Violin Making in Vogtland - Centers of violin making along the borders of Germany and the Czech Republic
Musikwinkel (en. Music Corner) is the German word, which seems to be the most appropriate one to describe such places as Markneukirchen, Erlbach, Klingenthal, Schöneck and other small local communities in Saxon Vogtland. Here music is considered to be a life style, and musical instruments are made not only for fun but in order to supply many orchestras and music choirs with outfit. Together with Schönbach and Graslitz (now Czech Republic), the region of Vogtland became the centre of manufacturing for all sorts of musical instruments, not only string instruments.
In the Upper Vogtland, in the Musikwinkel - one of Germany’s major music regions, musical instruments have been manufactured for more than 350 years. The region’s prosperity was established by hundreds of craftsmen throughout the entire region in the past, who not only built instruments, but also all related components and accessories. This handicraft has been preserved, and today there are still large manufacturers where the products are still handmade. Accordingly, those who produce them can truly be referred to as traditional instrument makers.
Nowadays, more than 100 professional workshops and medium-sized businesses in Vogtland are happy to open their doors to trade visitors, inviting them into the cradle of the musical instrument industry and giving them insight into their handicraft.
Luby is a Czech Republic town located in the Cheb District. Before 1946, it was known as Schönbach. It is well known for its violin-making industry, and was once dubbed the "Austrian Cremona" when Bohemia was part of Austria-Hungary. Wikipedia
The origin of violin making in the Saxonian Vogtland region can be dated back to the early 1650s, when the Hobe family from Hamburg settled in Klingenthal, a little town near the border between Saxony and Bohemia, which is now referred to as a musical city with sporty perspectives. The new settlers brought the art of violin making with them, which went on to shape and sustain the region for centuries to come.
The first confirmed date in the history of Klingenthal violin making is 8 October 1669, when Johann Hertwig Graf von Nostiz confirmed that the violin makers' guild had been established. The founding members included Caspar Hob from Klingenthal, who was also ranked among the founders of the Markneukirchen guild under the name of Caspar Hopf on 6 March 1677. He was considered to be the first Klingenthal violin maker, and nowadays the great deal is known about his defining style of violin making. The typical Hopf violin with its distinctive “squary” outline a highly arched top with a very flat back, and the light, transparent varnish over a saffron-coloured ground defined the style among generations of his descendants and artisans in the Vogtland.
Along with Caspar Hopf, David Hopf is also considered to be one of the most famous members of the Hopf dynasty. His name graces master violins, which remain highly sought after to this day. Many other important and outstanding examples of Vogtland violins also include instruments from two masters who signed their works David August Hopf and were active in the late 18th / early 19th century.
The history of the new constellation of violin making in the economic region of the border between western Bohemian and the Vogtland began in the 19th century and evolved into a highly efficient division of labour. During that time, many small workshops throughout the entire binational area built instruments and instrument parts to large-volume merchants who sold them internationally at top profits.
The amount of violins produced in Schönbach in the late 19th century was really astonishing, and, because of the massive production of the musical instruments, they had a dubious reputation of the lower-quality industrial products.
Indeed, there were only a few violin makers in Schönbach and Graslitz, who could create an instrument and all its parts from scratch, but, nevertheless, all Bohemian-Saxonian stringed instruments had quite good acoustic and aesthetic properties.
Somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, the Schönbach instrument makers experienced a minor form of emancipation from the supremacy of Markneukirchen, when they founded two production cooperatives and established their own brokers. As a result, they were able to export some 20% of their own production by themselves.
Markneukirchen is still considered to be a heart of the music region. With the history of more than 350 years, this music town can be proud of a very special tradition amidst the greenery of the Upper Vogtland. Already during Mozart’s time, the numerous local workshops were making the full spectrum of orchestral instruments. Nowadays, here in Markneukirchen there are still many string, plucked, wood and brass instruments, which are manufactured for musicians and orchestras around the world. Many of the contemporary craftsmen do not even mind having people watching them while working.
In the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Markneukirchen along with Schönbach was the city of mass production of the violins. With the tremendous price pressure that the wholesalers were exerting on everyone making violins, the quality suffered, although every thing still had to be done by hand. Many of the approximately 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.
In Markneukirchen itself, some violin makers decided to specialize in the Art Violin and sell directly to musicians rather than supply the wholesalers. One of the most significant violin makers was Ludwig Glasel Jr. (1842-1922). His great sense of regional pride and healthy spirit of self-confidence inspired him to print the words German Cremona on his violin labels. Ludwig Gläsel Jr. was one of the finest and most successful master craftsmen of his day from the Vogtland region, and, as a member of a well-established and large Markneukirchen family of violin makers, he was certainly entitled to the brash pride that led him to rank the main village of the Musikwinkel region alongside the legendary name of Cremona.
Another famous violin maker from Markneukirchen is Heinrich Theodor Heberlein Jr. (1843-1910), who was renowned for the excellent quality of his instruments and was awarded multiple honours, including Knight of the Saxonian Albrecht Order. Heberlein was especially known for his use of varnish to achieve an artistic effect, the quality of his wood, and verisimilitude of his imitations of old masters, such as Stradivarius. “Fine imitations of the old masters' traits, all perfectly homogeneous, and particularly admirable are the warm tints of the different varnishes as well as his unique way of giving to them an old and well worn appearance. Quality of wood never varies, impossible to detect the smallest defect. Pre-eminently succeeded in imparting a splendidly clear tone, one without the slightest harshness”, wrote William Henley, an English violinist, composer and writer.
Arnold Voigt, a violin maker from the Vogtland region, Markneukirchen and a student of Heberlein, made copies of Stradivari and other types of Cremonese violins. He was the first of the Voigt family to settle in England, where some of his violins were made. In fact, he spent merely five years in London, and for the rest he lived and worked in Markneukirchen. Arnold Voigt was prolific in his output as violinmaker. All of his works have an attractive and elegant carving of the scroll, and the luminous golden color of the transparent varnish reflect the work of a maker who adhered to the standards of traditional craftsmanship.
Certainly, there were many other violin makers from Markneukirchen, who appeared to be some powerful German masters and produced violins, which still affect our mind today. Their violins were of good quality and with beautiful voices. Accordingly, Vogtland violin making is not to be equated with the large number of cheap instruments that were sold throughout the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. Markneukirchen was the home of several international violin makers and violin-making masters who worked in such places as the U.S., Russia and numerous major European cities. Many of those who remained in the Vogtland region, however, also shared the same high standards of quality and solid innovation.
The history of violin making has, definitely, brought forth several great masters. All of them established traditions and set high standards, which are still valid in our time. It is not a secret that nearly every master of the present days would agree that the major fundamentals of the art were defined generations ago. Musical instrument making has been important in Vogtland since the 17th century. Klingenthal and Markneukirchen, along with many other towns of the Vogtland region, still specialize in the manufacture of stringed instruments. Apart from that, Vogtland has also become a recreational centre, particularly for winter sports.
Such a high standard of quality, though, made the contemporary violin makers sometimes feel themselves as if they are overshadowed by their predecessors. Without any doubt, it becomes quite difficult to appreciate the outstanding achievements of the modern violin players, having taken into consideration people’s fascination with historic masterpieces. Nevertheless, even though our day and age may not be as strongly characterized by trailblazing innovations, there is still a high standard of artisanry amongst luthiers, and this standard can hold its own against that of the golden days.