Markneukirchen Violin Production

October 2, 2016 at 09:34 PM · We were discussing the violins mostly mass produced in Markneukirchen, Saxony, Germany. Here is an excellent article on the region;

Sorry about the editing problems,

Yes it is rather long and this is only about a third part of the entire article which goes back to 1611 Markneukirchen

Violin Making in the Musikwinkel of Bohemia and Saxony and in Markneukirchen and Bubenreuth today A Short Chronology of Hundreds of Years of a German Tradition researched by Dr. Enrico Weller, Markneukirchen and Dr. Christian Hoyer, Bubenreuth,with advice from Klaus Grünke, Langensendelbach (near Bubenreuth)written in English by William Wisehart, Bubenreuth November, 2012 dedicated to the 40th Anniversary of the Violin Society of America in 2012 and to the memory of one of its founding members, Eric Chapman

1893 in Markneukirchen: U.S. Consular Office From 1893 onwards, the U.S. government maintained a Consular Office in Markneukirchen to help expedite the paperwork for the tremendous volume of instruments going to the United States, and it was active there until it was closed in World War I. Roughly a third of all instruments made in the Musikwinkel during this time went to the United States. The sales volume was not steady, but went rather in leaps and bounds, as it was very dependent on the health of the economy.

1894 in Markneukirchen: bows of W. A. Pfretzschner From 1894 to 1947, bow maker Wilhelm August Pfretzschner opened a business that produced bows in a wide price range. Some of which were of very high quality.He was not directly related to the other Pfretzschner family mentioned earlier. Around 1900: Mass Production versus Masterpieces With the tremendous price pressure that the wholesalers were exerting on everyone making violins at the beginningof the 20th Century, the quality suffered, although everythingstill had to be done by hand. Violin prices were quoted bythe dozen on some price lists, and the Duzendgeigen(“dozen violins”) developed a negative image. Many of theapproximately 250 violin makers located in the cities of Germany did not want to be associated with the instruments from Markneukirchen and they started calling their violins Kunstgeigen, or Art Violins. The controversy between urban violin makers and those of Markneukirchen continued for decades, in spite of the fact that all urban violin makers earned money by selling the Markneukirchen violins. In Markneukirchen itself, some violin makers decided to specialize in the “Art Violin” and sell directly to musicians rather than supply the wholesalers. Some of the most significant were Ludwig Glasel Jr. (1842-1922), Heinrich Theodor Heberlein Jr. (1843-1909), Arnold Voigt (1864-1952 A Short Chronology of Violin-making in Bohemia and Saxony © 2012 William McKee Wisehart, page 14 ), and Paul Knorr (1882-1977). A rare collection of their work was shown in November,2012, at the 40th Anniversary Convention of the Violin Society of America in Cleveland, Ohio.1900:

Schönbach Women Trek across the Border In Schönbach, often on Saturday afternoons while the men were finishing up a week of making violin parts in their HOMES and perhaps doing one of many chores in the farming and gardening commonly done on the side on those days,the women would load a stack of Schachteln on their backs. A Schachtel is a set of parts: a violin back and ribs glued together, with a matching top turned over and held on with a string. Sometimes they would carry Korpusse or even complete violins, but most often is was the Schachteln. The stack was so tall that it loomed up over the women’s heads. They then trudged uphill for about two miles on the road towards the border. Arriving at the customs offices,they patiently went through the formalities of the border officials processing their papers for the export of their wares from the Austrian/Hungarian Empire and import into Saxony. Then it was another two or three miles down into Markneukirchen. The violin makers awaiting them called them Botenfrauen, “delivery women”, knowing very well that they certainly did not want to carry their wares back,and have to clear customs again! That had a very strong downward effect on the price paid and the income brought back to the family home. The Botenfrau is an unsung heroine of the affordable violins that found their way into the hands of countless millions of children and amateur violinists all over the world during the 19th century.

1902 in Markneukirchen: Ernst Heinrich Roth Co.The son of Gustav Robert Roth grew up in his father's violin maker's shop in Markneukirchen. He was 25 years old in 1902 when he and his cousin Gustav August Ficker founded the Ernst Heinrich Roth company there. Ernst Heinrich had success selling his stringed instruments in Ger-many and Europe. He had two sons. Gustav Albert Roth became a violin maker. Ernst Heinrich Roth II became a business apprentice and then decided to go to the United States in 1921 at age 19! In the U.S., he and his friend Alban Scherl founded the Scherl & Roth company which became a famous wholesaler of stringed instruments and supplies all over North America in the ensuing decades. 1907 in Schönbach: Huge Numbers of Parts Are Made According to a detailed economic study of Schönbach in 1907, there were 424 instrument makers working in Schönbach itself, and 256 more in the surrounding villages. They produced 146,000 violins, 2,200 cellos, and 1,300 basses in that year. They also made 200,000 violin necks, 200,000 backs, 300,000 Schachteln (back glued to ribs and loose top)and 25,000 Korpusse (the Schachtel with top glued on). Schachtel makers typically produced 18 to 20 a week of the cheapest type, and 12 to 15 of the higher-priced type.Normal working hours were 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and during the period of high demand in autumn, they worked until midnight.

1907 in Markneukirchen: Machined Violin Parts Fail Although mechanization had successfully industrialized string production by this time, this was harder to do in violin making. In 1904, the German Kaiser’s Patent Office registered inventions of an engineer in Klingental for the machine routing of wooden violin parts. In 1907, a new company started production with 12 machines that were to make 52,000 Schachteln (violin back plus ribs plus top) a year. Because of the lack of sales, they started selling complete instruments in 1911. The great hope of reducing the Markneukirchen dependence on the Schachtel coming out of Schönbach evaporated as it became clear that the machines were more expensive than the myriad self-employed craftsmen making everything by hand across the border.

In 1914, World War I broke out, ruining the market, and after the War, the great era of mass-produced instruments waned as one economic depression after another affected Germany and the whole world. The company with the part-making machines was dissolved in 1930.

1913: Schönbach is Poor, Markneukirchen is Rich?During the heyday of mass-produced instruments in the Musikwinkel, one researcher reported that there were an unbelievable 138 millionaires living in Markneukirchen, a city with a population of under 10,000 in 1913. Although there is no real information on the “138 millionaires”, reliable statistics were showing the highest per capita income in the area. Another researcher wrote that “while Markneukirchen has blossomed into a true industrial city where ... many millionaires live, and where much of the work is done behinds now-white embroideried curtains in nicely kept HOUSES everywhere, Schönbach has fallen to become a city of poor people, which today still has distressing aspects in its appearance, in the condition of the houses, streets, sewers,etc.” Poor nourishment and bad housing were causing a high incidence of tuberculosis (causing 50% of all deaths), accidents at work, skin and eye diseases, child deaths, misuse of alcohol, and prostitution. Some reports on Markneukirchen showed, however, that the average violin maker there was not much better off than in Schönbach. The prices for their production were held down at a very low level by the wholesalers competing with (A Short Chronology of Violin-making in Bohemia and Saxony © 2012 William McKee Wisehart, page 15).each other on the world markets.

1913: The Most Instruments Ever Made 75% of all strings made world-wide were coming from members of the guild of strings makers of Markneukirchen, according to statistics of 1913.40% of all stringed instruments made world-wide came from the Musikwinkel (both violins and guitars, and other stringed instruments). A year later, business was disrupted by World War I. 1913 in Markneukirchen: bows of Albert Otto Hoyer According to the Hoyer family, it was after spending two years in Paris with E. Sartory in Paris that bow maker Albert Otto Hoyer opened shop in Markneukirchchen. He called himself “Pariser” and was very successful for manyyears.

1927 in Markneukirchen: 250th and 150th Anniversary The violin-makers’ guild celebrated its 250th anniversary together with the string-maker’ guild’s 150th anniversary in 1927, during the years of economic depression of the Weimar Republic. A play about the Exulants of 1677 was premiered as part of the anniversary celebration. By then, string production was coming from just a few large companies as a result of mechanization, of which Künzel was the largest. In contrast, the guild’s violin makers had 216 registered businesses which continued making everything by hand. 1929: Two-Thirds of U.S. Instruments Records from 1929 show that around two-thirds of all instruments imported to the U.S. were coming from Markneukirchen, whereas France and Czechoslovakia were next,with about one-tenth each.

1929: Just Before the Depression, still Big Business The records in 1929 of the whole Vogtland area of Saxony, to which Markneukirchen belongs, show that 348 registered companies were making bowed instruments providing income to 655 persons. There were 423 bow makers employing 520. The astounding number of 1,609 persons was working in the businesses of the string-making guild members of Markneukirchen (data from 1928).In addition, there were many other companies producing other types of musical instruments that were also sold world-wide. The Great Depression and the years of the Third Reich soon reduced Markneukirchen’s production to a small fraction of what it had been.

1945 in the Musikwinkel: the Iron Curtain Falls The end of World War II put both Saxony and Bohemia behind the Iron Curtain. Saxony was in the Russian occupation zone and was to became part of newly-created East Germany. Western Bohemia was reassigned to Czechoslovakia and the Potsdam Communiqué of May, 1945, decreed that all ethnic Germans were to be expelled. 1946: Exodus from Schönbach to Bubenreuth On the day the eviction order came to Schönbach, Germans had a very short time to pack and leave. They were allowed 30 kilograms of luggage (66 pounds). Anything over was confiscated at sight, as well as all the possessions they were leaving behind. However, Schönbach was originally occupied by U.S.troops, before the international Conferences decided how central Europe was going to be cut up. Very informal channels and the good will of many U.S. Army officials were able to get a lot of wood and tools out of Schönbach before the Russian Army took over. Fred Wilfer for example, who was born and raised close to Schönbach, was allowed to put on a G.I. uniform and make several trips over the border in a U.S. Army truck to pick up supplies for making instruments,even after Czech authorities had taken control. The many former refugees who are still alive today in Bubenreuth can talk for days on end about all the adventures they had. The refugees from Schönbach were just some of the many millions of ethnic Germans moving from many areas of eastern Europe into bombed-out Germany, mostly on foot, leaving chaos behind and arriving into more of the same. Every city and town in West Germany was locating refugees in every building available. However, efforts were made to relocate the violin makers together so that they could restart the production of their instruments.

1946 in Erlangen: the Framus company is founded Erlangen was a small city just north of Nuremberg that was going to become the world headquarters of Siemens,which was relocating from Berlin. Fred Wilfer received an exceptional license from the Mayor of Erlangen to manufacture and repair musical instruments and then founded the Framus company on January 1, 1946. He spearheaded the efforts to settle the refugees from Schönbach in the Erlangen area and got the State government of Bavaria in Munich to see the potential for economic growth with this type of export product that would be bringing in Western currencies.

1949 in Bubenreuth: “Violin Maker” Housing Area The cornerstone of a new housing development called the Geigenbauersiedlung (Violin Maker Settlement) was laid during an official ceremony on October 20, 1949. This was the culmination of months of deliberations by officials at different levels of government, requests made in several towns on behalf of the violin-making refugees, and then an A Short Chronology of Violin-making in Bohemia and Saxony © 2012 William McKee Wisehart, page 16

Replies (17)

October 3, 2016 at 02:22 PM · Lyndon, what a fascinating read. Do you have a link to the whole article?

Cheers Carlo

October 4, 2016 at 06:10 AM · no link Carlo, that's why I had to post it.

October 4, 2016 at 12:23 PM · Correction; Here's a link that contains the whole article, 5th post down.;

October 4, 2016 at 12:45 PM · Thanks, great reading. Do luthiers still treasure narrow grained wood? i.e. 'The wood is therefore

narrow-grained, which is something some violin makers are

always glad to get!'

October 4, 2016 at 01:06 PM · There are so many factors that go into what makes good wood, within reason, I don't think excessively narrow grain is that important, some quite good instruments have been made of wider grain, for instance.

October 4, 2016 at 05:47 PM · I read the full article. Fascinating. Thanks for posting the link.

Cheers Carlo

October 4, 2016 at 06:18 PM · your welcome!!

October 4, 2016 at 11:11 PM · Lyndon, I was interested in your comment about narrow grain in wood. I am inexpert, and totally at the mercy of what I read or am told.

For example, I read in a piano book about the soundboard wood coming from a particular mountain slope in Europe, where it was extra cold, shaded by other mountains, etc, and the trees therefore grew very slowly, had small growth rings, and so narrow grain. The wood was also hard. It all sounded fine to me.

Now, I couple that with several local luthiers who, independently of each other have told me that all Chinese fiddles sound the same, thereabouts, because of the wood they use. Get the same workshop to make an instrument with European wood and you get a different fundamental tone to the instrument. It has been argued that the sheer volume of instruments being made in China has created a demand for wood from more accessible areas, and it has a different grain structure from faster growing trees.

I dunno.

Having said all that, I have three "Chinese" violins, the best of which sounds every bit as good as my E H Roth, from 1926.

October 4, 2016 at 11:23 PM · The tone of the wood has more to do with the graduations (thicknesses) and model than it does with what kind of spruce is used, there is good and bad Chinese spruce, good and bad Italian spruce IMHO

Any fundamental resonance tones of the violin are entirely a factor of wood density and thickness, nothing to do with country of origin.

October 5, 2016 at 05:24 AM · Won't narrow vs wide grain have different densities?

October 5, 2016 at 05:40 AM · Thanks for posting this article, not many people know this important story.

October 5, 2016 at 05:48 AM · I can't comment, Lyndon, since you don't believe I exist! (wink)

October 5, 2016 at 07:09 AM · Cogito ergo sum

So, if you don't think, you aren't, it would seem.

October 6, 2016 at 01:25 PM · (ignoring the trolls)

Density of wood is not closely linked to grain width, varies a lot from tree to tree, and species to species, If you took two samples from the same tree on with tight grain and one with wider grain, the tighter grain one might be slightly denser, but even that is not for sure, there are so many factors which effect density.

October 10, 2016 at 05:12 AM · My luthier said that my supposedly German violin with a 1912 date couldn't

have been made that long ago! She should know, but it seems that 1912 was about the height of the mass-produced German violin era.

My Bulgarian viola is made with European woods and the grain doesn't look that tight to me, but this same luthier was impressed by its tone before it had even opened up.

October 10, 2016 at 06:58 AM · "(ignoring the trolls)"

So, Lyndon, you are going to ignore yourself!! How nice - I fully approve!

October 10, 2016 at 07:21 AM · Yeah, if posting very informative articles about historic violin production is trolling then I am a troll, but if posting off topic tripe is trolling then you would be the troll, Peter.

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