Marcus Klimke, Trélazé: On the life and work of one of the new generation's most highly acclaimed luthiers. A portrait by Corilon violins
The myth of Pygmalion and Galatea may have been a somewhat exaggerated version of situations in which the creative process leads artists to develop feelings for their work, feelings which in other contexts might more aptly be described as love affairs. There can certainly be a kernel of truth to such stories, however. Anyone who applies dedication, precision and patience to create something – no matter whether it is an art object or something which produces further art –will see it as valuable, perhaps more than any other onlooker.
Marcus Klimke is someone who understands these sentiments. Born on 20 March 1968 in Weimar, Germany, he now operates his own atelier in Trélazé, France. His instruments are like children to him, and he appreciates being able to watch them grow. He keeps an eye on them even after he has sold them; if he happens to be in a city where one of his “offspring” lives, he enjoys having a look at it and may even set it up.
Working with wood is a passion Marcus Klimke discovered during his childhood in former East Germany: he spent a significant amount of his spare time carving. After his parents, who were both graphic designers, successfully applied for an emigration permit to leave the country, at his father’s encouragement Klimke decided to train as a luthier. However, he had to bridge a waiting period of several years before he could begin at the state vocational school for instrument making in Mittenwald. He therefore started out studying woodwork at a technical college in Schwäbisch Hall and subsequently did an apprenticeship as a carpenter until 1988. He completed his training as a luthier in 1992. After finishing his civil service in Munich, he then spent several years in the US. In Chicago, the workshop of the American violin maker Michael Becker – who, incidentally, is another Mittenwald alumnus – specialises in repairing and restoring stringed instruments, with an emphasis on historical pieces. Marcus Klimke worked there until 1995, where he not only became qualified in restoring historic instruments, he also created new pieces of his own. It was during this early phase that he received his first honours: at the 1994 international violin making competition of the Violin Society of America (VSA), he was awarded a certificate of merit for violin tone.
From that point on, Marcus Klimke’s intense love for crafting new stringed instruments would only continue to grow. The character of an instrument has to be shaped and moulded, and its wood has to learn to resonate – and these processes open up creative potential which inspire the innovative spirit to remain productive. Marcus Klimke’s true calling was and still is the rich, darker voice of the viola. His violas are the works which would ultimately earned Klimke the greatest recognition and the majority of the awards he went on to receive in the years that followed.
In 1995 he returned to Europe to work in the atelier of Patrick Robin and Andrea Robin-Frandsen in Angers, France. At the side of these two outstanding and prize-winning European instrument makers, Marcus Klimke gained valuable new insights and inspiration. Klimke himself, however, also achieved great acclaim with the instruments he made during his time there: he won a gold medal for viola at the international Triennale competition in Cremona in October 2000 – including a special award for the best scroll – only to bring home the gold again in November 2000 for his viola at the VSA International Competition in Cincinnati. In April 2001 he received the bronze medal in the international violin making competition in Mittenwald for his viola.
In the fall of the same year, he opened his own atelier in Trélazé, a community in the arrondissement of Angers, Pays de la Loire. He continued his work there whilst also continuing to win several awards: gold for viola at the Concours Etienne Vatelot in Paris in 2004, and gold again in 2014 in Mittenwald – twice this time, for violin and viola. The speed at which Marcus Klimke has made his way to the upper echelons of his guild is more than remarkable.
His particularly successful viola models, which he crafts in four different sizes, borrow from those of the Amati student Giacomo Gennaro, who was also known as Jacobus Januarius. In terms of tonal properties, Klimke places greater importance on precision than on an exceptionally large sound. When musicians commission instruments from him, he always aspires to customise his work to their needs. And he is pleased to have so many talented young musicians amongst his clients. Those who meet Marcus Klimke come into contact with a master who, despite his great success, never lost sight of his focus on violin making and music. This is a character trait that makes him stand out as a person and enhances his work.
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