My Profession And Me
It is freezing cold at the beginning of January 1993, the mountain landscape all around is sinking in snow. We are a group of four luthiers who are inspecting the spruce trees that have just been felled by the forester. At this time of year, the trees have withdrawn the most of their sap from the wood, which dries much faster, is lighter and therefore sounds much better at the end of the maturing process. A connection that used to be part of the general knowledge of a mountain farmer. Nowadays, timber merchants almost always cut their trees in summer - without snow, it is easier to get into the alpine forests with heavy equipment. So our decision was made: it has to be in January, when it is most uncomfortable outside!
We slave away like horses, peeling bark and bast from the frozen trunks is real back-breaking work, the chain saw howls without a break as it cuts the trunks to length. These are then split with wedges and heavy sledgehammers so that the blanket blanks absolutely follow the grain. In the evening we can hardly stand on our feet, every muscle aches. But our eyes are shining, we feel like gold prospectors who have stumbled upon a vein. We have found it - our gold! Wood that you can't buy like this, in large quantities - a dream come true!
An autumn afternoon on the riverbank, a secluded spot. The gas cooker hisses at my feet, a dark mass of resin and oil bubbles lazily in a beaker, from which sweet smoke rises. It's cold, a fine drizzle is falling and I feel good, I'm just cooking my own varnish. I hold the jar up to the light, check the colour and consistency: the varnish needs another hour of heat until it is exactly the way I want it.
The art here is to make a polychrome varnish, as the now deceased expert on old Italian instruments, René Morel, once called it. A varnish that changes its colour with the thickness of its applied layers. And with its perfect balance of elasticity and strength, it provides that certain something in the sound.
As soon as the bow is placed on the string, the whole room fills with sound. In my hands I hold a masterpiece of Milanese violin making from the 18th century, an instrument made by the younger of the two Testore sons. The cello is destined for an internationally renowned soloist, it must meet the highest demands in terms of sound. The A-string already has this mixture of brilliance and colourful warmth that gives connoisseurs goose bumps. But the resonance in the higher registers is not yet perfect, I correct a nuance of the soundpost distance to the bridge: Ah! But the C-string is still too restrained, it lacks the growl in the sound and the lightness of response, so more tension on the soundpost. A tiny movement: now! But the two middle strings are now a bit too nasal compared to their two neighbouring ones. I work the bridge with a scalpel-sharp knife, tiny shavings are removed at crucial points. Cut - play. Cut- play. Listen. Feeling into the bow. I sit on the front edge of the chair, almost forgetting to breathe. I am completely absorbed, focused on hearing and feeling, on the sound and response of the instrument.
One and a half hours later, I am completely exhausted and satisfied: the certainty that the tonal optimum of this instrument has been reached!
Three of an infinite number of episodes from my life as a violin maker: for me, there can be no more beautiful profession!
It all began in 1985 when I entered the violin making school in Mittenwald. After I had finished my training there in 1988, I set out to learn as much as possible from and with other violin makers. When this path came to an end in 2002 with the opening of my own workshop in Cologne, I had worked in eight different workshops, had travelled all over Germany, to Amsterdam, but also halfway around the world to South America. I had been able to look over the shoulders of others in the two areas that were so important to me, the restoration of old masterpieces and the construction of new instruments with the most demanding sound, and had been able to profit from their knowledge and experience, their ingenuity and creativity.