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jacobsaunders

Martin Mathias Fichtl Vienna, Large Cello

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A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I was rang up by a principal cellist of one of the big English orchestras. He told me that his Cello was a Joseph Paul Christa of Munich, and that he had been trying to find out more about it, and had been asking people in England and Germany, and had been told several times that he should ask me about it. His orchestra would be playing a concert in Vienna at the Musikverein next week, and could he come around on the afternoon before the concert to show it to me. Christa was a Füssener who became a pupil of Alletsee in Munich, and had also worked a while by Posch in Vienna, so of course I said “yes certainly, you will be most welcome”.

 

It actually became slightly spooky when he came, because we had both been members of the Nottinghamshire County Youth Orchestra together back in the 1970's. He had been 2 years older than me (still is) and he was, back then by far and away the best cellist there, sitting at the front, whereas I was, if anything, a discipline problem, sitting at the back desk with my ¾ cello (a Neuner & Hornsteiner).

 

The cello was one of those large sized early 18th C: Füssen school celli that had been reduced in size, which he didn't seem to have noticed after all those years. The label was some dodgy photo-copy, so I unfortunately had to tell him carefully that he should forget Christa. To prove my point, I went into my store room, and fetched a cello by Martin Mathias Fichtl of Vienna from 1746. My Fichtl cello is very large, with a body length of 797mm, widths of 374, 251, and 469mm respectively. It has a belly stop length of 438mm (normal 405). As if to make up for the massive belly stop, the original neck, which has been lengthened at the heel is only 264mm.

 

For many years, I have repaired a number of “reduced” celli, in particular a very fine Grancino, which I have even had to bits twice, every time Herr Professor trips over it. I had always thought that reducing old celli had something of vandalism about it, but David's visit started me thinking. His (reduced) cello has spent many years as principal cello of one of the best English orchestras to general satisfaction, whereas my Fichtl has been standing in the entrance to my store room for years, where I have to move it out the way whenever I have to look for some wood. The cello is stamped “MV St. Pölten” beneath the button. This is because it had belonged, for generations, to the “Musikverein of 1837” in St. Pölten, which is an amateur orchestra and choir to this day. I have always tried to avoid them, as best I could, for fear of being roped into playing the cello at some grotty concert.

 

The cello is in many ways, the proof that communal ownership of instruments is not conducive to their long life. All this time (perhaps even back to 1837) no individual has owned and cherished it, and whenever it was falling to bits, they have had some railway engineer, or equivalent, botch it together to save money. The cello needs a major restoration, but there would be nobody who wanted a 5/4 cello with such a long stop, and short neck, and as such no way of financing the necessary repair work. I wondered of it would not be better to reduce it after all, and plotted an outline (in chinagraph) on the belly. The inside line would be the inside line of the purfling, and the outside one the external outline of the cello I wonder what other Maestronetters would do with a smashed in 5/4 cello and if they think that I should restore and reduce it?

 

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If I might introduce Martin Mathias Fichtl to the learned ladies and Gentlemen:

 

The violin literature widely asserts that the Viennese maker, Martin Mathias Fichtl was born in 1682, although there is yet to be any exact documentary evidence of the date, only the age given in the Totenbuch (death register), calculated backwards. We do not (yet) know where he was born, although we find that his parents were named as Martin Fichtl and Maria Ursula F. (unfortunately no maiden name) at his first marriage in 1725.

 

Fichtl married the widow of the maker Andreas Beer in St. Michaels Church in Vienna on the 9th of April 1725. (the second entry on this page): http://data.matricula-online.eu/en/oesterreich/wien/01-st-michael/02-04/?pg=440

One may see from the entry in the Trauungsbuch, that Fichtl had Antony Posch and Christoph Leidolf as his groom-witnesses. This presumably shows what company Fichtl kept. Fichtl's sister, Regina Gertrudus married the maker Conrad Wörle in February 1728, making Wörle Fichtl's brother in law, so we see that the Viennese violin making community was widely related to each other.

 

Fichtl was an excellent maker, quite on a level with his groom-men, In fact his first entry in the Viennese tax records in 1726, records Fichtl having paid 9fl. (Gulden) in tax, putting him at the forefront of Viennese violin makers. Relative to his colleagues, for instance said wedding witnesses, Posch and Leidolf, Fichtl's instruments are scarce, and he seems not to have been much of a business talent. The normal lot of an 18th C. maker was to die in his 40's of tuberculosis in such poverty that his widow could not even afford a respectable funeral. This fate was not exclusive to Viennese makers, indeed Sig. Pio documented for us that Peter Guarneri of Venice also died as little more than a beggar. Few makers, even of this high standard of making, managed to leave enough funds to afford a respectable burial, although recommending ones soul to the holy “Mother of god, the Virgin Mary etc.” seemed to be of vital importance, back in the 18th C. One who managed to have a decent funeral, although his violins are also rare, was Daniel Acatius Stadlmann, whose funeral cost 21fl. and 25 kreutzer http://data.matricula-online.eu/en/oesterreich/wien/01-st-stephan/03a-068/?pg=438

 

The Viennese violin makers complained of their general poverty in a statement to the Viennese government, in 1770 on occasion of Leopold Widhalm applying to move to Vienna, which I posted here: https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675

 

By 1765, Fichtl's tax bill had diminished to 4fl. and it was noted ist gestorben (has died) and das gwöerb freyeend (the business dormant).

 

It is always interesting (but difficult) to get documentary evidence, who was apprenticed to, or worked for whom. Magnus Anton Fichtl (relation unknown) wrote himself in 1778, in his application to the government to have his own violin making business in Krems, which I reproduced in full, here: https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/323802-yet-another-question-for-roger-hargrave/&do=findComment&comment=545085

Euer Excellenz und Gnaden sehe ich mich

bemüssiget gehors. vorzustellen, wie daß ich

von Lechbrug aus Schwaben gebürtig mich

bereits schon im Jahre 760 nach Wienn in die

Lehr zum hl. Martin Fichtl bürgerl. Lauten

und Geigenmacher begeben, alda ordentlich

die Lehr Jahre erstrebet,

So that we know that M.A. Fichtl was sent as a 13 year old in 1760 to be apprenticed to M. M. Fichtl, quite in the Füssen tradition. Widhalm in his application to return to Vienna of 1768 (above link), tells us that he was an apprentice in Vienna, but tantalisingly omits to say with whom. Both Fichtl and Wörle are very probable candidates as Widhalm's teacher, particularly since Wörles second wife comes from the same small village, St. Bernhard, near Horn, as Widhalm.

 

Susanne Beer, Fichtl's first wife, brought her inherited house in the Naglergasse (later conscriptions number Stadt #175) into the marriage. Upon her death in 1742, the house was in turn inherited by Fichtl. Fichtl remaried in the parish church of St. Michael 09.07.1748 with the wood turners widow Maria Anna Kupasch, born ca. 1717, died 27th October 1791 (second entry) http://data.matricula-online.eu/en/oesterreich/wien/01-st-michael/05-23/?pg=211 . According to the land registry, Fichtl's second bride, Kupasch became joint title bearer of this house in 1760, one can not but wonder if this wasn't in lieu of some sort of debt. The house was significantly valuable, since in the previous years, according to the “Behausten Buch” the rental income had been between 220 and 504Fl. (Gulden) p.a. Nonetheless, it seems that financial problems occurred in the following years, since the house was jurisdictionally executed in 1764.

 

The probate records of M. M. Fichtl are preserved in the “Stadt und Land Arkiv” in Vienna, and I have requested a copy, in the hope of seeing what if anything he left, and if so to whom.

 

 

 

 

 

soffice.exe

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Thank you very much for all this rare informations! (It seems to be a very brave attitude to become a violinmaker in Vienna;))

Reg, your OP question, I'm afraid that I have no idea what's the best to do with it. Wouldn't the arching and flutings be too much disturbed by reducing it? And maybe there will be, in future times, a tall player with long arms regretting that it was made smaller?

BTW, congrats, Austria beat Germany tonight!

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5 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

...whereas I was, if anything, a discipline problem...

I can't imagine!^_^

As far as cutting it down - in this instance, why not? It is currently unwanted and not being played. Make it playable.

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Jacob, I think it should be saleable as a basse de violon type of instrument, tuned a whole tone step lower than a cello, especially desireable in late 17th early 18th century French orchestral Music, but also for continuo in earlier italian and german stuff up to J.S.Bach. You'll have to advertise it, but I don't think it is impossible to sell at all.

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27 minutes ago, Blank face said:

Thank you very much for all this rare informations! (It seems to be a very brave attitude to become a violinmaker in Vienna;))

Reg, your OP question, I'm afraid that I have no idea what's the best to do with it. Wouldn't the arching and flutings be too much disturbed by reducing it? And maybe there will be, in future times, a tall player with long arms regretting that it was made smaller?

BTW, congrats, Austria beat Germany tonight!

Since the fluting is rather wide on this Cello, the (rest)arching would be much less, or hardly disturbed cf. many „reduced“ celli, for instance the Grancino I mentioned. The dilema is, if it would make sense to spend weeks and months restoring a Cello with such unusable belly/neck measurements that nobody would want to play it.  It isn’t „original“ enough to „re-baroque“ (to use an ugly word) either. Having recently seen what a phenominal Cello David’s (not) Christa was I wondered if I shouldn’t make such a fine Cello out of it. Otherwise it seems efectivly useless. Hmmm

 

Yes thanks, The Piefke won’t win the world cup like that, they should try skiing

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I'm just thinking out loud here, but if you wish to sell it as a modern cello, could there be another solution? What if you place the bridge a Little high between the f holes, set the neck unusually deeply into the body (using a big top block that allows for a Deep mortise) so that the fourth Position "is where it should be" for the thumb, but unusually close to the belly, raise the overstand a Little high so that the table doesn't get in the way of the hand, consequently also raise the saddle so that the string angle over the bridge (that will be tall) can be kept within acceptable limits. As a cellist I can say that the Problem is more the Limitation the thumb has at the end of the neck, than that the body is in the way of the hand. If I'm calculating right, your current sounding string length should be around 67 centimetres, which even is a Little Shorter than standard 69.5 centimetres, right?  It would be unusual, but if it sounds well… You would not Need to make permanent changes to the instrument as all would be reversable.

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16 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Yes thanks, The Piefke won’t win the world cup like that, they should try skiing

Much to warm even to think of skiing actually. The last time they lost against Austria (36 years ago) they reached the final in the end, and no Italy in the way this time. Be it!:lol:

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I don't see the point in keeping it original in this instance. Why? So someone may buy it and may play it - or have it sitting around - albeit in pristine condition - collecting dust yet again?

If it becomes a "modern" cello and happily goes back to work - seems like a win-win.

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I am so curious at the process of a reduction... how do you achieve the fluted edging after the reduction shaping?  Isn’t the top too thinly graduated at that part?  Also, do you reuse the old purfling or make new?

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9 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

Yes thanks, The Piefke won’t win the world cup like that, they should try skiing

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans. At least they provided an excuse for unscheduled Schnappsl last night :o

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3 hours ago, John_London said:

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans. At least they provided an excuse for unscheduled Schnappsl last night :o

I don't think people realise how much Austrians always want their football team to beat Germany. The last time it happened,was 40 years ago in Cordoba, and the members of that team are, to this day, immortal celebrities, and live well off advertising garden centres, supermarkets or telephone contracts etc. on the telly. I don't think the English are much different. I was once given a VHS cassette of “Germany 1 England 5 in Munich” as a birthday present, with John Motson commentating “the German goalkeeper is called Oliver Can't in English”.

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Here's a cynical thought. The more original large cellos are cut down, the more valuable my original, 802mm instrument will become. But seriously please don't cut it down! There are so few of the big ones left.

However I do not really support Baroquecello's proposals. 1746 is probably too late for the Bb tuning and the alterations that he suggests won't really improve the practicality. If it was mine I would set it up in as near original condition as possible to deduce, and let it find its own market within the increasing diversity of the modern cello world.

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To discuss the Cello a little;

 

The cello was, as are all old Austrian Celli, of course built around a form. One can tell this from the corner blocks which cover more of the upper/lower rib surface than the centre ribs. Also due to the (still) one piece bottom rib. Many Austrian Celli have two “Spike holes” as does this one. The second “spike hole” has been bunged up. I am not certain why these Celli often had a second hole here, although, where they haven't subsequently been bunged up, it is useful for being able to check the sound post without having to take the strings off (careful not to stab your eye out!).

 

The ribs are, as is the back, made of a lightly flamed densely grown slab maple. It seems that Fichtl has taken some trouble to avoid any knots, and I am still wondering if the inset bit at the bottom of the back by the centre joint, wasn't original, to replace a knot. Here comes a further typical dilemma. As a violin restorer, I have a large selection of choice wood for repairing, but I will have to look very long and hard to find a matching piece here. I can only advise any Maestronetter, who wishes to become immortal with new making, to avoid slab cut wood, since it is fare more prone to shrinkage cracks. The stout linings, which are let into the corner blocks with a point, are also of maple. They are about 20mm deep and 3mm thick. One can almost imagine that he regretted using maple, since one can see a variety of tool marks, knife, chisel and rasp, as he franticly shaped them. The ribs all have parchment strips, which slightly overlap the linings as crack prophylaxis which can often be seen in old Viennese Celli. Viennese instruments also have a parchment strip along the back joint, normally pilfered from some old book or manuscript. Since Celli are longer than any book, the middle joint is covered by two adjacent strips. This practice was also used by these makers by the f holes, where 4 strips of parchment were used to hinder any crack starting at the f hole. This seems to have been a good strategy, since although the cello is pretty beaten up otherwise, it is pretty intact there.

 

The arching is what I would describe as of medium height, with wide fluting around all edges. This should, I believe, particularly play into the hands of anyone wishing to shorten it, since instruments that have had a full arching to the edge, always look a bit handicapped when someone shortens them, and the convex part goes all the way to the edge, leaving nothing flat to glue onto the rib cage.

 

I find the f hole particularly pretty, and although I suppose that that is a matter of taste, I am sure that most will agree with me.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Mark Caudle said:

However I do not really support Baroquecello's proposals. 1746 is probably too late for the Bb tuning and the alterations that he suggests won't really improve the practicality. If it was mine I would set it up in as near original condition as possible to deduce, and let it find its own market within the increasing diversity of the modern cello world.

Well, the Basse de Violon proposal was to not alter the instrument at all and only a suggestion for what practical use it may serve in that state. Many famous baroque cellists don't play a "real" baroque cello anyway, but rather play an old Cello with modern neck, shortened fingerboard, baroque bridge and gut strings. A large cello like this would find acceptance in the early Music community from most cellists I know, just a few would be too puristic. However, this was said still thinking that the string length would be excessive. As I calculate again, it seems the string length would be About 70 CM, which isn't that long after all. I'd say leave the dimensions as they are, string it up with gut and hope a baroque cellist will pick it up.

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Maybe one of the holes is for a strap fixing and the other for the tailgut. I  have an old cello end-button that  has depressions for 2 chords, the upper for the tailgut and the lower, presumably for the strap. Otherwise on the Fichtl the upper hole could be for the tail gut and the lower for a short and thick wooden spike as you sometimes see in illustrations. Perhaps this is more likely.

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Now that I've seen the photos informing about the condition, I'm understanding Jacob's concerns about the economic of the repair/restoration. In my humble experiences, the "period" musicians are usually very ambitious in regards of originality, different grades of variations in size, string or neck lengths etc., but unfortunately very often unable to pay the full amount of restoration costs nor cultural value, rarity and so on.

Reg. the Piefke/Ösi duels it's very significant that the 1982 game (resulting in a German second place behind Italy) is regarded alternating as "wonder" or "disgrace", while the 1978 very polite match without a winner (or win-win for both sides) is remembered as  "The Shame". The last night probably will be forgotten soon.B)

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I remain on Team Cutdown. :)

However, what are the relative economics of the options? (Just a rough idea - not necessarily real figures).

I.e. 

Value as is (in pieces).

Value fully restored. Cost of full restoration. Saleability.

Value when cut down. Cost of repurposing. Saleability.

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Btw - over the years we have been involved with antiques - buying, refinishing, selling - long enough to have seen trends and philosophies come and go...as much as I appreciate items in original condition, it is not always the best/most practical option.

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42 minutes ago, Rue said:

I remain on Team Cutdown. :)

However, what are the relative economics of the options? (Just a rough idea - not necessarily real figures).

I.e. 

Value as is (in pieces).

Value fully restored. Cost of full restoration. Saleability.

Value when cut down. Cost of repurposing. Saleability.

Value as is (in pieces): Is negligible, since I have been wondering what to do with it, and it has been blocking the doorway into my store room for years. It was handy to show the English principal cellist, what his Cello was originally like recently, but that is about all.

 

Value fully restored. Cost of full restoration. Saleability: Impossible to judge value fully restored (original size), since there is no market (to my knowledge) for it. Cost of full restauation also depends on how you judge things since it is mine and I am not writing anyone an invoice, but I would think about 2 months wages, which I suppose varies depending on what standard of living you would wish to concede me.

Value when cut down. Cost of repurposing. Saleability. The value would also depend on the succses of the operation. As described above it would be of a sort in demand by principal cellist of major orchestas. Cost of “Repurposing” (a funny word), would also be about 2 months work, spread over a longer time frame. I could think of several people one could realistically offer the cello

 

 

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5 hours ago, Mark Caudle said:

Here's a cynical thought. The more original large cellos are cut down, the more valuable my original, 802mm instrument will become. But seriously please don't cut it down! There are so few of the big ones left.

However I do not really support Baroquecello's proposals. 1746 is probably too late for the Bb tuning and the alterations that he suggests won't really improve the practicality. If it was mine I would set it up in as near original condition as possible to deduce, and let it find its own market within the increasing diversity of the modern cello world.

My dilemma is that my gut feeling agrees with you that one should leave things original as far as they still are (a lot isn't), however I think you are mistaken to think that your 802mm (can't say much, because I don't know it) would become “More valuable”. I see no demand for oversized celli whatsoever, and whilst you might get the odd ohhhs and ahhhhs when you show it to people, the minute you search for someone prepared to write a cheque, you will find that an 802mm cello isn't comercially worth much at all. Agree that, although I would like to thank “Baroquecello” for his (her?) thoughts, I would conclude that they would not work, as soon as one makes a repair plan.

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38 minutes ago, Blank face said:

In my humble experiences, the "period" musicians are usually very ambitious in regards of originality, different grades of variations in size, string or neck lengths etc., but unfortunately very often unable to pay the full amount of restoration costs nor cultural value, rarity and so on.

I'm affraid you are right there. They don't usually have the well Paid job of a Symphony orchestra musician. That may be one of the reasons the succesful ones are less picky About "originality, different grades of variations in size, string or neck lengths etc." Also, it depends where they are from. I have the Impression the belgians around the Kuijken family are rather dogmatic when it comes to their instruments, the Basel crowd too, but the dutch, german and english Players are a little more pragmatic. My former teacher Viola de Hoog Plays a Guadagnini in modern setup ( but it is on loan) but with period gut strings and bow. My other former teacher Kristin von der Goltz plays a Leopold Widhalm in similar setup, last time I saw it. So both decidedly later than "real" baroque cellos, later even than Jacobs cello. Both sounding excellent in their own way. Those examples would make the case for conversion to more standard dimensions stronger. If kept in original state, I'd try getting the fact that it is for sale known in and around Basel, that is also where (some) more money is.

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Tough decision, Jacob.  I think there is a valid argument either way... I'm mostly in the "leave it be" camp when it comes to large 'celli and large/small violas in general...  but even with commerce placed aside... there is a twinge in any instrument lovers heart to see an old, charming and interesting instrument be pressed back into commission with active musicians...  practicality be damned... and that probably won't happen without alteration.

As you, I'm sure, are well aware (so I say this for other members benefit); Certain alterations were common in the past, including cutting and lowering arching... even when we were young(er) in this profession.  Many of these procedures have fallen out of favor (though they still occur on occasion... in some cases when it leaves me scratching my head in wonder) in the least several decades in favor of more conservative approaches, but I should mention that I feel returning instruments to their "original sizes" is still an alteration.  Even stretching, I doubt it can be considered is a resurrection of the piece, but it appeals to many instrument geek's sensibilities. 

I, too, like those ffs.

It's a shame there probably isn't enough interest in museum acquisition of this sort of thing... though I understand it's not a pristine piece, having that outline preserved (along with the others who have found their way to a safe haven) for future reference appeals to me.  Once it's cut, it's gone.

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