Historically, German violin making was concentrated in several obscure towns hidden in forests close to the German border. Mittenwald is located only 10 minutes drive from the border between Germany and Austria. This is a region of Bavaria that is still heavily forested thanks to the Karwendel Naturepark.
The violin making industry started in Mittenwald in the 17th century during the lifetimes of the renowned Italian luthiers Stradivari and Amati. This mainly due to the efforts of a tailor’s son- Matthias Klotz (Also spelled Kloz) who lived from 1653–1743.
Historical sources suggest that Matthias received his early training in Füssen or possibly with Jacob Steiner. Matthias Klotz went on to study violin making in Italy. There is documentary evidence that Klotz was journeyman to Giovanni (AKA Peter) Railich in Padua between 1672 and 1678 and some sources think that he also spent time training under Nicolo Amati in Cremona.
When Mattias returned home to Mittenwald, circumstances favoured the establishment of a violin making industry in the town. Fairs had once been held in Mittenwald where Venetian traders sourced substantial quantities of the wood carvings made by the region’s craftsmen. Mittenwald was suffering economically as, after two hundred years, the fairs had relocated to Botzen.
He set up shop in rented premises in the old marketplace and began to teach the impoverished wood workers on how to craft basic violins. The instruments were then peddled along the trade routes between Ausburg, Bolznoi and Venice in Italy at churches, castles and monasteries throughout the Alpine region of Northern Italy and West Austria. The violins were opportunistically sold for whatever price the buyer decided to offer. The new industry allowed Mittenwald to return to its previous prosperity.
Klotz and the luthiers he trained had a distinct advantage over the makers in Saxony. Mittenwald was surrounded by the forests of the Bavarian Alps. The name translated from German is literally “in the midst of the forest” In these forests grew pine trees with a fibre that was delicate yet strong and resulted in exceptionally resonant tonewoods. The instruments crafted by Matthias Klotz show the influence of Stainer.
Matthias Klotz died in 1743 at the age of 90 as a highly respected member of the community. The town continues to be a centre of violin making. He has descendants in Mittenwald who continue in the craft of lutherie that he founded.
Mittenwald has a violin museum to celebrate the instruments which provide a livelihood for the town. The museum is housed within one of the oldest and most beautiful houses of the town. When visiting Mittenwald, it is also possible to visit the workshops of violin makers and watch them at work.