamp was a very old woman with a kerchief over her head and skin the color of parchment. She was holding a baby in her lap. Across the table from her sat another very old woman, and on the floor between them lay a dog. All four figures were motionless, and I might have come away thinking I had seen a waxworks tableau installed there by Reiter as a further atmospheric touch if a third woman; carrying a second baby and followed by a second dog, had not appeared from somewhere off to one side. All three women at once began to argue--I couldn’t quite make out what about--speaking loudly and rapidly in a guttural Bavarian dialect, and this started the babies crying and the dogs barking. Reiter, having taken care of his customer, returned to me and, paying no attention whatever to the clamor, fished out from under a table another strange-looking unvarnished instrument--a fiddle with such low ribs that it seemed almost two-dimensional. Picking up a violin bow, he proceeded to play a tune that came very close to being “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The instrument had a sweet, thin, flute-like tone, comparable to that of a shepherd’s shawm. Reiter explained that this was another of his inventions--the piccolo violin, German patent pending. “These strings are tuned in B, F, C, G,” he said. “The ribs are half the usual height. I’ve sold a lot of piccolo violins to music schools. They’re excellent for old music--Dittersdorf and Handel and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.” He handed the instrument to his apprentice and told him to varnish it. I asked him whether he still made any ordinary old-fashioned violins. “Certainly,” he said. “Any kind you like. One hundred dollars. Two hundred dollars. Three hundred dollars. Oh, we’re versatile around here. We switch from violin to cello to lute to viola d’amore. Next month, we’re going to make a concert zither and a viola da gamba. Too bad I can’t invite you to one of our chamber-music sessions, but we won’t be playing for a while. Our first violinist is sick. He runs a lending library here in town.” Several American tourists entered the shop. I said goodbye to Reiter, and he gave me a small metal pin with a red violin stamped on it--a souvenir of the house. As I left, he was telling the tourists how much the Oo Ess Marines liked his ukuleles. FOLLOWING Frau Aichinger’s instructions, I walked down Obermarkt, past the Hotel Post and J. A. Baader & Cie.’s shop (it was closed), and then down Partenkirchner Street, past the local cinema, where “Die Faust im Nacken” (“The Fist in the Neck,” or, as I made out from the still photographs in the entranceway, “On the Waterfront”) was playing. Eventually I came to a run-down three-story yellow building with a fence in front of it. A large sign near the door read “GEIGENBAU-SCHULE,” and under this was a smaller sign with a picture of a violin belly and the inscription “L. Aschauer, Geigenbau-Meister der Alt-Mittenwalder Schule.” I opened the gate in the fence and walked up a path and into the school. Everything was quiet. In the main corridor, the peculiar smell of chalk dust and old bindings brought back cheerless memories of my eight years in Gymnasium. The memories intensified as I looked into an empty classroom and saw on the blackboard several diagrams that I at first took to be concerned with my old enemy, plane geometry; then I realized that they represented the various parts of a stringed instrument. In another classroom, I came upon an elderly man sitting on a high stool and dissecting a violin. He told me there were no regular classes that day, because the pupils were out in the woods having a look at the trees from which violins are made. But the school principal, Herr Aschauer, was upstairs in his office, if I cared to see him. I found Aschauer without any trouble, and liked him at once. Gray-haired and sixtyish, with a fine face and elegant bearing, he proved to be an articulate man who combined the thoroughness of a German pedagogue with the enthusiasm of an art lover. He had on a Bavarian jacket, knickerbockers, and bright red stockings. Above his desk hung a diploma awarded to the school in 1882 at the Nürnberg Exposition and signed by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The school, founded in 1858, is the oldest of its kind in Germany, Aschauer told me, and I gathered that it had had its ups and downs until five years ago, when the State of Bavaria took it over and began giving it an annual subsidy. Now Aschauer was planning to add a ling or two to provide more workrooms for his pupils; there are thirty, most of them from Germany, although Austria, England, Sweden, Switzerland, France, and Detroit, Michigan, are also represented. The faculty, Aschauer said, consists of seven professors (full-time) and seven instructors part-time). “People say that violinmaking is a dying art, but you wouldn’t think so if you saw my students,” Aschauer said. They love the profession, even though they know they’ll never get rich at it. If it was money they were after, they wouldn’t come to me; they’d get a job in a violin factory, like the one that that Schönbacher seems to be starting up down by the railway station, and work their way up to be manager. Before we accept a student, we make sure that he has sensitive hands, keen eyes, accurate hearing, and a genuine gift for music. A violinmaker must not only be able to make and repair instruments; he must be able to play them well enough to really understand their problems. We offer a three-and-a-half-year course. There are thirty hours of violinmaking and seventeen of violin instruction every week, plus regular lectures in theory, harmony, and musical history. At night, the students practice, and there are frequent chamber-music and orchestral evenings. Once a year, they give a public concert. Next year, we’re going to build a small concert hall on the top floor.” The first year, Aschauer went on, the student learns to make linings and ribs, to cut bellies and backs, and to make and attach bass bars. In his second year, he learns to cut scrolls, to attach necks and finger boards, and to assemble whole violins, and he is expected to make a viola, a cello, and a viola da gamba. In his third year, he is introduced to the mysteries of mixing and applying varnish, and he learns to cut bridges, to fit in sound posts, to make a pegbox, to chisel the pegs, and to repair all stringed instruments and bows. During the final half year, he learns to make a guitar. Throughout his entire course of training, he must continue to practice the violin.’ Once he has his diploma, he usually doesn’t have much trouble getting a job; the leading violinmakers in the big cities of Germany are almost always ready to find a place for a graduate. Hardly any of the alumni end up working in Mittenwald. “By the time our students leave here, they have a thorough understanding of both the theoretical and the practical aspects of violinmaking,” Aschauer said. “Unfortunately, we can’t show them any of the great masterpieces of Cremona, because we haven’t got any, but we do keep them away from what I might call ultramodern methods. The only machine you’ll find here is a circular saw, for some of the rough preliminary cutting. Everything else is done by hand. That is in the old Mittenwald tradition, and I keep telling my pupils that the tradition must not die. Sometimes, outsiders laugh when I speak of the old Mittenwald tradition. Mittenwald has a bad name--there were charlatans here, I know that--but, on the whole, Mittenwald turned out good violins, even after it adopted the techniques of specialization and mass production. Those techniques made sense, mind you. A violin has more than fifty parts, so it was naturally more efficient to have specialists concentrate on one or another of those parts and then have the finished instrument assembled by a master in his workshop. As many as forty specialists would collaborate on the~ making of a single violin. Commercially, this worked out splendidly. When a man made nothing but scrolls, say, he became remarkably proficient at it, and quick, too. Six scrolls a day, some of them used to make hand-carved scrolls, for which they were paid a mark apiece. All right, I admit that by Cremona standards a violin made in this way cannot be regarded as a work of art, since according to those standards--and I am inclined to accept them--a work of art must be the achievement of a single individual. But the fact remains that in the old Mittenwald tradition each part was made by hand, not by machine. That is the important thing.” Aschauer let that sink in. Then he went on. “Consider the matter of wood,” he said. “There are complicated theories about the subject, but they all boil down to the simple truth that it must be properly aged. The process takes from twenty to thirty years, and there’s no artificial way of speeding it up. In Mittenwald, the wood that went into violins was well aged. And for generations, Mittenwald violins were well constructed and healthily varnished, and they had good tone. They may not have been pure works of art, but they were not pure factory products, either. And that’s why Mittenwald fell on evil days. Its rivals developed real speed-up production methods. Take Bubenreuth, near Nürnberg, for instance. After the war, when the Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia, some four hundred violinmakers from Schönbach settled in Bubenreuth and began turning out violins as fast as if they had been using conveyor belts. It is said that before the war Markneukirchen was full of violin millionaires; well, I’m sure we’ll soon see some violin millionaires in Bubenreuth. Those Bubenreuth people don’t go out into the forests and select their wood, the way the Mittenwald craftsmen have always done. They buy it by the carload from wholesalers. One tree is the same as another to them, and they buy wood the way a carpenter buys clapboard. They never bother aging the wood. And varnish. Here in the school we use an expensive oil varnish, but in Bubenreuth they use a cheap alcohol varnish. It’s hard and brilliant and it keeps the wood from vibrating properly, so that the E string has a shrill sound. But who cares? No one, except maybe the parents of some unhappy little boy who will give up practicing because he just can’t make his violin sound right. In Bubenreuth, violin backs and bellies are cut out by machine--six or ten in a single operation--like the parts of mail-order dresses in a clothing factory. Efficiency experts sit up all night trying to figure out new labor-saving devices. A Bubenreuth violin sounds like a cigar box with strings stretched over it. But there’s no denying that those men know what they’re doing. Bubenreuth violins are cheap! There’s one model that you can buy for three dollars. No wonder our Mittenwald violinmakers can’t stand the competition. With us it’s a matter of quality first and price second, and I suppose we can’t object too much if those Schönbachers make cheap violins for people who want cheap violins. But the thing we can and do object to is having those Schönbachers come here and call themselves old Mittenwald violinmakers. They’re giving a bad name to our community, and they’re destroying a two-hundred-and-fifty-year tradition of decent violinmaking.” Remarking that he would like to show me a sample of Bubenreuth handicraft, Aschauer led me downstairs to the room where the elderly man was dissecting; violin. Aschauer asked the man if he still had “that Amati,” pronouncing “Amati” with deep sarcasm. The man took a violin from a shelf and handed it to him. “Here,” said Aschauer, passing it to me. “Made in Bubenreuth, modelled after Amati.” I examined the fiddle, and I must say that, all in all, it did not much resemble the Amati I take such pride in. I gave the violin back to Aschauer, who stared at it for a moment and then, with a magnificent gesture, threw it against the wall. As it fell in splinters to the floor, I glanced at the elderly man. He looked as pleased as my cousin Raoul had looked forty years earlier. AFTER lunch, I went to see for my self what Herr Dietl, that newcomer across the tracks, was up to. All over West Germany, refugees from the Iron Curtain countries are living in former Wehrmacht barracks that have deteriorated into dilapidated hovels, but the barracks Dietl occupies, on Tiefkarstrasse, had been painted and otherwise spruced up. Out front was a sign reading “A. DIETL,” a drawing of a violin, and an arrow pointing to a rear entrance. I passed a garage in which there was a new Volkswagen as well as several unvarnished double basses, propped up against the walls. From a room near the rear entrance came the sound of machinery, and, looking in, I saw two men cutting double-bass scrolls out of blocks of wood with electric chisels. Shavings flew through the air like snowflakes in a blizzard. I went inside and, raising my voice above the racket of the chisels, asked the nearest man where I could find Dietl. Without interrupting his work, he told me to go upstairs. I walked up a stairway and down a long corridor. Ranged along the walls were a miscellany of violin backs, viola bellies, and whole but unvarnished cellos. Half a dozen more double basses had been stowed higgledy-piggledy in corner at the far end. Dietl was obviously doing a brisk trade in bull fiddles. At the end of the corridor was a cheery kitchen with a new sink and a new refrigerator and a floor covered with gleaming linoleum. A robust-looking woman sitting on a bench near a window was polishing the back of still another double bass with a soft rag. Two new violins were lying on a nearby table. The woman nodded perfunctorily when I introduced myself, said she was Frau Agnes Dietl, and told me to sit down if I wanted to wait for her husband; he was just finishing a varnishing job, she said, and would be along pretty soon. I sat down, and she went on polishing. After a long and, to me, awkward silence, I asked her if she often helped out her husband in this fashion. “Help out?” she exclaimed bitterly. “Why, I work just as hard as the men in the workshop, and I’ve got to keep house besides. I do all the polishing. None of the men have time to do it. I wish Anton would get into another kind of business. Like my father, for instance. He was a butcher in Schönbach. That’s a nice, clean line of work, and You get your money right away.” Then She began rubbing the double bass again. After a while, she put it aside and started polishing a violin. I tried to start conversation going again by asking Frau Dietl if she liked music. “I like marches,” she replied. “Brass bands, that is. And I like jazz.” At this, I gave up, and said nothing more until Dietl came in. He turned out to be a healthy, strong-looking man with the callused hands of a laborer; He wore blue overalls and a blue cap, which he pushed back as he sat down near me. He said he was glad to take a few minutes off to talk, because he’d been working without a letup since six that morning. “Not that I mind working hard,” he told me briskly. “In fact, it’s a pleasure. Because, you see, we’re doing all right. We were beggars when we left Schönbach, back in ’45. We owned nothing but the clothes we had on and a little bundle of tools. We went across the border into the Soviet Zone of Germany, but we didn’t like it there, so we came on here. I’d had business dealings with some of the Mittenwald instrument makers before the war. Our relations had always been friendly, so naturally I thought they’d help me get on my feet.” Dietl stared down at the shiny floor. “They were nice enough to us until I told them we planned to stay here,” he went on. “Then no one would have anything to do with us. We couldn’t even find a place to live. At last, I wangled one room in this old barracks. It wasn’t much to look at then--run-down and unpainted. Well, we fixed it up. We have five rooms now--three to live in and two to work in--and we have new furniture, new flooring, new curtains. I’ve put in everything with my own hands. Last month, I installed that sink you see there, and bought a Volkswagen.” I congratulated Dietl, and said that from what I had seen I wouldn’t imagine any of the native Mittenwald violinmakers had a car. “I guess we’re pretty tough competition for them,” Dietl said. “The trouble with them is they don’t keep in step with the times. What’s wrong with using machines and doing things on a big scale? In the old days, it took a man a week to make a double bass, and when it was finished, he felt like taking a rest for a week, he was so tired. Now we make two or three a day. I’ve got four men working full-time and six making parts in their homes on a piece-rate basis. None of us are Stradivaris, but we get the work done. The public likes our violins, and why not? They’ve got a good, shiny varnish and a tone you can hear, and they’re not expensive. The old-time Mittenwald violinmakers own their houses and take in tourists and sell souvenirs, but I’ve got rent to pay and no tourists come around to this barracks looking for lodging or souvenirs. I can’t afford to take it easy. I’ve got to produce. No Sundays off, no holidays for me. Right now, we’re rushing a big order for New York.” He pulled an envelope out of his breast pocket and showed me the name of a wholesale dealer in musical instruments on Fourth Avenue. “That’s my former master,” Dietl said. “He was smart. He went to America in the twenties, worked hard, and got rich. Now he owns a good business there and comes back to Europe once a year to shop around. He buys about seventy per cent of the instruments I produce. The rest go to Sweden and Switzerland. Right now, my most popular violins are my Strad and Guarnerius models. They come in three shades--dark brown, brownish red, and orange red--and in all sizes from quarter-size to standard. Before long, I’m going to get out a catalogue, with prices, and let the customers order by number. I sell violins like the one my wife is polishing for eight dollars apiece to my friend in New York. By the time he’s added freight and duty and his profit, and sent them along to a retailer, the price is probably doubled. We have a cheaper model, for five dollars, and even that’s more than my Schönbacher friends in Bubenreuth charge. We’ve got one specialty I’m rather proud of--a violin glued with lime, to be used in topical countries. It can stand heat and dampness that would make an ordinary one fall apart.” I told Dietl I could have used a lime-glued fiddle twenty-five years back when I was a ship’s musician aboard a miserable Messageries Maritimes liner making the long run between Marseille and Haiphong. It used to get so hot and humid in the tropics that I kept my violin in the butcher’s icebox, between saddles of mutton and legs of veal, to keep the glue from softening. One night, when we were in Saigon, I absent-mindedly left the violin on top of the piano, and by morning it had fallen apart. Back, belly, ribs, and all the rest were lying in a desolate heap, like a pack of cards after a suddenly interrupted game. “That would never happen with a special tropical job made by A. Dietl,” Dietl said. “They’re guaranteed to hold together.” He picked up one of is fiddles and showed me the label inside. “A. Dietl, Geigenmacher in Mittenwald, A.D. 1956,” it read. Dietl told me that he exported many of his instruments with no labels at all, so that the wholesalers could affix their own labels. “I don’t care what label they use as long as they pay me,” he added. “How does that one sound? ” I asked. “All right, I guess,” Dietl replied. They all sound about the same, I imagine, since they’re all made of the same wood, with the same design and the same varnish. I haven’t the time to try out each one.” “There’s enough noise around here as it is without his squeaking away,” said Frau Dietl, rubbing angrily at the violin in her lap. “I’m a violinmaker, not a violin player,” Dietl said. “I used to play the trumpet, but now I’m so tired when I get through at night that I don’t feel up to even that.” “And more’s the pity,” Frau Dietl said. “Anton is very good on the trumpet.” “Wait a minute,” Dietl said. “I’ve got something special to show you.” He went into an adjoining room and came back carrying a jet-black double bass with white celluloid edges. “Isn’t it a beauty?” Frau Dietl said, almost reverently. “It’s for an American jazz band,” Dietl explained, and he gave the bull fiddle a couple of spins, the way bull fiddlers do when they’re showing off. Frau Dietl sighed. “Someday I’d like to see one of those Negro jazz bands,” she said. Eventually, Dietl led me down the corridor to his main workshop. It was a large, brightly lit room with a new wooden floor and big windows looking out on the town--not at all reminiscent of the other Mittenwald workshops I’d seen. From the ceiling hung dozens of varnished and unvarnished violins and violas, like salami in a sausage factory and along one wall there were shelves loaded with violin bodies, pegs, finger boards, and scrolls. The place was full of machines--mechanical chisels, saws, drills, and a number of devices whose purpose I could only guess at. Two men sitting at a table by one of the windows were fitting necks to bodies. They were working fast; almost before they put down one body, they reached for the next. Dietl said he and his employees assembled violins in batches of six. He himself had just put a coat of varnish on a set of six fiddles and would soon apply the final coat. I asked him if he mixed his own varnish. “Of course not,” he said. “Why should I?” He picked up a rectangular can from the floor and showed it to me. “I buy my varnish in these five-litre cans from a manufacturer in Regensburg who used to live in Schönbach before the war,” he said. “It’s good and it dries quickly. Time is money, you know. We started to assemble the batch those fellows are working on this morning, and by tomorrow afternoon we’ll have it varnished and crated and at the railroad station, bound for New York.” I remarked that he certainly could have taught a thing or two to old Stradivari, who used to hang up a violin in his attic for weeks after each varnishing and would burn an instrument if he wasn’t satisfied with it. Dietl nodded politely, but his mind was elsewhere. “It still takes us too long," he said. “We’ve got to make further cuts in production time. In Bubenreuth, they hang their violins up in rows and varnish them with a spray gun. That’ll be my next step, I think--a spray gun for the varnish. After all, we’re just getting started here. When you’re up against competition like that Bubenreuth crowd, you’ve got to keep on the jump or you’ll get run over.” Dietl looked at his wristwatch, said it was time to put on that final coat of varnish, and sat down in front of a rack from which six violins were suspended. He poured some varnish from the can into a bowl, picked up a brush, and began applying the mixture with broad, vigorous strokes, the way a house painter applies paint. It was getting on toward late afternoon, and presently a pieceworker showed up to deliver three violin bodies, and another brought in his daily quota of finger boards--a dozen. The men I had seen working, downstairs came in with their double-bass scrolls, which were now finished, and one of them said, “That Franz is late again. Does he think I’m going to wait all night for him to bring in his double-bass?” When I left the barracks, it was dark and a light rain had started to fall. The Karwendel Mountains had disappeared in the mists. As I walked back to the hotel, a man came toward me carrying the unvarnished body of a double bass over his right shoulder. just then, the rain grew heavier, and the man--Franz, I have no doubt--raised the double bass to protect his head and, without quickening his pace, continued on his way, the water dripping from the sides of his improvised umbrella.
  9. No not simply sad. It's a cocktail of emotions including sorrow, joy and the sense of the ineffable. Musico/dramatic context also plays a big part (in other words memory of what's gone before). I only need to think about the end of Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen opera to get a catch in my throat, and a lot more Janacek that's by no means sad has me constantly wiping my eyes. But please don't expect everyone to respond exactly like you do. Much of the music that gets to me means nothing to many others, and vice versa. I remember one broadcaster seriously suggested anyone who didn't like Mozart must be a bad person. You'd better lock me away before I do something dreadful
  10. It got a bit late. In short, what I think I'm saying is that if you want to make your speakers produce a sound as similar as possible to your violin you need to close-mike (or record in a completely dead acoustic). But if you want to simulate an enjoyable listening experience in a hall, that's another matter
  11. You're right about crosstalk, but I'm thinking of a single instrument. If we're listening through headphones, close or distance miking should be equally truthful since what the the two poles of the mic detect is pretty much what gets relayed to the ears, left and right directly. The binaural technique takes this approach to the limit by simulating a human head in order to create a realistic sound shadow and interaural time difference. But when the recorded signal is put out through speakers we hear the output of both speakers though both ears so any real interaural time and intensity information is almost completely lost. With any combination of instruments the engineer's skill lies in creating the right kind of mix in order to get a stereo sound stage which isn't necessarily "truthful" but convincing. Using a single mono mic on the other hand we can presumably get a very similar experience to a one-eared listener on the spot.
  12. matesic

    Violin ID

    Certainly not this one! Having tried out three of his and inspected several more, Luff is one of the few makers of whom I might confidently say that
  13. As I see it the simple reason for close miking is so that the recording emulates the source, rather than what you hear at a distance. In practice of course, since most people's listening room doesn't have a very grateful acoustic and a lot of listening is done through headphones most recordings compromise by incorporating some acoustic information too. "Binaural" is the most truthful way to go!
  14. I think of mine not as a collection but a sanctuary. The danger with an accumulation is that the next stage is a hoard. Amati (one of their experts told me) have recently disposed of one man's "accumulation" of 2500 violins. But to reprise the sporting theme, you must have read of the first ever auction of sneakers https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jul/24/rare-nike-running-shoes-fetch-more-than-400000-at-auction
  15. I'm pondering the strange things people collect and what exactly defines a "collection" of anything - baseball cards you occasionally look at and say "yes, that's mine", books you're unlikely to reread, violins you hardly play enough to keep in tune, dated artworks by people the experts once said were up-and-coming, teapots...any group of related items assembled to no practical purpose. It's all pretty daft, isn't it?