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jacobsaunders

5 String small Widhalm viola

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I currently have a small Widhalm viola in front of me that appears to have originally had 5 pegs. I would presume that it was originally so, since the other four peg holes have been crowded down southwards to make room for the fifth peg, which would still have had ample peg box room to thread on a fifth string. This hasn't been “converted” to five strings, but was from the start (1779), since none of the crowded together other 4 holes have been bushed, so the viola must originally have had this unusual feature.

 

I have never noticed this feature on an old instruments before, and wonder if anybody else has? Is there any baroque musical literature that requires a 5 string viola, and if so, how would it have been tuned?

 

It crossed my mind that a small viola with an E string could come in handy, and save one needing both a violin and a viola, but I would rather ask if anyone knows a more prosaic explanation.

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I might guess it was used as a quinton:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Britannica_Violin_Treble_Quinton_Tuning.png

I would think it would be this type of tuning or used scordatura.  I used to have a 5 string with viola d'amore strings for practice, didn't sound so hot though.

99% of modern players would probably tune it in 5ths.

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I could imagine (not very clear at the photo), that the nut was originally much more up north and that they added the actual C peg hole after grafting. The now closed highest peg hole suggests that the original pegs had a very narrow diameter, so it was possible to open up the other peg holes to put in broader modern pegs in the opposite direction. Just an idea - or it was custom made?

I'm curious to see the rest of the viola, does "small" mean 38 cm or less?

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Looking again the treble side closed hole seems to be much smaller than at the bass side - so the peg was probably put in from the bass side, what makes my idea unlikely.:huh:

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1 hour ago, deans said:

I might guess it was used as a quinton:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Britannica_Violin_Treble_Quinton_Tuning.png

I would think it would be this type of tuning or used scordatura.  I used to have a 5 string with viola d'amore strings for practice, didn't sound so hot though.

99% of modern players would probably tune it in 5ths.

Interesting idea. I had always thought of quinton's being a different shape (and French) but perhaps that is just a gap in my education

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25 minutes ago, Blank face said:

I could imagine (not very clear at the photo), that the nut was originally much more up north and that they added the actual C peg hole after grafting. The now closed highest peg hole suggests that the original pegs had a very narrow diameter, so it was possible to open up the other peg holes to put in broader modern pegs in the opposite direction. Just an idea - or it was custom made?

I'm curious to see the rest of the viola, does "small" mean 38 cm or less?

I'm sure one may rule that out. The only change is the bushed top peg hole and a neck graft. Small means 37,4cm.. You will have to give me a while to write the rest of the viola up

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The viola is made around an inside form and with pine blocks and walnut linings (as did Stainer). The middle linings are let into the corner blocks with a point, albeit less of a point than one might expect from for instance Mittenwald. I have seen a Widhalm cello with pine linings once, but a violin or viola without walnut linings would have me doubting if it was one or not. Widhalm's top (no longer existent here) and bottom blocks are quite large, almost semi-circular from the plan view, and he always bevelled the top corner of the top and bottom blocks off at roughly 45°, reducing the glueing area to the belly. I do not know why he did this, but it is another Widhalm authentication box that needs to be ticked.

 

Someone has had a very original repair ethos with the bass bar. I presume it to be the original bar, but it has been drastically shortened so that someone could repair a bass bar crack with a canvas “patch”. I have often noticed that many instruments from this area have finely grained belly wood, but a bass bar of coarsely grown pine with thick hard annual rings. The bar is 8mm high in the middle and is cut to a point towards the top.

 

A couple of years ago, we (the Austrian vm. Assn.) has a graphological historian give us a lecture on violin labels (which we had provided). Interestingly many of those, (Mathias Thier, for instance) that I had always thought of as printed, were actually hand written to imitate print. Others (Magnus Anton Fichtl, for instance) had pre-written labels done in kurentschrift, where he has to add the decimal and single number himself. Here again: if you compare like didgets, for instance the “L” from Leopold, and the “L” from Lautten (and others), and study the thickness of the bars, or the serifs, you can tell that they are not from the same set of lead printers characters. The paper reinforcement strip for the middle joint is also obligatory.

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41 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Where is the breakpoint between a small viola with an E string and a large violin with a C string?

I would look at string length. Do you use a violin set with a viola C, or a viola set with a high E. I think Helicore is the only brand that makes a metal E for viola.

But if this particular instrument were mine I would be using gut and tuning scordatura, there is a lot of viola d'amore music that can be played on 5 strings, and its fun.

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1 hour ago, jacobsaunders said:

Interestingly many of those, (Mathias Thier, for instance) that I had always thought of as printed, were actually hand written to imitate print.

That's fantastic new information; of course the label would have left me wondering if it's original without the impressions of letter printing. But they must have used another more deep black ink for the letters than for the last two numbers of the year. Now I'm gonna have a new view at this old labels.

 

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

Where is the breakpoint between a small viola with an E string and a large violin with a C string?

Please excuse me if I have misunderstood your coment, but I have had to endure more than enough stupifying battles re. the „optimal“ viola size already as a child, that it should be enough for the rest of my life. My personal opinion is that a serious violin shop should have the widest range of viola sizes possible, that the p.t. public has the perfect free choice between all dimensions.

 

That isn’t the intended theme of this thread though; I was wondering, due to the 5 peg holes, if this Instrument was originally concieved as a viola at all?

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17 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Please excuse me if I have misunderstood your coment

I think you did misinterpret Don's comment. But I understand your point about viola sizes. I don't know how many times I've been snickered at walking into a shop looking for a 17.5" viola, unless of course they have one, then I'm a man of great taste.

I assume this will be set up as a 4 string, I'm sure somebody will be extremely happy with it. I would, even though its small. I remember a Widhalm viola at a Skinner auction once, I think around 15.5" it was very nice, but I didn't have the courage....

 

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One should perhaps add a few biographical notes about Widhalm to this thread, since Lütgendorff got Widhalm wrong in major details, and as usual, all of his constant plagiarists (Jalovec, Henley, Amati.com and many others) logically get it wrong with brass knobs on.

 

Proper academic archival research has been done, lead by the Germanic National Museum of Nürnberg, notably Klaus Martius, and published in 1996, but this research hasn't found any echo in the usual tabloid violin literature to this date, possibly because it is a little long winded, and difficult to follow.

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Very interesting, thanks Jacob

There isn’t really anything sensible that I can say with respect directly to the date this instrument was made, but there does seem to have been a flourishing of five-stringed instruments from the 1670-1730 period, although it seems they were very very rare.

John Evelyn speaks in ?1671? Of a German playing a “viol d’amore” which was “but a violin” with five wire strings. Note please that “viol” d’amore is a consistent spelling that goes into the 1720s with Atillo d’Ariosti’s works composed in London as well. I take the origin of this to be the 5-stringed Tielke things made in Hamburg (I hasten to say, it is Evelyn who calls the player a “German”) 

There are a couple of English instruments, one which is particularly inspired by Tielke made by Meares (II) and another by Wamsley that take on this tradition, but made before 1730 in both cases. 

William Corbett, Queen Anne’s violinist seems to have been a particular advocate of this style. He actually had dealings with Strad and the Corbett Strad, much to my delight, uniquely has a five string pegbox. Perhaps more interesting are the large number of “5 hole” violins in his collection that he bequeathed in the 1740s to gresham college. These include 5 Hole Stainers, though whether or what they were is impossible to judge on the strength of the inventory. 

Nonetheless, that is what I am aware of as perhaps a very specialised instrument for accompanying opera arias, invariably called the “viol d’amore” not the “viola d’amore” in London sources.... I don’t see any direct relevance between these and Nuremburg in the 1770s, but it is wrong to be too dismissive as it is also wrong to be too assuming. 

At the size described, I wonder - despite all that is written - if it were conceived as a bigger violin rather than a smaller viola. Do we know how it compares with other Widhalm violas?

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A short summary of the authentic biography of Widhalm, after that published by the Germanishe Nationalmuseum in 1996 from documented contemporary evidence

 

In the entry of 1776 in the St. Leonharder Totenbuch (death register) it reads “Leopold Widhalm, Violin u. Lautenmacher Gostenhof auch unter der burgerschaft Coperal in Gostenhof, der Dienstag d.11ejusdem früh ¼ nach 3 Uhr in einem Alter von 53 Jahren 8 Monaten u 9 Tagen verschieden. War Rom.cathol. Religion; St. Rochus begraben” (trans. Leopold Widhalm. Violin and Lute Maker, Gostenhof, passed away on Tuesday at ¼ past 3 in the morning aged 53 years 8 months and 9 days, was Roman Catholic, buried in St. Rochus)

If you add this information to the entry made by Barbara Schelle as she was registering the birth of an illegitimate child on the 12th December 1745, where she names it's father as “Withalm (sic) Leopold, Lauten- und Geigenmachergesell,Von Horn bey Wien gebürtig” ( trans. Withelm Leopold, Lute and violin making journeyman, born in Horn near Vienna), one already has a wealth of information.

 

Should one take the detailed particulars of his age as accurate (probably) one may calculate Widhalm's birth as having been on 2nd. October 1722 in Horn in Lower Austria. Barbara Schelle states that Horn is near Vienna, although, since I live here, I can assure you it isn't that close. Indeed, if I were to stand up right now, and go to my car, I would reckon with at least an hour to drive to Horn. If you were walking, back in the 18th C. that would surely take all day, if not longer.

One also learns that he had an illegitimate child with the daughter of his employer Sebastian Schelle. Quite why a young Austrian catholic lad was working in Protestant Nürnberg remains a mystery, but he evidently was. Schelle passed away in July 1744, and since he was a widower, his workshop should normally have been inherited by his daughter without ado. The most prevalent way, back then, to come to ones own shop, was to marry a´the widow or  a surviving daughter (less often) of an already existing shop. Widhalm, being a foreign Catholic in Protestant Nürnberg would hardly have been the first choice as suitor, and got himself into serious hot water creating such a fait accompli.

 

In the protocol of 1745 of the “Rugsamt” trans. Punishment authority (?) one may read “Wann Leopold Widhalm wegen der, mit Barbara Sibylla Schellin getriebenen Unzucht, die Straffe wird erstanden haben, ist er von hier fortzuweißen, und zuzusehen ob die Schellin sich mit ihm werde copulieren laßen, da sodann von ihr die Nachsteuer einzuforden" trans. When Leopold Widhalm has served the punishment for the fornication with Barbara Schellin, he is to be expelled, and wait and see if the Schellin couples up with him again, then she should be taxed.(?)

 

Schelle had been supplier of the Frauenkiche, a privilege that would normally have gone over to his heirs. Due to the circumstances, this function was awarded to Leonhard Maussiell instead. Maussiell also litigated to acquire the estate of the late Schelle by complaining about the “Catholic Journeyman”. Widhalm (and Barbara Schelle) received permission to set up shop in Gostenhof (today a suburb of Nürnberg) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gostenhof in 1746, on the condition that the “Rugsamt” had no objection. Widhalm paid his taxes in February 1746, but only started working there in July 1746, so one could speculate that he spent the missing 4 months in the “Schuldenturm” trans. Arrest.

 

Further litigation from Maussiell followed. In 1756, for instance, one can read his complaint “Ob der Kläger Vorgegeben würklich an dem seye, dass dem Widhalm bey Conferiirung des Schutzes nur blos auf seine Einshand zu arbeiten erlaubt seye” rough trans. If it wasn't the intention of the prosecutor that the concession granted after his conviction wasn't intended for him to only work alone? One may surely interpret this in different ways, however it seems that Maussiel had expected his punishment of expulsion out of the city to stipulate that Widhalm could scratch a living on his own, and was outraged that he had built a successful business with employed journeymen , who he probably felt were eating his lunch.

 

Having served his sentence, Widhalm and Barbara Schellle copulated industriously, the threats from the "Rugsamt" notwithstanding, and had a further 6 children. At least 3 of whom became violin makers. When Widhalm passed away in 1776, Barbara Schelle became once more the principal of the shop. Since the eldest son was also called Leopold, the label, style and quality of instruments continued unabated. The OP instrument is an example from this “Wittwenbetrieb” trans. widows shop period, and any attempt to try and stipulate which “Widhalm” (person) made which “Widhalm” (instrument) is in my opinion not reliably possible (although it won't be hard to find somebody who will try), and would miss the point. Widhalm violins are not from a person, but from a shop, which spanned 3 generations, until Gallus Ignatius died in September 1822.

 

The Germanische Nationalmuseum also publishes the inventory of Gallus Ignatious W. from 1822, which also includes other violins from different makers, including a “Stratuari (sic) of 1692” which was priced at 125,-, cf. A Witthlm (sic) at 20,-

 

To follow the theme of Catholics working outside the city walls of Protestant towns, Buchstetter, who we discussed in detail here: https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/329708-gabriel-david-buchstetter/&hl=buchstetter didn't work in the protestant city of Regensburg, but just outside, across the Danube “Pedeponti prope Ratisbonam” (At the foot of the bridge by Regensburg). Widhalms youngest son, Veit Anton, born in 1756, worked for Buchstetter, and became his successor there. I have only ever seen one Veit Anton W. violin, and it looked exactly the same as a Buchstetter.

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Thanks, Jacob!

I miss my old Widhalm violin (stolen from me when I lived in NYC).  It was a lovely instrument.  (Keep your eyes out for a Widhalm violin dated 1774, soundpost cracks on front and back, a circle cut-out on the back just below the button, where a brand used to be).

The viola pomposa, or something along those lines, was used by JSB for the Suite #6.

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Great info, as usual, thank you very much!

Just a small correction, reg. the "Sex outside the city";): As far as I know means the german pasive "copulieren lassen" the same as becoming a couple, i. to marry legally. Otherwise Widhalms sons wouldn't bear the same family name like their father. Maybe there is something to find about the marriage in the chronicles, his wife would have necessarily become catholic, too.

I remember that there was a VA Widhalm in the Berliner Musikinstrumentenmuseum, carrying a thick crackled red oil varnish.

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53 minutes ago, Blank face said:

Great info, as usual, thank you very much!

Just a small correction, reg. the "Sex outside the city";): As far as I know means the german pasive "copulieren lassen" the same as becoming a couple, i. to marry legally. Otherwise Widhalms sons wouldn't bear the same family name like their father. Maybe there is something to find about the marriage in the chronicles, his wife would have necessarily become catholic, too.

I remember that there was a VA Widhalm in the Berliner Musikinstrumentenmuseum, carrying a thick crackled red oil varnish.

Thank-you for the correction. I believe that I have mentioned once before that translating baroque German into modern English is a “sticky wicket”. I was also unsure how to translate “Unzucht” since my dictionary suggested “sodomy”!

I have indeed found the marriage application, from 1746, where it was agreed between bride and bridegroom that any sons of the marriage should be raised in the faith of the father, any daughters in that of the mother.

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42 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Thank-you for the correction. I believe that I have mentioned once before that translating baroque German into modern English is a “sticky wicket”. I was also unsure how to translate “Unzucht” since my dictionary suggested “sodomy”!

I have indeed found the marriage application, from 1746, where it was agreed between bride and bridegroom that any sons of the marriage should be raised in the faith of the father, any daughters in that of the mother.

I'm supposing the word doesn't need a particular translation^_^.

Interesting that such a mixed marriage was allowed at the period; it might have depended from the laws of the state. Nürnberg probably won't have allowed it, but made sure to get the marriage tax nonetheless!

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On 2/27/2018 at 12:53 PM, Don Noon said:

Where is the breakpoint between a small viola with an E string and a large violin with a C string?

I suspect that the driving factor is the strength of E string material.  You need good steel to get an e string for a viola!

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On 2/27/2018 at 2:30 PM, furse said:

Fascinating information from Mr. Saunders.  I always enjoy and learn from his knowledge of old instruments.  I didn't know Stainer used walnut linings.   I've often wondered if hardwood linings might make sense but never tried it.  

Seeing inside is always revealing.  Round end blocks. Are the linings mortised into the corner blocks, and then the block is cut away?   There seems to be no real support there. 

I just finished a ribcage, and tried using something other than my usual American Sycamore for linings.  It just doesn't work for me!  Spruce is very hard to bend, burns, and snaps.  Poplar was brittle, and just broke into pieces, but I like it for blocks.  Sycamore is perfect for linings.

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