The end of violin making in Klingenthal

The decline and end of Klingenthal violin making

From the very outset, the Klingenthal tradition of violin making was more defined by solid musical quality than by a particularly progressive or nuanced aesthetic. The violin makers, who struggled due to the high fees they had to pay, were forced to sell their instruments quickly and in as large numbers as possible.

While violin makers initially travelled throughout the country to sell their work, the process of selling musical instruments became more professional over the course of the 18th century. Although they remained self-employed, many violin makers ended up growing increasingly dependent on merchants who wanted to satisfy the constantly rising international demand for inexpensive instruments. In the 1801 “Geography of the electoral and ducal Saxonian state,” Friedrich Gottlob Leonhardi documented the year's remarkable production figures: “117 basses and 4282 violins at a value of 2416 reichsthaler and 12 groschen without the harps, zithers, lutes, etc.” As the production process became more industrialised and serialised, the relatively privileged social status of violin makers continued to erode.

From the 1830s onward, the economic structure of the Vogtland underwent a fundamental shift. Large numbers of jobs in the less complex fields of manufacturing combs and harmonicas were created for workers with fewer skills; from the 1850s on, accordions were build as well. Many violin makers made an additional livelihood for themselves in these new businesses, and the demanding process of training apprentices waned over time. The American civil war contributed to the crisis among Vogtland violin makers, who had had one of their most important markets in the US. By 1862 only 166 individually-operated violin-making studios still survived, and in 1887, the Klingenthal guild of violin makers dissolved. It was re-founded in 1913 and existed until 1975; however, its low membership figures confirm that the art of violin making in Klingenthal never fully returned to its former glory.

Today, the vocational school of Vogtland instrument building carries on the Klingenthal tradition of violin making, the history of which is documented in the Markneukirchen museum of musical instruments.

Related articles:

Klingenthal: the origin of violin making

Crossing borders: on the history of violin making in western Bohemia

Hopf: a dynasty of Vogtland violin makers

Markneukirchen: violin making in “German Cremona”

Ernst Heinrich Roth: a rediscovered master

Noteworthy families of Markneukirchen violin makers

Other families of Klingenthal violin makers

The bow makers of Markneukirchen

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