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Walter H. Mayson


Quadibloc
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Having found useful public-domain images of violins in Volume 4 of The Violin Times, I went to see if any more of this publication was available online.

In Volume 3, there was a nice photograph of a violin, but unfortunately, the page it was on was not unfolded, so part of the image was obscured, and I couldn't find any other digitizations of that portion of the periodical.

The image, I was able to determine from the index, was of the Hallé or Hallé-Mayson violin, by Walter H. Mayson.

According to "British Violin-Makers" by the Reverend William Meredith Morris:
 

Quote

 

Many experts have expressed the opinion that violins of the "Hallé-Mayson" class will worthily replace the chefs d'œuvre of Cremona, when the latter have become food for worms.

...

The tone of these instruments is most remarkable. In saying this it is not assumed that it is now equal in mellowness to that of the perfect Strads and Josephs left us, but it is maintained that it runs theirs very closely in quality, and most certainly excels that of most of them in power and breadth. It needs but age and careful use to develop the tonal qualities of these instruments to put many of the all-but-deified Strads entirely out of court.

 

According to Tarisio.com, however:

Quote

Despite the relative mediocrity of his work

The Violin Channel has his "Rowena" on sale for a mere $3,500.

If one assumes that his violins must have had something going for them for people to rave about them so, and yet if, as well, they can be accurately and honestly called mediocre, well, then, this would logically mean that one could go for a violin by makers such as Sam Zygmuntowicz with confidence, if, among modern makers, a latter-day Stradivari is but a mediocrity.

 

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1 hour ago, Bill Merkel said:

You can reason backward from those dilemmas to discover who' was lying.

I did forbear to mention that another possible logical conclusion that one could propose from this is that one shouldn't believe everything one reads.

I think that additional information is required, though, to determine which seemingly contradictory statement is mistaken, although I already do have a guess.

However, one thing does puzzle me: how do I distinguish violins of the Hallé-Mayson class from other violins made by Walter H. Mayson? It's not as if I can go by their crew complement or weaponry.

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I'm afraid this is just another example of how easy it is to draw valueless inferences from other peoples' bad data.

The Meredith Morris quote is itself just second hand opinion of the worst kind.

Proof of the pudding - you can't give away a Walter H Mayson violin. The more Latin there is on the label the worse it will sound.

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7 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

If one assumes that his violins must have had something going for them for people to rave about them so

 

This highlights the problem with reading things in books, without having had the hands on experience.

He was an educated man, who was at times a writer, a poet, an artist, and also a violin maker. His family was also well connected, and so, he had no problem in receiving accolades from the great and good.
At the time he was working, there was little competition in Manchester, until towards the end of his life.

Being self taught, and having clearly very strong opinions of what makes a good instrument, and his own abilities, his work falls outside the usual parameters of good taste. Despite many describing his work as based on classical models, I would have to dispute this. Indeed if they are, I have no idea what he was copying in these cases.
His own model is better, as it has no expectations put upon it. If he did have a golden period, I am not sure at what point in his life this would be.

Frequently the dimensions are overly large, with very deep ribs, unusual string lengths, and quite blocky scrolls. I have seen a lot of his work, and I do not count myself fortunate to have done so, the ones with carved backs being particularly monstrous.

Though tone is a subjective thing, and despite the ramblings of Morris and others, I am fairly sure that no one is playing on one in a professional orchestra. From what I have seen, most are still in mint condition over a century later, often owned by ladies of a certain age, who get it out of the case once a week at orchestra.

The materials they are made from are generally decent, and the varnish too, which he seemed to favour a dark red colour, has aged well, if in some cases quite heavily crazed.

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24 minutes ago, Dave Slight said:

This highlights the problem with reading things in books, without having had the hands on experience.

Indeed. I was doing a Google Search for more information about him. I found a positive mention of him on one violin web site that turned out to have been quoted from a book by Cecie Stainer, who himself compiled his book from the "best authorities"... and I also found him discussed here, in an older thread, titled "What was the worst English violin that you have seen", in which you yourself had participated.

Apparently the only thing worse than one of his violins in general is one of the later ones with a carved back, at least according to one post - and it's allegedly hard to even give them away. Ouch!

I was going to note that, given these scientific "blind studies" that show that people couldn't tell the difference between a Stradivarius and quite ordinary violins, that perhaps depending on what they're compared to, and one's disposition, a violin could be made by a new Stradivari to one person and mediocre to another, but this seems to go beyond that.

Other possibilities include perhaps an excess of patriotism at that time in Britain, but now I would really like to know who the "many experts" whose opinions Morris encountered were.

And here I thought that the only problem with what Morris wrote might have been that he failed to anticipate that when Stradivarius violins did become unplayable, they would then still be embalmed and kept as valuable collectors items, thus being kept from the worms until long after those by Mayson became unplayable also in their turn. (However, I did write "If one assumes..." for a reason; I am not so credulous as some here seem to believe.)

Edited by Quadibloc
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29 minutes ago, Dave Slight said:

This highlights the problem with reading things in books, without having had the hands on experience.

He was an educated man, who was at times a writer, a poet, an artist, and also a violin maker. His family was also well connected, and so, he had no problem in receiving accolades from the great and good.
At the time he was working, there was little competition in Manchester, until towards the end of his life.

Being self taught, and having clearly very strong opinions of what makes a good instrument, and his own abilities, his work falls outside the usual parameters of good taste. Despite many describing his work as based on classical models, I would have to dispute this. Indeed if they are, I have no idea what he was copying in these cases.
His own model is better, as it has no expectations put upon it. If he did have a golden period, I am not sure at what point in his life this would be.

Frequently the dimensions are overly large, with very deep ribs, unusual string lengths, and quite blocky scrolls. I have seen a lot of his work, and I do not count myself fortunate to have done so, the ones with carved backs being particularly monstrous.

Though tone is a subjective thing, and despite the ramblings of Morris and others, I am fairly sure that no one is playing on one in a professional orchestra. From what I have seen, most are still in mint condition over a century later, often owned by ladies of a certain age, who get it out of the case once a week at orchestra.

The materials they are made from are generally decent, and the varnish too, which he seemed to favour a dark red colour, has aged well, if in some cases quite heavily crazed.

Dave!

You almost sound like Henley!

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2 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

Other possibilities include perhaps an excess of patriotism at that time in Britain, but now I would really like to know who the "many experts" whose opinions Morris encountered were.

 

I doubt these experts really existed, and since they are not named, even if they did, experts in what exactly?

A lot of old violin books are simply regurgitated nonsense, complied by over enthusiastic armchair experts.
This is extremely lazy, but has been going on for a very long time. It's easier to reword someone else's unsubstantiated claims, or translate them into flowery Edwardian prose to make it seem more scholarly, than to do any actual research. Each one copying the errors of the previous.
This is why the descriptions in books of workmanship, and especially tone are meaningless, and have vastly overestimated the numbers of instruments produced by makers.

If you were to set out, to write your own book, how many years do you think it would take to go out and view an instrument of each recorded maker in only one country? Lets say Germany for example.
To search archives, translate them, find owners, speak to collectors, get permission from a museum, talk to dealers etc...... All those miles travelling in the rain during winter, only to find when you got there the instrument had a fake label, or was so badly damaged and poorly repaired that it would be difficult to judge any of it's original qualities. Multiply this thousands of times....

That armchair is looking pretty good now, right? Even better when you can sit by the fire with a laptop.

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From the earlier thread, I have learned that Morris wrote an entire book about Mayson. In that book, I have learned, even Morris admits that Mayson had, to satisfy public demand for inexpensive violins, made some violins out of poorer-quality wood; those violins changed hands for prices from 4 to 6 pounds, and "his reputation has suffered thereby".

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It's interesting that this older thread illustrates that Meredith Morris was perfectly capable of saying critical things about violins - and in some cases the criticisms were warranted and accurate.

The other old thread included a comment on the names given to Mayson's violins: but one of them was even named after Meredith Morris. One possibility is that Mayson actually did manage to make one good-sounding violin, the Hallé, and this is the one Morris had the opportunity to hear himself. After all, Martin Swan noted that he was surprised one day by a very good-sounding Maidstone violin in that thread.

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I wonder if what counts against Mayson today is his independence. It's hard for any "artist" to establish and retain a reputation unless he or she follows a certain school. The initial response to a maverick may be enthusiasm, but in so many cases this is followed by a reaction and finally neglect if not rejection. It seems Mayson's best work was technically very fine, so maybe his instruments deserve proper consideration from a playing perspective.

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