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Title: George Gemünder's Progress in Violin Making - With Interesting Facts Concerning the Art and Its Critics in General
Author: Gemünder, George
Language: English
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[Illustration: Geo. Gemünder]



    ASTORIA, N. Y.,

  _Entered According to Act of Congress, in the Year 1881.
  In the Office of the Librarian of Congress._


George Gemünder was born at Ingelfingen, in the kingdom of Wurtemburg,
on the 13th of April, 1816.

His father was a maker of bow instruments, and it was, therefore, from
Gemünder's earliest youth that he devoted himself to the same art and
the studies connected with it.

When he left school, it was suggested to his father that George should
become a school-master, as he at the time wrote the finest hand and
executed the best designs of any among his classmates. His father was
not averse to this proposal and decided to carry it out. George was,
accordingly, directed to prepare for the seminary. The plan was not,
however, in accordance with his own tastes or inclinations, and he
followed it for a period of but three weeks, only to abandon it finally
and forever, to take up that employment which accorded with his natural
gift and gave scope for the development of his genius.

After his father's death, which occurred when George was in his
nineteenth year, he went abroad, and worked variously at Pesth,
Presburg, Vienna and Munich. Fortune smiled upon him, and more than once
an opportunity was presented of establishing a business; but nothing
that promised simply commonplace results and a commonplace life could
attract his eye, since his mind, aspiring to improvement in his art, was
constantly impelling him toward that celebrated manufacturer of violins,
Vuillaume, at Paris. He plainly saw that in Germany he could not reach
in the art that degree of accomplishment for which he strove, and,
therefore, he resolved to find, if possible, at Strasburg, such a
position as he had had at Munich. Through the mediation of a friend he
obtained a call to go to a manufacturer of musical instruments at
Strasburg; but upon his arrival he was astonished to learn that the man
was a maker of brass instruments! Here was a dilemma. Disappointed in
his effort to find employment, winter at the door and far away from
home, what could he do? The manufacturer, whose name was Roth,
perceiving his perturbation, was kind enough to ask Gemünder to remain
in his house until he should have succeeded in finding such a position
as he desired. Gemünder accepted the profered kindness, and after the
lapse of six weeks he formed the acquaintance of a gentleman with whom
he afterward became intimate, and who promised to write for Gemünder a
letter of recommendation and send it to Vuillaume at Paris. Meanwhile
Gemünder remained in Strasburg. One day, while taking a walk in the park
called "Die Englishen Anlagen," he seated himself on a bench and shortly
fell asleep. In his sleep he heard a voice which seemed to say: "Don't
give way; within three days your situation will change!" The voice
proved prophetic, for on the third day after the dream his friend came
to him with a letter from Vuillaume, which contained the agreeable
intelligence that Gemünder should go to Paris. The invitation was
promptly accepted and Gemünder immediately started on his journey. When
he arrived at Vuillaume's another difficulty was encountered, for
Vuillaume had mistakenly supposed that Gemünder spoke French. By mere
good fortune it happened at the time of Gemünder's arrival that a German
professor was giving music lessons to Vuillaume's twin daughters, who in
the capacity of interpreter informed Gemünder that M. Vuillaume was
sorry to have induced him to come to Paris, because it would be
impossible to get along in his house without French. Vuillaume kindly
offered to pay Gemünder's traveling expenses from Paris back to
Strasburg, but said, however, that should the latter be satisfied with
nominal wages at first, he would give him thirty sous a day until he
should have learned enough of the language to be able to get along.
Gemünder accepted the proposition, which greatly astonished Vuillaume
because he had not supposed that Gemünder would be contented with such
small wages! Then he showed him a violin and violoncello as models of
his manufacture, and asked him if he could make instruments like those.
The answer being in the affirmative, Vuillaume smiled, for he was sure
it could not be done. On the following day he provided Gemünder with
materials for making a new violin, in order to see what he could do. He
soon perceived that Gemünder possessed more theoretical than practical
knowledge. When the violin was finished, he made him understand that
their way of working was different, and he desired to have his own
methods adopted. Gemünder did his best, and being a good designer, he
soon acquired a knowledge of the different characters of the propagated
Italian school in regard to the construction of violins.

After the lapse of three months Gemünder's wages were increased ten sous
a day, and although he now saw his most heartfelt desire fulfilled,
namely, to work in Vuillaume's manufactory, yet he did not find it
possible to stay there permanently, because his fellow-workmen, who had
observed the kindness with which their employer had treated his new
workman, became filled with feelings of jealousy, and resolved to
harrass him and compel him if possible to leave. So thoroughly did they
succeed in embittering his life, that Gemünder finally resolved to leave
Vuillaume and go to America, and with this firmly fixed in his mind he
began his preparations secretly to carry out his plan.

When everything was ready, he went to Vuillaume to make known his
intention and to explain to him the cause of his leaving. The latter,
astonished at this intelligence, declared that Gemünder should not leave
his house at all, and assured him that he would not meet with further
unkindness from his fellow-workmen, even if all should be dismissed,
although some of them had already been in his manufactory for many
years. He further assured Gemünder that should he not desire to remain
in Paris, he would establish him in a business similar to his own,
either in Germany or elsewhere, but he dissuaded him from going to
America, for the reason that the art of violin making was not
sufficiently understood there at that time. This kindness and
benevolence upon the part of his employer so touched his heart that he
was constrained to remain, and he began to construct new violins, in
some of which he imitated the Italian character thoroughly, and also to
repair injured violins.

One day Vuillaume handed Gemünder a violin, with the remark that he
wished him to do his best work in repairing it, for a gentleman from
Russia had sent it. Vuillaume especially called Gemünder's attention to
a certain place in the back which was to be repaired, which was almost
invisible, and he gave Gemünder a magnifying glass for his assistance,
but Gemünder returned it, saying that he could do better with his naked
eyes, and when finished Vuillaume might examine it with the glass. When
completed, the work proved to be all that Vuillaume had wished, and
satisfied the owner of the instrument so thoroughly that in his ecstasy
of delight he presented Vuillaume, in addition to the payment for his
work, with a costly Russian morning gown.

On the return of Ole Bull from America, in 1845, that distinguished
performer brought his wonderful "Caspar da Salo" violin to Vuillaume to
be repaired, and requested the latter to do the work himself, as it was
something about which he was very particular; but Vuillaume answered
that he had a German in his workshop who could do it better than he.
Impelled by curiosity to become acquainted with this German, he asked to
be shown to the place. After some conversation, Gemünder undertook the
repairing of the violin and completed it in as masterly a manner as he
did in the case of the Russian gentleman.

After an interval of three years, while Gemünder was still working at
Vuillaume's, the latter showed him a violin and asked his opinion about
it. Gemünder, having examined it, replied that it was made by some one
who had no school! "I expected to hear this," returned Vuillaume, "and
now let me tell you, that this violin is the very same that I engaged
you to make when you came to me. I show it only that you may recognize
what you are _now_ and what you were _then_!" Gemünder was not only
surprised, but amazed, and would hardly have believed it possible. This
incident is only mentioned to show that as long as the eye has not been
fully cultivated, those who fancy themselves to be artists are not such,
and in reality they cannot distinguish right from wrong. Gemünder has
often experienced this in America. He knows no other violin maker who
deserves to be compared with Vuillaume in this respect, for he correctly
understood the character of the outline and form as well as the interior
structure of the different Italian instruments.

Towards the end of 1847, when Gemünder had been four years at
Vuillaume's, his two brothers, who were in America, invited him to go
there, as the interest in and taste for music was improving and they
intended to give concerts. Gemünder therefore determined to accept this
invitation and left Paris. He arrived in November, at Springfield,
Mass., and, meeting his brothers, arrangements for concerts were made
with an agent, who engaged several other artists to make up the company.
The instrumental quartet consisted of a clarinet, violin, flute and bass
guitar. This music made quite a sensation, and the houses were always
crowded, yet the Gemünder brothers did not receive anything from the
proceeds. They soon comprehended that they had had too much confidence
in their agent, and after the lapse of a week they gave up the

For George Gemünder, who had then very little knowledge of the English
language, which fact increased the difficulty of his position, there
remained no other choice but to settle as a violin maker. He borrowed
from a friend twenty-five dollars, and with this money he set out for
Boston, Mass., and established himself there. The violins which he made
he sold at fifty dollars each, and made repairs at low prices.

In 1851, when the first exhibition of London took place, Gemünder sent a
quartet of bow instruments, in imitation of Stradivarius, and one violin
according to Joseph Guarnerius, and another according to Nicholas Amati.

As his business in Boston did not prove sufficiently lucrative, Gemünder
left the city after eighteen months, without waiting for news of the
result of the exhibition, and established business in New York. Later he
learned that his instruments had received the first premium at the

When, in the following year, 1852, Gemünder received his instruments
back from the exhibition, he learned that Ole Bull was in New York
again, and, as he had formed his acquaintance in Paris, he paid him a
visit and gave information that he had established himself in New York,
and also that he had obtained the first premium at the London
exhibition. Ole Bull was highly astonished at this news, as he said
"Vuillaume is the best violin maker, and I have on one of my violins the
best specimen of his workmanship as a repairer." He thereupon showed
Gemünder his "Caspar da Salo." "Here," he said, "look at it, find the
place where the repair was made." But Gemünder replied: "Sir, have you
entirely forgotten that when you went with your violin to Vuillaume, he
made you acquainted with a German in his studio, whom he directed to
repair this 'Caspar da Salo' violin, and that this German was myself?"
Upon hearing this a light seemed to break upon his mind, and he
exclaimed, "Yes, yes, I do remember. Now you shall become in America
what Vuillaume is in Europe."

Meanwhile the advantages which might have been derived from the London
exhibition were lost, in consequence of Gemünder's removal from Boston
and establishing business at New York. Spohr, Thalberg, Vieuxtemps and
many more of such authorities, examined his violins in the exhibition
and were much surprised at the excellent qualities of the instruments.
Spohr observed: "These are the first new violins that I ever saw, tried
and liked!" When they were played upon by him and others, they attracted
hundreds of admirers and would have been sold at high prices had
Gemünder not failed to make arrangements to dispose of them.

The results obtained at Paris and Vienna were similar, his instruments
attracting much attention in each exhibition. In the Vienna Exposition,
held in 1873, Gemünder gained the greatest triumph that was ever
obtained by any violin maker. The "Kaiser" violin sent by Gemünder in
response to an offer of a prize for the best imitation, was declared by
the professional judges to be a renewed original; a genuine Guarnerius
not only in regard to its outer appearance and character, but also as to
its wonderful quality of tone and ease with which the tones come. To
find these qualities in a new violin was beyond all expectation, since
it had hitherto been taken for granted that such a result could not be
obtained, because that object had been the unsuccessful study of
different makers for hundreds of years. This proves, therefore, to the
musical world, that Gemünder has solved that problem which has generally
been considered impossible. In spite of all this, however, Gemünder had
learned by painful experience that the prejudice existing among most of
the violinists was not to be wiped out. These people are incapable of
judging reasonably, and it is easier for them to say that Gemünder makes
his new violins of wood prepared by a chemical process, or that it has
not yet been proven that his violins have kept their good quality for an
extended period of time, notwithstanding that Gemünder has been
constructing violins in America since 1847, and that nobody can prove
that any violin of his making has lost its quality of tone. On the
contrary, they have invariably proved good. Gemünder, however, confesses
that a few of his first made violins in America do not equal those of
his present construction in regard to tone and varnish. The cause of it
was that Gemünder being unacquainted with the woods of the new country,
was not so successful at first in the choice of wood for his violins,
and naturally would not be until his experience had improved. The
prejudice above referred to would, however, be likely to exist for
another century, could Gemünder live for that length of time among those
people, the most of whom would persevere in their opinions.

The impracticability of the theory of using chemically prepared wood for
violins is sufficiently understood at the present time to render it
useless to pursue the discussion in these pages. Gemünder has informed
himself as to the degree of success attained in the use of the
different chemical preparations of wood, as well as those prepared with
borax, by which, the inventor asserts, the wood becomes richer in tone
and lasts longer than that which is left in its natural state. Yet,
without opposing the inventor, Gemünder follows the principle of the old
Italian violin makers, because their productions have been in use to
this day; therefore the material left in its natural state has proved
good and has satisfied the musical world for these three hundred years.
He has indeed succeeded in constructing new violins of material in its
natural state, which produce not only an extraordinary power of tone,
but also a strikingly equal quality of tone, and the quality of easy
speaking, and the outward appearance of the old violins has been so
faithfully imitated that he who has not been told the fact, will take
them for genuine instruments made by Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Maggini,
Amati, and others.

It is therefore assuming not too much to say that George Gemünder has
surpassed in this art all the violin makers of the present and past
times; for where the Italian masters ended with their knowledge, George
Gemünder commenced and improved, which fact can be proved to the
satisfaction of every critic; for George Gemünder has not only gained
the same results as those achieved by Stradivarius and others, but he
has sketched a better acoustic principle for producing tone. It is for
this reason that August Wilhelmj, the great violinist, calls George
Gemünder the greatest violin maker of all times, for Wilhelmj had
learned by ample trial of the instruments made by George Gemünder that
they were incontestably all that the latter claimed for them. Wilhelmj
admired Gemünder's "Kaiser" violin at the Vienna Exhibition, as it was
the only violin of importance which attracted his attention, and this
aroused within him the desire to become personally acquainted with its
maker. By means of his renown as the great violin virtuoso, an
engagement was offered him to go to America, which he accepted, and thus
his wish was fulfilled. On the day after his arrival in New York,
Wilhelmj went to see Gemünder at Astoria, and from that time has been
Gemünder's friend and admirer.

Wilhelmj and other artists have expressed astonishment that a man of
George Gemünder's capabilities in this art was to be found in America.
Although he enjoys the highest renown in his art, yet he lives in a
country in which the appreciation of that art is still in its
development; for the number of amateurs such as are found in Europe, who
spend enormous sums in instruments, is very small here. The fact is that
George Gemünder lives here at too early a period, for his productions
are a continuation of those which the great Italian masters brought
forth. Taking into consideration all the foregoing circumstances it is
fair to suppose that George Gemünder has had to contend with
extraordinary difficulties during this long time. For ignorance and
arrogance can do much damage, in this respect, not only to the artist,
but also to the amateur, as these often times place their confidence in
those musicians who have no knowledge of violins, and who can only
mislead them.



Gemünder had learned that the knowledge of arrogant violinists and
amateurs in regard to tone did not rest on any correct basis, and that
their prejudice rested on a tradition arising from the decline of the
manufacture of violins since the death of the celebrated Italian makers.
All attempts of late years to make good violins having failed, an
aversion to new violins has been gradually spreading, so that the most
of people at the present time do not believe it possible for violins to
be both new and good. Firstly, because it has been found that new
violins have not been constructed so as to possess the tone of old
Italian instruments; and secondly, that those made of chemically
prepared wood did not stand proof for a great length of time. Many
musicians and amateurs have in consequence of this prevailing prejudice
gone to an extreme and disregarded new violins, no matter what tone they
might have. To this class of people belonged especially the violinist
Wieniawski, who had an opportunity to play on one of the best violins
made by Gemünder, which opportunity he ignored, because the violin
looked new. Instruments imitated by Gemünder were placed before him as
genuine violins, and he admired them. Ole Bull was equally surprised
when an imitation according to Stradivarius was handed to him in
Columbus, Ohio, and he declared it to be a genuine original.

When Vieuxtemps gave concerts in America for the first time, and went to
see his friend Vieweg, Professor of music in Savannah, Ga., the
Professor showed him his Stradivarius violin. Vieuxtemps, catching sight
of it, said: "If he had not been quite sure that his violin was at home,
he would think it was his own." But when his friend told him it was a
Gemünder violin, he was astonished and observed: "The d***l knows how
Gemünder can bring such a tone in new violins!"

At about the same time a violinist came from Germany and visited
Gemünder to hear his violins, because Spohr had praised him so much; but
at the same time he doubted that new violins could sound like those of
the old Italian masters. Gemünder first showed him some having the
appearance of being new; the violinist played upon them and then
uttered: "They are as I thought; they have not that sweet, melting tone
of the Italian instruments." Hereupon he asked Gemünder if he had no
Italian violins, in order to show the difference. Gemünder then opened
another box, and showed him an imitation of Amati for a genuine one. No
sooner did the instrument strike his sight than his face brightened up
and he said: "Everybody can see at once that there must be tone in
this," and after playing upon it he was so pleased that he said to
Gemünder: "Yes, there are none of the present violin makers who have
brought it so far!" Hereupon Gemünder informed him that this was also a
new violin of his making. Scarcely had the visitor heard this, when,
ashamed of his prejudice, he took his hat and went away.

Similar incidents often occur. In 1859 Gemünder sent violins to the
Exhibition of Baltimore, after which, on one occasion, he was invited to
a soiree at which his violins were played. He also had a genuine
Guarnerius among his own instruments. An amateur, Mr. Gibson, a very
good player, was present and anxious to hear the Italian violin. During
the performance of a quartet on the violins made by Gemünder, this
amateur, who was possessed of the popular prejudice against new
instruments, and who fancied he heard the Italian violin, was so
exceedingly delighted with it that he observed, "To hear such violins is
sufficient to keep any one from ever touching new ones." But when
Gemünder told him they were new ones made by him, the amateur stared at
him as much as to say, "Do you make fun of me? These violins do not look
new at all!" Gemünder, however, convinced him of the truth of his
assertion. This fact surprised the amateur to such a degree that he was
at loss what to say, and later, upon learning the price of one of the
instruments, bought it. Sometime after this he valued it at two thousand
dollars in gold. Since then the violin has been sent several times to
Gemünder, either for a new bridge or other slight repairs, and each
time new anecdotes have been related of it. Of especial interest is that
one of Father Urso, who was looking for a genuine Guarnerius to give to
his daughter Camilla, the celebrated violinist. He took Professor Simon
with him to see the instrument. Both were very much surprised at it, not
only on account of its undoubted genuineness, but also that it was kept
so well. Gemünder then let them know that he had perpetrated a joke, and
that the instrument was made by himself.

One day Mr. Poznanski, from Charleston, S. C., in company with his son,
who was already an artist on the violin, visited Gemünder. Although
still young, his father intended to send him to Vieuxtemps for his
further artistic accomplishment, and with this purpose in view he was
willing to buy an Italian violin. As Gemünder had none on hand, he
showed him a new violin, but Poznanski declared that he would not buy a
new one. Gemünder then showed him an imitation, as if it were a genuine
original. The son played on it, and both father and son were highly
satisfied with it; they expressed their wish to buy it and asked the
price, which was given as five hundred dollars. When Poznanski was about
to pay down the money, Gemünder told him that this instrument was also
new. Whereupon Poznanski replied in an excited tone, "Have you not heard
that we do not want a new violin?" and they left the Atelier!

When Vieuxtemps left America, in 1858, Poznanski's son went with him to
finish his studies under his direction. After the lapse of eight years
he returned an accomplished artist, and visited Gemünder again. He then
remarked that he wished to find an Italian violin of first class, and
asked Gemünder if he had something of that kind in his possession? Here
he took the opportunity to remind Gemünder of the time when he had
deceived both him and his father, observing at the same time very
naively: "But now, Gemünder, you cannot deceive me. I obtained thorough
knowledge of imitations at Paris, and also a knowledge of the genuine
Italian violins, for I had an opportunity to see many of those made by
the masters." Gemünder told him that he had two Joseph Guarnerius
violins of first class in his possession, and laid them before him.
Poznanski expressed his astonishment to find such rarities. After a
thorough examination Poznanski declared there was no doubt in regard to
their genuineness! He tried both violins, and soon evinced his
predilection for one of them, which he wished to buy, and inquired the
price. Gemünder offered each of them at one thousand dollars, but at the
same time told him that he had deceived him for a second time, for the
instrument which he had picked out was new and made by himself, whilst
the other was genuine. Poznanski, however, told Gemünder that he could
not deceive him, that it was not possible to produce an instrument like
that. At this moment two friends of Gemünder, who were acquainted with
his instruments, entered the shop, and Gemünder asked them in the
presence of the young artist, at the same time pointing to the
instrument selected by Poznanski, "who made this violin?" They replied
that the maker of it was Gemünder. This appeared to him impossible, but,
after deliberating on the subject, he said, "I must believe it now, and
yet I don't believe it!" A few days later, becoming fully assured that
the instrument to which he had taken a fancy was not an Italian violin,
he bought the genuine one, which, however, was an excellent instrument,
thus giving up the one to which he had first given preference. This is
another striking proof of prejudice.

After a time, however, when Poznanski felt more at home at Gemünder's,
he found out that the instruments made by Gemünder were the only true
concert violins, and disposing of his Guarnerius, he bought a Maggini
made by Gemünder; he now saw the full extent of his prejudice, and was
most severe in his denunciation of all who thought that there were no
other violins but the Italian to be played upon.

If Wieniawski had not been seized with such a strange fancy, and had had
more confidence in other artists, he would not have been compelled to
change violins every now and then, for he was constantly buying one
Italian violin after another and finding none to suit him, merely
because none would do but an Italian instrument. Thus he came to America
and played on his Stradivarius violin, which had a splendid tone in a
room, but when played upon in a concert hall proved a great deal too
weak, especially on the G string, when it was overstrained. He then
bought one of the finest Guarnerius violins in Brooklyn, but as it did
not prove any better than the other, he returned it.

To find Italian violins fit to produce a sufficient effect in large
concert halls is a great rarity, since they have been mostly spoiled by
"fiddle-patchers," or had not from the very beginning the proper
construction for the giving out of tone sufficient to fill such halls.
On just such powerless violins Vieuxtemps performed at his concerts on
his last tour through America.

One day Gemünder made the acquaintance of Mario, the greatest Italian
connoisseur of violins, who was decorated for this knowledge when he was
at New York. Gemünder asked him to come to his shop, as he had several
violins which he would like to show him, in order to have him judge if
they were really genuine instruments. Mario came and viewed the violins
shown to him by Gemünder minutely, nay, even took a magnifying glass to
examine the varnish, whereupon he declared to Gemünder that they were
genuine instruments. But the fact is they were violins made by Gemünder!

In the beginning of 1860 Gemünder was often visited by an amateur named
Messing, who wished to find a good Italian violin, for he manifested an
aversion toward Gemünder's productions, owing to his prejudice against
new violins. At the same time Gemünder had as an apprentice a nephew,
who, when he had not yet been fully three years with him, was engaged to
make his first violin, according to form of Stradivarius. When it was
finished Gemünder made him a present of it, and said he would varnish it
so as to look old. Afterward his apprentice gave it to a friend in New
York to sell it for him. This friend published in the newspapers that he
had a Stradivarius to sell. Mr. Messing was the first to make inquiries
about it, and bought it, highly rejoiced at having a Stradivarius at
last. He then had it examined by the violin maker Mercier, in New York,
who confirmed the claim of originality. Mr. Messing then went to Europe,
and at Paris he wished to hear what the violin maker Gand would say, and
the latter also declared it was an old instrument, adding, however, that
in order to be quite sure whether it was a genuine instrument or not it
would require more time than he could apply to it just then. When he
went to Berlin, he showed his instrument to the violin maker Grimm, that
he might hear from him his opinion as to its genuineness. Grimm
refrained from uttering his opinion, yet he offered him a high price for
the instrument, which the owner considered to be sufficient evidence
that he possessed something extraordinary, and to warrant him in keeping
his violin. After the lapse of four years, when Messing had returned to
New York, he came to see Gemünder, full of joyous anxiety to show him
his violin, saying, "Here, Mr. Gemünder, I have something to show you; I
have found what I have been so long looking for!" Mr. Messing then
opened his box, and Gemünder, catching a glimpse of the violin,
exclaimed, "That is my apprentice's first production; how did you come
by it?" At these words Mr. Messing stood as if thunderstruck, and in his
bewilderment he tried in every way to convince Gemünder that he was
mistaken, but failing in this attempt, his discomfiture was complete.
When he had somewhat recovered from his dismay, he felt heartily
ashamed, because he had disregarded the work of the master only to take
up with the apprentice's first production, and this, too, under the
delusion that that work was a genuine Stradivarius violin. Mr. Messing
is now cured of his prejudice, and is no longer looking for a
Stradivarius violin.

At the time when Gemünder had his violin in the Exhibition of Vienna,
Baron Leonard, from Hungary, who was a great violinist, brought him his
Italian violin to have it repaired. During their discourse about violins
the Baron conveyed to Gemünder the impression that he had already seen
many Italian violins, and he seemed to have a great knowledge of them.
Thereupon Gemünder showed him a violin that seemed to be a genuine
Guarnerius, which he had determined to send to the exhibition of Vienna.
The Baron was quite astonished at seeing such a wonderful and splendid
instrument, and did not know which to admire more, whether the varnish
of the violin or its tone; in short, he looked at it with reverence, as
if it were a shrine. Gemünder then showed him a Stradivarius, and when
the Baron's gaze fell upon this instrument, he seemed to be enraptured,
and he exclaimed, in a tone of question: "Mr. Gemünder, how do you come
by such treasures? In truth you have a treasure of the greatest rarity,
for I never saw a violin so beautiful and of such tone!" When, however,
Gemünder declared to him that these were the sisters of the "Kaiser"
violin, which was in the Vienna Exhibition, and were made by him, the
Baron conducted himself as if he had awakened from a sweet dream, and
found it difficult to realize his true condition.


It is not my intention to unfold in this work my knowledge of the
structure of violins; for the present generation would not thank me for
doing so. In the treatise itself will be found the reasons why I have
not set forth that knowledge. Since the death of the celebrated old
Italian violin makers, many works have been put forth, in which we find
not only in what manner those famous masters varnished their violins,
but also prescriptions even, of theorists who usually know nothing about
the practice, or mathematical principles thereof. Abundant theories are
to be found in all such works, but they are good only for those who have
little or no knowledge of violin making. If the science of the
celebrated Italian masters could really have been found in these works,
the experiments made by European investigators would not have been
entirely unsuccessful.

In George Hart's interesting book, "The Violin," a comparative
illustration may be found of the workmanship of all violin makers with
whom he became acquainted, either personally or by history, and by whose
productions he obtained his practical knowledge, which comparisons are
generally good, but not entirely free from error. This compilation of
experiences is highly interesting for all those who take an interest in
violins. The treatises which will be found below have reference simply
to the art of making violins, to violin players and their critics, the
information contained in which has for the most part never hitherto been
made public.

Through these scientific explanations a better judgment will be
awakened, which will tend to show how, in consequence of mistakes and
ignorance in regard to violins and violin makers, false ideas arise.


In 1845 I became personally acquainted with Ole Bull, at Vuillaume's, in
Paris, where I then had my first opportunity of hearing and admiring an
artist on the violin. I learned then to appreciate the beauty of both
arts, and the sublimity of attainment in either to be a violin virtuoso
or a perfect violin maker. The latter art engaged my whole attention,
and it was my greatest aim to reach to the highest point of perfection

I also found that Ole Bull took special interest in the different forms
of violins, and I remember that as early as 1841, at which time I worked
at Pesth, my employer made the so-called "Ole Bull's bass-bars" in
violins, the ideas of Ole Bull concerning violins then being accepted as
authority. Ole Bull subsequently made many experiments regarding tone,
especially upon new violins, in order to reproduce the same character of
tone, then considered lost, peculiar to the Italian instruments. Knowing
that all experiments made since the death of the celebrated Italian
masters had proven unsuccessful, he undertook to construct a violin of
very old wood, but was soon convinced that he had not obtained better
results than others; he therefore decided the project to be an
impossibility, and having arrived at this decision, his opinion was
generally conceded to. Since then, doubtless, he found out that to make
a violin was a more difficult task, for him, than to play on one. As a
virtuoso, however, he obtained a celebrity which will make his name
immortal, and as he was an artist in his own peculiar way, his name will
live forever in the memory of men. Nature has endowed many men with rare
gifts, each one possessing a talent peculiar to himself: but we know how
long it requires to perfect one's self in any given art, and it
therefore cannot be expected that a great violin virtuoso should at the
same time be proficient in the art of violin making, the two arts being
totally different. It is, however, generally believed that the
assertion of Ole Bull had more weight with many violin players and
amateurs than the most adequate knowledge of a violin maker. I admit
that Ole Bull had some experience with violins, but had he obtained
sufficient knowledge he would have easily understood that many of his
ideas were not based upon principles which he thought had remained
secret to all investigators on the subject, as the greatest authorities
have acknowledged the tone in George Gemünder's violins to be of the
same quality as that characteristic of the best Italian instruments.

This proves that violins are judged the best when they are mistaken for
Italian instruments and prejudice only is the actuating motive when the
declaration follows that the instrument is a new violin. If, therefore,
the knowledge of tone could have proved more reliable, prejudice would
not, in many cases, have appeared so severe, and embodied itself so as
to degenerate into fanaticism.

Violins made of healthy wood and according to the rule can never lose
their tone. It is, however, something different if they are carelessly

When an Italian violin, which lay untouched in concealment for fifty
years, was shown to Wieniawski at the Russian court, and he was asked
what he thought of it, he said, after trying it: "The violin has a bad
tone." "Well," said the Emperor, "let us put it back in its old place.
If it had been good I should have presented you with it." Wieniawski,
greatly surprised, replied: "Oh, when I play upon it it will regain its
tone." Here vanity and ignorance are shown at once; for if that artist
had had any knowledge of violins, he must have known that the violin was
not in good order, and that it was first necessary to have it put in a
good condition by a professional repairer; but instead of making such a
proposal, he thought to make an impression by his renown, and that he
would improve it by playing upon it.

I mention this because it contains two points: firstly, because,
especially here in America, great stress is laid upon the opinions of
such artists, but it proves that artists do not always have a knowledge
sufficient to enable them to give a correct judgment of violins;
secondly, if this violin had been new, many would have thought that it
was made of chemically prepared wood. A violin, however, of such
defective wood, can never give a good tone; because the life is taken
out of it when it is made. If such artists would make themselves
acquainted with a professional violin maker, many of them would get more
light on this matter, but since they consider themselves to be
authorities on the subject, there is very little prospect of visible
progress. It is, therefore, a rarity when an artist is found who is able
to judge of the quality of tone, whether the wood is chemically prepared
or not, and although this is easily to be distinguished by the practiced
ear, a peculiar experience is required for it nevertheless. Many,
however, believe that he who plays the violin to perfection, and
especially the player of renown, must be acknowledged as a judge of
tone. I admit that many violin players are judges of tone, but not
beyond a certain degree, as the greater number of them hear their own
instruments only and are taken with them; but he who possesses a feeling
of tone, and into whose hands violins of all shapes and qualities are
falling, whereby he learns to distinguish the different characters of
tone, is to be considered a connoisseur of tone; he must, however,
possess some knowledge of playing, although it is not necessary for him
to be a solo player, for with how many solo players have I become
acquainted who have no more judgment of tone than children.

For musicians and solo players it is very difficult to find out how far
the tone of a violin reaches. Many a player, having no experience in
this regard, plays in concerts on a violin which sounds like an echo,
but if the instrument is called Stradivarius or Guarnerius and $3,000
has been paid for it, and besides it has a "history" attached to it,
then, verily, it must sound. The critic, however, does not blame the
violin, but the player, for weakness of tone, and in that respect he is

For solo players who still use such echoing violins in concerts, it
would be of the greatest importance to make themselves acquainted with
the quality of tone which is fit for concerts, for most Italian violins
which are used in concerts prove either too old or of too thin wood; but
most players are accustomed to the fine, tender, echoing tone to a
degree that the true concert tone appears quite strange to them.

Thus, violins of chemically prepared wood will never do for concerts,
and it is a great mistake to believe that such violins have ever
produced as good a tone as good Italian violins do. Ignorance and self
interest have launched this untruth into the world. For violins made of
such wood produce short vibrations--a muffled color of tone similar to
that of impaired Italian instruments. Vuillaume put all the world in
commotion with his violins of chemically prepared wood, and all the
world sang hosannas. But when it was found that such instruments kept
this tone only a short time, there arose a general prejudice against new
violins and no one would play on them.

In order to remove all such ideas and prejudices I can safely assert
that violins of a free, high, clear and powerful character of tone, with
a quality which thrills the heart--such tone as my instruments produce,
and which qualities are now seldom found in the best Italian
violins--can never be obtained by any artificial preparation of the
wood, but only by way of science according to acoustic principles.

Of course it is the wood more than anything else which is to be taken
into consideration; for without the right sort of wood all science will
be unavailing, and _vice versa_. Many violin makers can get the best
wood, but where there is no talent applied in the construction, nothing
very good can come forth.

Of all productions of art, the violin is the most difficult to judge,
and I have nearer illustrated the different characters of tone which
violins produce, and tried to make these things more comprehensible, in
order that this medley of opinions and judgments which have been given
may be put in a clearer light.

I was highly astonished at the manner in which my "Emperor" violin
("Kaiser" violin) was judged, which was sent to the Exhibition of Vienna
three weeks after it had been finished. The violin had attracted not
only many admirers, but also a great number of gazers who have no idea
of a violin, and who stared at it only on account of its price.

Thus, the New York _Staats Zeitung_ had a correspondent in Vienna, who
also stared at the violin from the same reason. His ignorance, which he
exposed in his correspondence to the newspaper which he represented, led
him to make the following remark, which was published on the 27th of
June, 1873, and runs as follows: "From Salzburg several violins, mostly
the former property of Mozart and Beethoven, were sent, and the one
which Beethoven owned was made by Hellmer, at Prague, in 1737, as was
noted on the label, (saleable for 200 Florins,) while for a Gemünder
violin in the American division of the Industrial Palace, $10,000 (!)
are asked. Of course, everybody laughs at the simpleton who believes
this is the only curiosity of the kind, and thinks he can obtain such a
fabulous price for it. The Commission that for this time has made us
very ridiculous with our 'Go ahead,' should remove that label as soon as
possible, that one of the exhibitors may not become a public laughing
stock." But that writer soon found how much this violin was admired; he
learned to see that it was the only curiosity of the kind, in fact, for
soon afterward I read again in the _Sontag's Staats Zeitung_ that "the
violin was admired very much."

This violin was exhibited by me for the purpose of proving to the world
that I can make violins that have the tone which has been sought for a
long time since the death of the celebrated Italian masters, since which
all attempts have miscarried, and I confirmed this fact in a circular
added to it.

But what was the result? It was not believed. In the Exhibition of
Vienna my violin was mistaken for a genuine Cremonese violin, not only
for its tone, but for its outer appearance, which was so striking an
imitation according to Joseph Guarnerius, that a newspaper of Vienna
made the observation: "George Gemünder cannot make us Germans believe
that the violin sent by him is new; a bold Yankee only can put his name
in a genuine instrument, in order to make himself renowned!"

Although this was the highest prize which a violin maker had ever
obtained, it was no advantage either for me or the public; for the art
of violin making was not furthered by it, but rather still more impaired
by the correspondence of the _Staats Zeitung_ and the New York
_Bellestristic Journal_. The latter writes as follows: "S. F.,
Pittsburg.--G. is a pupil of Vuilliaume; his violins are much demanded,
but their prices are so high that purchasers are frightened!"

Thirty years ago I sold violins at from $50 to $75; ten years ago I sold
violins at from $100 to $300; now I sell them at $100 and upwards; and
violin makers here and in Europe ask the same prices. Nay, amateurs who
do best in their ignorance, ask still higher prices. Wherein, therefore,
do we find that which frightens the purchasers? The effrontery of
writers who make such statements as the above will bring them no honor.

Many may still remember that I had determined to send six violins of
different forms, copies of the best old master-violins, to the Vienna
Exhibition, and intended myself to take the matter in hand, but, owing
to an accident, I was compelled to give up this intention. In
consequence, I resolved to send only one violin. To select one of them,
artists such as Wollenhaupt, Dr. Damrosch, Carl Feinninger and others
were consulted, but they differed in their opinions, which may be taken
as a proof that the instruments were very much alike in character; they
are also witnesses of the fact that I made them. In order to call
attention to the one selected, I noted the price "ten thousand dollars!"
Nobody, however, was charged to dispose of it, although three thousand
dollars were offered.

The circumstances connected with the construction of this violin gives
it more than an ordinary interest. Ridicule and praise in the highest
degree are interwoven with its history; therefore, it has been hitherto
the most interesting new violin in this century. Why I could not be its
representative and had to leave it to fate can be learned from what I
have already written about it, and how I have judged every thing
connected with it. I was, however, sure of one fact, namely, that it
would be acknowledged as a production of art. The admission must then be
made, and the claim is amply justified by facts, that, as new violins
are frequently mistaken for genuine Italian instruments, even when most
particular attention is given to the varnish, the art of violin making
must no longer be considered as a lost one.

May the foregoing satisfy all doubters and those who have lately,
especially in America, written about the lost art of varnish and tone,
and may it cause them in future to refrain from investigating into the
so called lost arts. He who would give a scientific explanation of this
art and be a critic, must be thoroughly acquainted with it.


The manner in which violins are so often ruined seems almost beyond
comprehension, or rather the way they are generally treated must
necessarily involve their ruin. The cause of this can not be entirely
ascribed to those destroyers of violins who pretend to be repairers, but
it generally rests with the owners of violins themselves, because they
are usually ignorant as to who is master of the art of violin making and
to whom a master violin may be entrusted. They therefore make inquiries
for such experts, and apply for that purpose, generally, to renowned
violin players, not realizing that even these are not always endowed
with discrimination, frequently not more so than the one asking advice,
and thus the latter is led astray.

To find an adept repairer is as difficult as to find a thorough master
of the art of making violins; for the repairer must possess the same
knowledge of the production of tone as the best violin maker. The man
who cannot make excellent violins cannot be an excellent repairer. To
obviate all doubts on the subject, I will state that the foundation of
the whole secret is simply this "Every violin maker will make repairs in
accordance with his knowledge, as he would make violins, and violins as
he would make repairs!" This principle is so scientifically correct as
to be conceded even by the most severe critics.

Many a man achieves a reputation by certain meritorious accomplishments
in which he has distinguished himself, and in consequence thereof
everyone believes him an artist in the fullest meaning of the word. For
instance, Ludwig Bausch, of Leipsig, gained a deserved and world wide
celebrity as an artist in making bows. I also esteemed him as an
excellent and very accurate worker. But to my astonishment I found, as I
regret to say, that his fine repairs were mostly devoid of value, as
also were his new violins, so far as the production of tone was
concerned. But artists and amateurs, far and near, adored his useless
repairs and new violins, which latter usually sold for high prices.

Thus the public are unable to form a proper judgment in regard to the
art. It would pain many a one, if they could realize the manner in which
valuable violins are treated by such violin makers and repairers.
Repairing violins, therefore, is as little understood as violins
themselves, in consequence of which not only the interior of many an
Italian instrument is ruined, but also the exterior is often deprived of
its classical appearance by an alcoholic varnish, which is smeared over
it and which impairs its value; and yet many owners of such instruments,
who do not know any better, rejoice to see their violins with such a
glossy surface.

To rehabilitate a valuable instrument, and repair the exterior if
necessary, requires a skill as artistic as the rehabilitation of a
painting by a celebrated painter. Such instruments are also often
peculiarly tortured by unskilled hands, and many a valuable top has been
damaged by the operation of putting, or rather forcing, in the sounding

Owners of violins should take particular precaution never to permit the
cutting away of wood out of the bottom or top of a violin, without being
fully satisfied that the repairer is an adept in the art. In Italian
violins made by the old celebrated masters there is no necessity at all
for doing this, as they have not as a rule any too much wood, and most
of them are poor enough in this respect; in case those artists made no
mistakes others have brought them in by their repairs.


Beautiful and interesting as is this art of making and repairing
violins, and however great has been my enthusiastic devotion to it, I
should never have engaged in it had I in starting possessed my present
experience, for the ignorance which the public has shown by the
confusion of opinions in this branch might almost make one believe these
judgments emanated from a mad-house.

Why is it we hear no such conflicting opinions about the productions of
any other branch of industry or art? Because in no other business do we
find so many pretenders. And why is it they infest this particular
branch of business more than any other? Simply because the art of violin
making is not founded on a correct system, and this may account for the
medley of ideas which have been spread broadcast throughout the musical
countries, except France, where a regular system is recognized.

Yet in spite of the lack of correct system of making violins, I have
become acquainted with a few German musicians who have acquired an
excellent schooling in the art. In this respect I cannot refrain from
mentioning my admiration for a thoroughly skilled musician, Mr. Herman
Eckhardt, of Columbus, Ohio, a man of rare genius in the knowledge of
music, who was able to define clearly and accurately the different
periods of the progress I made in violin making.

Such a man I must respect the more, because he is endowed with sound
judgment, which other musicians, often of very high standing, could only
acquire by instruction, a method which to some of them would seem to be
impossible, as they are devoid of judgment, having their ability warped
by false ideas about violins, and rendering them incapable of correctly
understanding and appreciating the latest and best productions; this may
account for their fanatical admiration of Italian violins, even if they
possess only imitation, but, as "ignorance is bliss," they are happy.

On the other hand, there are amateurs who take such a practical view of
the matter that they are just opposite in their beliefs to this class of
fanatics. They do not see why a new production, which answers the
purpose as well and which in more ways than one is preferable to an old
production of the same kind, should be regarded as of less value. They
do not understand why a desirable article should command an enormous
price when another article accomplishing the same effect can be bought
much cheaper. And in this they show a common sense which might well be
emulated by many others. While it is true that an enthusiast ought never
to be blamed for his enthusiasm, if it has a reasonable base, it is no
less true that lacking in this respect he is nothing more or less than a
fanatic. This class of people is by no means exclusively confined to
amateurs, but even includes in its ranks many true artists in music.


There is no doubt that a certain class of violin players pay very little
attention to the care of their instruments, as they use them daily, and
few have time to bestow the necessary attention upon them. If a violin
is out of order, a musician or amateur who knows nothing about it
continues to play upon it. At length he perceives that the tone is not
the same as it was before. Many, therefore, often lay the blame on the
repairer, or on the violin maker, if it is a new instrument. It is
therefore desirable that players should always pay attention to their
instruments and examine them whenever they intend to use them, to see
whether everything is in order; that the neck has not sunk a little to
the front, causing the finger board to lie deeper on the top and the
strings to lie somewhat too high. Such deviations will occur,
particularly when the top is very much vaulted, as well as by change of
weather or climate.

As soon as the weather becomes moist it is advisable to keep a violin
in a box; when the weather is fine it should be taken out of the box for
a time every day; and even if it is a very old violin it is not good to
keep it always locked up. A violin should never lie on a floor, whether
in a box or not, but should always be kept on an elevated place and in a
moderately warm temperature.

Before using the violin it is advisable to rub it with a soft cloth or
chamois, so that neither dust nor perspiration may remain on it; it
should also be cleaned each time after being played upon. The sounding
post should also be examined, to be sure that it still stands
perpendicular. The bridge, too, must be looked at, and if it stands
obliquely it must be brought into its normal position again before
taking the bow. It usually inclines somewhat forward on the E string
after tuning it. If this is the case, pinch the E string between the
thumb and index finger, while the corresponding part of the bridge is
moved backward by the points of the fingers.

On good and excellent violins particular attention must be given to the
bridge, especially when it fits the instrument, for it is not always
easy to replace it with one equally good. A bridge which is qualified
to affect the violin and contribute to the charm of tone of the
instrument is more valuable than one would often think. Many consider a
bridge of as little consequence as a string, when it breaks on the
violin, and think they can restore the loss by a bridge which costs
three cents; for the correct model of a bridge is considered only as an
ornament by such people. Of course they do not know that this is one of
the most important parts of good violins, and that there are but few
violin makers who are able to make a bridge as it should be. But it is
the same with the bridge as with the violin.

It is not only the correct construction of the violin and bridge which
produces a good tone, but the right sort of wood must be found for the
purpose. Thus the bad form of a bridge made of fine wood is just the
same as a common fiddle made of fine materials. It therefore follows
that we should take as much care of a master bridge as of the violin

It some times occurs that the sounding post of the violin becomes
shorter by itself; in this case it may be advisable to relax the strings
entirely in order to see whether the sounding post does not fall. If
this is the case, a new one must be made of old wood by a skilled
workman. The cause of this is that the wood contracts more or less,
especially in dry weather; this may also be caused by a change of air,
which sometimes even produces a distortion of the swell of the top.

When such care is habitually taken, a violin will always be in good
order. Too low a sounding post causes a lower position of the top on
that side, which, when not remedied, will remain and will produce a
defect in the swell and tone. This is also the case when the sounding
post is too high, and many violins are seen where the swell is higher or
lower than it ought to be on the side where the sounding post stands.
This is also the case with the bass-bar or so-called "soul" of a violin,
which is just as mysterious a part of the violin as any one can imagine;
and its quality shows the skill or ignorance of its maker.


From the foregoing treatises it will be seen with what energy I devoted
myself to the art of making violins, and I can declare to the world with
a good conscience that I have reached the standpoint in this art which
has been striven for in vain during a century.

I have studied all the characteristics in the construction of the
Italian master violins, and have had extensive practice in imitating
violins, as masters have made them, and have obtained an understanding
which enables me to unite all good qualities of tone in the

As I am able to judge from experience, nobody can confute me. All those
who doubt it or will dispute it can neither confute me scientifically,
nor prove what they say. I have had a great many opportunities to hear
and repair the best Italian violins myself, including Paganini's
wondrous violin at Vuilliaume's, in Paris, and I can affirm that my
"Kaiser" violin can be considered as wondrous a violin in regard to tone
and character as--nay, it is even to be preferred to--that of Paganini's
in many respects!

I also make a peculiar kind of Maggini violin. For this purpose I have
selected an older form than that which is generally known. I construct
these violins in a manner to include all good qualities of tone, and
they are, therefore, far preferable, because they surpass those of
Stradivarius in greatness of tone. Such distinctions prove that I have
made great progress in this art.

Most Italian violins are now of interest only to admirers of art, and
may be recommended to antiquarians, for there are only a very few still
existing which can be used for concerts, and although if even their
voice disappears more and more out of their body, they will always be
valued, kept as relics and admired by friends of art. But it is only
fancy which makes most of them adore what they do not understand, and
they trample down the blossom of the new productions which the world
brings forth.

Therefore, it will be of some interest to many to hear more minute
particulars about the method of construction of violins of the old
Italian masters, as many persons are still in darkness as to which
violins the best tone is to be ascribed. This want of knowledge comes
simply from the fact that a combination of uninjured instruments of the
best masters is a task very difficult to be effected, and these
instruments would by all means have to be put in proper condition by an

This has, perhaps, never been done yet, and a general comparison could
only be made as the opportunity presented itself.

As I acquired knowledge of the system, the forms and swells of violins
of the great masters, I also became so thoroughly familiar with the
characteristics of tone that I have found out what the present needs

I will now consider in detail the different characteristics of tone of
the productions of the great masters, and state in what manner this
difference was obtained.

Jacob Stainer, at Absam, in Tyrol, was a pupil of Nicholas Amati, at
Cremona. Stainer and Amati made violins which were mostly demanded by
amateurs on account of their round, sweet, silver tone. This character
of tone they produced by a small, round and some what oblong swell, as
well as by a neat and somewhat smaller size than that of Stradivarius,
who endeavored to gain a greater sonority of tone. Stradivarius,
therefore, made the swell less high than Stainer or Amati, but of a
broader circumference, drawn oblong, by which he obtained a sublime tone
in an aristocratic and majestic form.

Joseph Guarnerius del Jesu.--As long as he made violins according to the
school of his great master, Stradivarius, his productions were of a
similar nature. Later, he made somewhat smaller models, sometimes with a
circumferential swell, by which he gained a somewhat smaller tone, but
with a striking, quick touch of a peculiar brilliancy. It is strange
that he gave a different form to each of his violins, the _f_, the
swells and the scrolls varying in almost every instrument. It is told
that he was imprisoned for a long time, and, under great deprivations,
he made violins secretly. In all his productions his great genius is

Duffu Prugar, at Bonninien, lived in the sixteenth century. His violins
have a large and wide form, with interesting ornaments of carving work
and inlay; their swells are beautiful, and as high as those of
Stradivarius, and they produce a great and full tone. But as there are
only few still existing, many violins are imitated in France according
to this model, and they are spread far and wide.

Maggini's violins are mostly of a large size and of a higher swell and
fuller toward the extreme parts than all the other violins of the
Italian masters, therein producing a great fulness of tone; on the G and
D strings their color of tone is particularly deep.

Gaspard da Salo made very interesting violins of small and large size;
the former have a peculiar character of tone, not very strong but of a
very clear color. These violins have a beautiful, high and round swell,
similar to those of Jacobus Stainer, but those of a greater size are
flatter, producing more power of tone, and are therefore better adapted
for solo performances.

These celebrated masters left us a great choice of different forms and
swells, as well as their method of workmanship in regard to the top and
bottom of their violins, where the proof is to be seen that they always
made investigations in order to gain a greater perfection. Stradivarius
and Joseph Guarnerius have especially obtained a beautiful quality of
tone in their violins, yet in order to gain an easy touch of tone, they
worked the top pretty tender, and in many instances they made the middle
part of the top most thin, probably to further the easiness of sound
still more. Such violins do not answer for concerts.

It seems that at that time less attention was paid to such a power of
tone as is required now, because only few of them have been found with
an acceptable thickness of wood in the top and bottom. This is,
therefore, the reason that so many Italian violins produce too weak a
tone in concerts.

Although Maggini left the top and bottom thicker in the middle part,
still, most of his violins have not, on account of construction and deep
color of tone, been received with favor like those of Stradivarius and
Joseph Guarnerius. As only a few such Guarnerius and Stradivarius
violins were found which by reason of their thickness of wood answered
the purpose of solo violins, every one believed all their productions of
a like character.

Therefore, so many solo players often expose their ignorance by playing
on such violins in concerts.

Stradivarius instructed other pupils besides Joseph Guarnerius, who made
excellent violins, and many of these violins still exist. As the most of
them were made with the full thickness of wood, they produce a splendid
tone, often better than some of those made by their great master. This
teaches us that he who wishes to possess an Italian violin on account of
its tone cannot depend upon finding it by the name alone, but he has to
pay all his attention to the discovery of those in which the necessary
thickness of wood is found.

A solo player, therefore, should never play a violin on account of its
name alone, for if the violin produces a weak tone, the blame will be
laid on him, and so much the more because it is generally supposed that
such instruments must be master violins.


First of all I will take America into consideration, where the art of
making violins is too little understood to be judged. Commissioners of
exhibitions like those, for instance, of the late Centennial, have no
idea of violins, and, therefore, are unable to appoint judges competent
to award the premiums. It would be too much to ask that they should
themselves be such connoisseurs, for the violin is still considered as a
fiddle in this country, and it may still take a long time before the
people here reach the standard of knowledge and appreciation which
Europe occupies. Therefore, only very few real violin makers are found
here, for most of them are only amateurs doing business in this branch.
In the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia, in the United States
Department, were found mostly such amateur violins. I have heard that
all those who called themselves violin makers received a premium. The
judges were either unequal to the requirements of their office or they
desired to offend nobody. If the latter be the case they certainly acted
generously if not justly. But exhibitions of art were established for
the purpose of finding out in which way the different articles of
industry and art compare with each other. Proper examinations can be
made only by professional men, otherwise only that fiddle that "cries"
the most will attract the greatest attention.

Justice will never prevail in such exhibitions, owing either to want of
knowledge in order to be able to judge who has deserved a premium, or to
favoritism, for merit can hope least, especially in Europe. Artists
there can only receive acknowledgment if they have the means to spend.
The Centennial exhibition, however, was not guilty of such a wrong; here
it was the desire to be as just as possible to all, although not every
one could be satisfied. To act in the capacity of an awarder is always a
thankless task; whether the judge has or has not the necessary
knowledge, discontent is sure to follow, because the conceited man who
has been unrewarded does not see the difference between his production
and the better one of his co-exhibitor, but an injustice is done to an
artist, if through favoritism a premium is awarded to an inferior

Exhibitions, however estimable they may be, are still very imperfect in
regard to their organization; in Europe they have been for years
entirely corrupt, and are now called into existence mostly by
speculators. The true principle has been lost sight of and taken a
corrupt form. It is scarcely to be expected that the time will come when
the many defects which have crept in will be removed again, for all
these failings which have manifested themselves throw a shade over such
exhibitions, and the time is not far distant when they will be entirely
disregarded, if not reorganized on a different basis. But I believe that
they will never attain great perfection, even if taken in hand by the
Government, for so long as a system of awards is connected therewith,
mistakes and discontent cannot be avoided. Managers of exhibitions are
not always competent to appoint the proper professional men and experts
as judges; and as those appointed lack the necessary qualifications,
dissatisfaction ensues. But suppose the awards were made with proper
knowledge and strictest impartiality, what then? What have the
remaining competitors gained who are less gifted by nature, and
therefore could not receive any award? Nothing but mortification and an
impaired business. Is this fair on the part of human society? Not every
one can be an artist. The offering of premiums has for its object the
promotion of industry; but the majority of exhibitors can never achieve
distinction by reason of lack of talent, and must consequently be
considered as excluded from their line of business. Are we not bound to
consider them as our fellow brethren and to care for them as well as for
those receiving premiums? But the present generation does not seem to
have any thoughts about this, for there are but very few men who are
still animated with noble impulses; while the majority are striving to
ruin their fellow men by greediness.

In my opinion such exhibitions cannot continue any longer, because
justice can never be expected, and the chase for the highest premium in
order to outdo others, has not only become ridiculous, but also immoral.

If I were the richest man, it should never come into my mind to strive
for a premium which I must purchase through so-called leeches. There
are, however, connoisseurs who know how to distinguish that which is
better from that which is less good.

As long as such exhibitions are based on such rotten principles, I find
no longer any interest as an exhibitor in striving for a premium, and as
I gained the highest moral premium in the exhibition at Vienna in 1873,
on this account I did not compete for any premium as an exhibitor in the
Centennial exhibition at Philadelphia!


Whoever takes an interest in violin making will undoubtedly be pleased
to hear more particulars in regard to dilettanti violin makers and their
patrons. There are some dilettanti violin makers in America who consider
violin making their business, and there are others who do not make it
their chief business. They have their own particular patrons, who in the
knowledge of violins are on the same level with themselves; but it
cannot be denied that in the productions of some of these violin makers
there is talent discernable; if these persons could have had proper
instruction, more good violin makers would be found than are now in
existence. But as long as dilettanti violin makers remain as such, only
dilettanti violins will be produced; for without proper instruction it
is impossible to obtain either a correct knowledge of the exterior
formation or a correct knowledge of the production of tone.

It is true, that every piece of wood over which strings have been
stretched will sound, and every such instrument will have its admirers.
There are, however, dilettanti violin makers whose self-conceit and
boldness is simply astonishing. The professional will understand this,
for if a self-conceited man could see clearly and look into the matter,
he would be astonished at his workmanship, as I was once myself.

As dilettanti usually lack that practice which is peculiar to the
regular violin makers, they very often experiment in all kinds of
machines by which they expect to lighten manual labor; their object,
however, is mostly reached in a very roundabout manner, although they
believe to have made an improvement, and this improvement they announce
to the public as a great success. As most of their patrons have no
knowledge of the matter, such a dilettante appears to them as an
extraordinary genius. This supposition would perhaps not be disputed if
it did not take considerably more time to execute with their machines a
certain amount of work than the practical workman requires simply by the
dexterity of his hand.

A dilettante violin maker can never be a thorough workman, and is
entitled to be considered only as a "jack-of-all-trades;" he has a
great many kinds of tools which the regular violin maker never uses.

Many dilettanti are presumptuous enough to believe themselves further
advanced in theoretical knowledge concerning tone than the most
experienced violin maker of the present day. Some of them ask, in
consequence, a great deal higher price for a violin of their own make
than does any regular violin maker for his. But it seems to me that such
persons are often only the tools of Ole Bull, a once celebrated
violinist with extravagant ideas, who misled them. They, however,
believe to have learned from him the true secret of the art of violin
making. He also tried to persuade them into the belief that when _new_
violins sound well and are serviceable for concerts they are made of
chemically prepared wood. If such pretended wise man would have some
knowledge of wood, he ought to be able to distinguish wood which is
chemically prepared and that which is not! About this point I have
already sufficiently explained my opinion.

To give the wood the old natural color which is peculiar to the Italian
violins, in a great measure depends on the material used, for not every
wood intended for violin making has the necessary qualifications.
Violins made from such selected wood are therefore especially valuable.

It cannot now appear strange that the general public has so little
knowledge in the judging of violins, when a world renowned violinist
like Ole Bull shows such ignorance. Here in America the latter preferred
the company of dilettanti violin makers, for the reason that they were
generally willing to listen to his ideas, and some of them have studied
now so much that they cannot see any clearer nor hear any better.

Dilettanti violin makers form a peculiar class of violin makers in
America; and they seem to be born for the sphere of such knowledge as is
here shining forth. Their patrons write articles for them in which they
try to instruct the public by their ignorance, as we find, for instance,
in the Philadelphia _Times_, of August 30th, 1879: "Gemünder refuses to
state the source of supply for his wood, and it is a well-known fact
that he and others use at times chemical preparations for the purpose of
changing the character and the appearance of their wood."

The writer of this notice made a statement without any foundation. Had
he and his train a proper knowledge of the matter, they would be able to
perceive that the material of my violins is not chemically prepared and
the character of the wood has not undergone any change whatever. It is
presumptuous in ignorant persons to make such statements against a man
of long experience, for the purpose of bringing his productions into
discredit; productions which are proofs in themselves that not a single
violin can come into the condition of those manufactured of chemically
prepared wood, as those of Vuilliaume in Paris. But such individuals
manifest not only a prejudice against a better understanding, but also
are impertinent, from which stupidity and meanness emanate; and thus
they unmask themselves as false experts.

The cause for this assertion will have to be found, and for the
disbeliever there is no other ground in the advantages I have gained by
my studies, which to them seem impossible; and as the Italian violins
are generally acknowledged the only good instruments, they try almost
anything to oppose what has proven itself so gloriously, rather than
acknowledge it as a fact.

Truth, however, can never be overruled, and the time will come which
will impose silence on such individuals! Since mankind inhabits the
earth their characters are as different as we find different plants.
Many a flower is not fragrant, and how many stately and celebrated men
are heartless! Those, therefore, who are void of generosity are able to
do evil. Those classes who are as it were idle weeds, for the kinds are
both useful and hurtful to men; all that nature produces has a meaning.
If we could fathom all the secrets of nature we would also be able to
understand the meaning of them, and idle weeds could be less hurtful.
But in nature there lies a wisdom which remains a secret to mortal man.


It is an incontestable fact that the success of the endeavors of men to
gain a livelihood depends upon luck, although many are of different
opinion, especially those who are always favored by good luck, as they
ascribe their success to their enterprise and skill. They do not
consider that good luck only has offered them a chance. Many become
wealthy without being gifted with peculiar knowledge, while many others,
in spite of all their knowledge and genius, endeavour in vain and do not
see their efforts rewarded. It is, therefore, a matter of fact, that
neither art nor science produce wealth, unless they are favored by good
luck, and the cases are innumerable which prove this. From the many
experiences in my life, especially in my profession, I will only mention
the following: Vuilliaume, of Paris, was favored by nature in a very
high degree in every thing; he was not only the greatest artist in his
profession in Europe during the present century, but also an excellent
business man, and good luck smiled on him in all his enterprises. Lupot,
his partner, laid the foundation of Vuilliaume's independence by
effecting a marriage between him and a very rich lady of nobility. Thus
he became not only a celebrated man, but also the richest violin maker
of our time. Although some of his violins of prepared wood incurred
discredit, nevertheless there were admirers who bought his violins, even
in America, where the prejudice against new violins is so prevalent, on
account of the supposition that the wood of them was chemically
prepared, a practice of which they so stupidly and unjustly accused me,
and thereby caused a great deal of harm to my business. On the other
hand, Vuilliaume, who really prepared his wood in a chemical manner, was
lucky and prosperous.

What is the reason of this and where is it to be found, and why does
good luck generally lie in the opposite extreme? The solution of this
secret will probably remain undisclosed to mortals. Upon whomsoever
fortune smiles, and whom she allows to blow the golden horn, he
penetrates the world, his name becomes great, and he produces upon
mankind that effect which persuades them into the belief that the best
can be found only in him. If Vuilliaume had been a poor man he would
have certainly remained poor, especially in America, where the art of
violin making is still less understood than in Europe, and unjust
reports will be more readily listened to than anywhere else.

In Europe there was a general supposition that a pretty good demand for
old Italian violins existed in America, in consequence of which dealers
in old and new violins found their way hither. In disposing of these
instruments they were not very scrupulous in regard to the information,
and sometimes gave them names according their own fancy. A great many
so-called Italian violins and violoncellos came in this way to America,
and the owners are happy in the imaginary possession of an Italian
instrument. Other persons again entertain the idea that they are surer
of a genuine article if it comes from Europe, as there is their home;
but if it is believed that this is always the surer way, it is a
mistake. It requires an extraordinary study to recognize the maker of an
instrument, and understand the dead language of the violin. Thus it must
not be believed that the instruments claimed to be Italian are always
genuine; the seller himself may sometimes be mistaken. Many owners of
such "baptized" violins do not always like to be informed of the real
origin of the instrument by a person of thorough knowledge.

Sometimes I feel constrained to give an opinion by virtue of my
knowledge, but it must not be expected of me to admire a thing that
is not genuine, as those owners do in their ignorance.

If, however, a genuine and valuable Italian violin has lost any part,
and if a violin maker possesses the art to restore the missing part,
either in imitating the varnish or in adapting the lost part to the
character of the violin, so that the instrument reappears in its
originality so completely that the connoisseur is deceived, the value of
the violin is in that case not impaired. This also occurs in regard to
very valuable old pictures, and the artist who is found to be able to
execute such work is well paid.

Such artists are, perhaps, more to be esteemed than the maker of the
original, as they are rare, especially those who are able to restore the
originality of valuable old violins. The instruments lose their value in
case the repairs cannot be carried out properly, owing to a want of
genius upon the part of the repairer.

I have often shown this art in exceptional repairs; but what can be
gained by it? The greater number of those who own violins do not know
how to appreciate such skilful work, and, in their ignorance, they
attempt to do harm in the bargain, when they hear that they must for
such repairs, perhaps, pay somewhat more than usual--an additional proof
of how great the darkness still is in judging this art. The time when a
better understanding in this regard will come to daylight is still far
off! And why? Because all other arts and branches of industry are based
upon solid ground, as the State governments protect them, and,
therefore, they can come to a proper degree of perfection. The art of
making violins does not enjoy this privilege (except in France) and it
hovers mostly in the fog since the death of the celebrated Italian

Therefore, it can yet be called only a fancy art. The opportunity which
has been given to mankind in this century to make this science general
has not been regarded, because the confidence and belief in it has been
wanting, and it will disappear like a drowning person, who several
times comes up out of the water, but who, at last, is overwhelmed.
Instead of endeavoring to save this art in its details, it is ignored by
self-interest. But such an aversion to the best modern productions is
sometimes punished very severely, as want of knowledge often brings
common productions into the possession of individuals.

Since the death of Tariso, the great collection of violins, etc., which
he gathered from all the regions of Europe, has been scattered again
over all countries. Vuilliaume, who bought many of them, afterward
resold some to violin makers and dealers; those instruments which were
put in order by them are easily recognized.

This collection consisted mostly of all characters of Italian
instruments, from the most commonplace to the celebrated Stradivarius.
In many an admirer an interest may have been awakened thereby to possess
one of these instruments. But it must not be expected that all of those
violins still possess their original parts. Had not such amateurs as
Tariso--and they are not rare in Europe--bought those instruments of
that time and kept them safely, which contributed to their longer
preservation, they would, especially if they had been always used, be in
a much worse condition.

George Hart, of London, is also such a gatherer of and dealer in
instruments. John Hart, the father of George Hart, whose personal
acquaintance I made at Vuilliaume's, in Paris--when I was engaged to
make for him a set of Stradivarius heads, from that of violin up to that
of contra-basso, which should serve as models--undertook to gather such
old Italian violins for the purpose of selling them again to other
persons. From that firm there came, in fact, some specimens of the
celebrated Italian masters to America, and they are interesting and very
well preserved. I have seen and admired them; they are in possession of
an amateur at Hartford, Conn. Here they are preserved again for the
coming generation.

Violin players look with envy upon such violins in the hands of
amateurs, but it is fortunate that most of them have come into such
hands, for violins of this kind are very delicate, and although those
which are well kept produce a beautiful tone, most of them have not that
power of tone which is necessary for concerts.

The solo player, however, believes he must produce the strong tone of a
violin by force, which breaks the tone, and is not heard distinctly. In
this manner such violins are tortured and ruined. When such well kept
violins continue to be well preserved, they may be the same after a
hundred years. Such relics will then, no doubt bring still higher prices
from those who wish to possess a violin of that kind.

But it is strange that some amateurs put a particular value upon a
violin which has been in the possession of a rich nobleman, as if it is
more likely to be genuine in that case? What a foolish idea! Such whims
are not entertained by connoisseurs. There are enough aristocrats who
possess only a fiddle, especially in America, and who know nothing about
the value of a violin; it is rarely that they have at home a violin
which is worth over five or ten dollars. When many of them hear that
thousands of dollars are paid for violins, they think that persons who
pay these prices must be crazy. The reason of this is that most of them
know no difference between a ten dollar fiddle and a violin which costs
as many hundreds of dollars!

Amateurs who pay thousands of dollars for a violin are here in America
just as isolated as that enthusiast who paid six hundred dollars for the
first ticket of the first concert given by Jenny Lind in New York, and
the other who paid ten dollars for his admittance in order to be able to
see the six hundred dollar man.

Thus I believe to have unrolled a panorama which will assist in the
dissemination of knowledge and truthful views, which have only been
obtained by a long experience.


It has often occurred to me that violin players of all kinds find fault
when the strings are not arranged in the manner to which they are
accustomed, and almost every one believes his method to be correct. This
subject shall be discussed here, so that a clearer insight may be
obtained and the correct method ascertained.

There are violin players who have a greatly arched bridge, and others a
very flat one, on their instruments. The latter, therefore, more than
the former, have the advantage of being able to play on all violins,
because they are accustomed to a bridge which is flatter. These
different methods mostly arise from the different arrangements of the
violins upon which pupils learn to play.

Ole Bull was an exception to this rule; with him it was not chance; of
all violin players he used the flattest bridge on his violin; but it was
his principle. His music pieces required it, and in his method he
became a master.

I. B. Poznanski played at one time on a violin with almost as flat a
bridge as that on Ole Bull's instrument, and I believe it will not have
been forgotten that he produced, as if by charm, a great tone from his
instrument. This proves that a great tone can be gained on a flat
bridge. Therefore it depends only on the skill with which the bow is
handled. Many violin players, however, are of opinion that they must
press the bow on the strings very much, in order to bring forth a strong
tone on the violin; but the pressure of the bow is limited; for when it
is too strong, the ear becomes disgusted with the tone, nay, a scraping
and jarring tone is produced by too strong a pressure, because the G
string touches the finger-board in this case, in consequence of which
many violin players wish to have the finger-board very hollow. But it
must not be believed that in such a manner the right tone is produced;
on the contrary, the full tone, which lies ready in the violin, is very
easy to be gained by the knowledge and skill of handling the bow.

The rule is, that the tone must be drawn forth by the bow, and it must
not be forced forth by pressure. The bow must not be led oblique, but
straight over the strings, so that the hair lies flat on them; it also
depends on the flexibility of the arm, that the bow may not touch the
strings stiffly, but in an elastic manner. Those who attract attention
to their elbows cannot expect that the bow and the violin alone will do
their service.

The most perfect condition of a violin requires the instrument to be so
arranged that it can be played easily; therefore, I determine that the
height of the strings must be three-sixteenths of an inch at the end of
the finger-board, and that the arch of the bridge must have the same
measure, three-sixteenths of an inch, between its two extremes, for
bridges more arched than this cause difficulties to the player, because
the movement of the bow is too much abstracted when passing from the E
string to the G string. In such a manner, David in Leipsic had the
violins arranged for his pupils.

On such arched bridges the two middle strings lie too high from the top
towards the G string and E string, and it is an acoustical mistake,
because it produces an inequality of the character of tone.

Such knowledge should be taught to the pupils in conservatories of
music; but it is generally believed that when a violin player has been
made a professor he is able to satisfy the requirements of his position
in this regard.

For the benefit of the learner, however, I will enter more nearly upon
the knowledge which is required, especially in a conservatory, and to
the imparting of which the teacher should attend. First I will mention
as an example the conservatory at Leipsic when it was under the
management of Director David. Most of his scholars were then compelled
to play on new violins made by Bausch, which for their stiff and tough
tone are for the greater part unfit for those who would become artists.
This quality of tone, together with the fact that students were forced
into a certain position and fatigued, caused them to become nervous; but
many parents who had no knowledge of it, sent their sons to that
institute, even from America, and they had no idea that many of them
brought back a nervous disease and were thus ruined. I heard this of no
other conservatory in Europe. Thus it would appear that David pursued
his own interest rather than that he cared for the good of his pupils.

Here in America we have violin teachers whose methods are preferable by
far to such.

The following is a method according to which students should be
instructed: The student must not be forced into a position of holding
the violin so as to cause the ruin of health, but on the contrary, by
means of a free position and natural holding of the violin the chest
will be enlarged. This does not only benefit the health, but also
facilitates the learning and progress.

It is of the greatest importance that students learn on violins which
have good tone, for instruments which have a bad quality of tone usually
discourage the beginner, so that he becomes nervous and soon considers
playing an unpleasant work, and gives it up without knowing the reason
why. Teachers, therefore, should have the necessary knowledge of the
qualities which a violin must possess. A knowledge indispensable for
them and a great benefit for the learner. For only a good tone has a
charming influence upon the mind, and owing to this many beginners
advance early to a high degree of perfection; therefore it must also be
in the interest of the students to get familiar with the good tone of a
violin, that their ear may not be accustomed to a sickly tone. Alas!
This point is mostly disregarded by their parents, who have little or no
knowledge of a violin, and it provokes some indignation in
scientifically instructed teachers to teach their pupils on miserable

If a teacher knows how a violin should be arranged, it is above all his
duty to examine the instrument, and ascertain whether it can be used for
the instruction of a learner; for as the violin is first arranged for
him so he will ever be accustomed to have it afterward. For instance, on
the violin of the solo player Ed. Mollenhauer, the strings lie on the
finger-board lower than on any other that I ever saw. No doubt he has
learned on such an instrument. It is true that the virtuosoship is
facilitated, but the strength of tone is impaired by such an

The ingenious artist Brume, however, was so great a master that he
played even on violins the strings of which lay very high, although he
did not know this. Many, again, are accustomed to bridges that are very
much curved towards the E string, because they did not know, when
learning, how badly their violins were arranged.

A correct system must be the foundation of everything, but as the
theories in this art are still dead letters for most violin players,
there have arisen fantastical ideas, especially among the greatest of
them. Ole Bull did his best to impart such ideas to others, yet many of
them were, no doubt, excellent. Ole Bull always had a vehement desire to
find something better beyond all possibility. Many of his ideas were
contradictory to all the rules, and although he put some in practice he
did not persevere in any of them for a long time, for a new idea
occurring to him all others were supplanted by it.

It happened once that Ole Bull was visited in New York by another
artist, who was called the "American Sivori." He, as well as many others
thought that Ole Bull had a perfect knowledge of the structure of
violins. Sivori, seeing that Ole Bull had a bridge on his violin which
stood quite oblique--for the upper part of the bridge was bent backwards
by a quarter of an inch,--adopted this idea. When his violin had been
provided with such a bridge he came to me, and with great satisfaction
he showed me this queer position of the bridge on his violin. I was
highly astonished at him that he could approve of an idea which is
against all correct theory and is nothing but a farce. I then explained
to him not only the consequences which must arise from it, but also the
impossibility, by such an arrangement, of bringing to bear an even
horizontal pressure on the bridge. But he thought that which came from
Ole Bull was better than that which came from my knowledge. Let us see
what happened later. In a concert of his, while he was playing with
enthusiasm, the bridge fell and broke!

Another day an Italian artist came with his Maggini violin to show me
where the sounding post must stand in his violin, having obtained his
information about it from Ole Bull. I could not help smiling when I saw
that the sounding post was placed quite near the _f_ hole. Upon
expressing my surprise, he replied with the following insult: "What do
you know about the position of the sounding post? You are no violin
player like Ole Bull, therefore you cannot know about it." My answer
simply was: "Only a fool can talk to me in that way, and very soon you
will find out that you will have to give up such an insane idea!"

It was on the third day after that he came back begging me to place the
sounding post in his violin according to my judgment. When he had
apologized for his indiscretion, I fulfilled his wish.

Thus I have become acquainted with several artists who constantly
tortured their violins by getting the sounding post and bass-bar
displaced. This proves a want of correct theoretical knowledge, and
through this ignorance they make the sounding post wander about the
whole violin.

The place of the sounding post can only be ascertained through the
theoretical knowledge of the construction of the bottom and top of the
violin. Many players think they can obtain the right tone by the
position of the sounding post alone, but no sounding post can make good
a fault in the construction of the bottom and top.


It is an indisputable fact, that of all productions of art in the world,
the violin has been least understood.

This wonderful instrument has remained an enigma to the musical world
until now. How fortunate it is that this instrument does not understand
human language, by which circumstance it escapes that medley of critical
remarks which are made in its regard.

It is, therefore, in the interest of art and its votaries that I have
determined to present herewith to the public the results of my long
experience obtained in making violins, and in examining those sciences
connected with it.

It is generally known that up to the earlier part of the eighteenth
century the Italian masters made the best violins, and with the death of
those artists a decline of that art, too, took place. Those so-called
classical instruments have been, especially of late years, eagerly
sought at high prices, by all artists and amateurs, because a settled
opinion has taken hold of their minds that nobody is able to construct a
violin which is fit for solo performances; that the secret which the old
Italian masters possessed is not yet found, and that new violins,
although constructed according to the rules of acoustics, cannot gain
the desired perfection until after the use of a hundred years. This,
therefore, animated many violin makers with an endeavor to overcome that
difficulty, but in vain; at last Vuillaume, of Paris, was impressed with
the thought of making wood look old by a chemical process, and he
succeeded in creating a furor with his instruments made of such wood, so
that people began to believe the right course was being pursued. It
turned out, however, that after a few years those instruments
deteriorated, and finally became useless and proved a failure.

This especially prejudices the minds of the virtuosi so far that they do
not believe it to be possible to make violins which answer the general
requirements of concert playing until they have attained a great age.

Vuillaume has, therefore, by his chemical preparation of wood, injured
this art seriously, because the previous prejudice was corroborated
thereby. Such prejudices stand in the way of progress in making good

But as everything in the world is going on, so the art of the
construction of violins has not remained behindhand, and I can prove
this to the musical world by my own experience.

To the knowledge of making such violins as artists and amateurs demand,
there belong besides ingenuity in carrying out the mechanical work a
knowledge of the following three sciences, namely: mathematics,
acoustics and the choice of wood.

A knowledge of acoustics, which is most indispensable to the violin
maker, cannot always be acquired, since it emanates from an innate
genius, which makes itself manifest in the very choice of the wood.

When by the aid of these sciences I had arrived by a natural proceeding
at what I aspired, I made violins in imitation of the old Italian
instruments and presented them to great artists and connoisseurs, and
the highest authorities of Europe and America. They pronounced them to
be genuine old Italian violins, not only on account of tone, but also in
regard to form and appearance. In this manner I broke that prejudice. I
proved to the so-called "connoisseurs" that those violins laid before
and acknowledged by them to be good, were of my making, hence they were
new. If I had presented those violins as new productions of my own to
those gentlemen, they would have condemned them forthwith and said that
they would not prove good till they had reached a great age, and that
they would perhaps in a hundred years equal the old Italian instruments.

In general, however, it is not taken into consideration that if a violin
is not scientifically constructed the good quality of tone will never be
obtained, either by much playing or by age. In applying the three above
mention sciences I have gained not only the fine quality of tone, but
also that ease with which the tones are made to come forth.

But we must be thankful to the great masters; they have laid for us the
foundation of the manufacture of violins, by which they became

Their system, however, is but little understood by the present violin
makers, because very few intelligent people devote themselves to this
art, and the most of those who are learning it, practice it not in the
way of art, but of business. What wonder, when even the greatest artist
in Europe, Vuillaume, imitated the very mistakes which the great Italian
masters made in regard to mathematical division. He did not consider
that they, in improving the art, made experiments in regard to form,
swell and different thicknesses in working out the bottom and top. But
there are a great many professional men who, from exaggerated
veneration, consider all productions of those masters as law and beyond

I have discovered that the old masters did not arrive at perfection, but
made mistakes in their mathematical division and in the workmanship of
the different thicknesses of the bottom and top. Those faults I have
endeavored to avoid in the manufacture of my violins, and I think I have
solved this problem.

Just so it is with the knowledge of tone. It is a great mistake to
believe that it is only the player who has this knowledge. Experience
has taught that playing and knowledge of tone are two different
provinces, because the artist very seldom has an opportunity to make
close study of the different qualities of tone, and is usually
prepossessed with his own instrument.

If many solo performers had more knowledge of tone they would not so
often play in concerts on feeble instruments, which are too old, too
defective in construction, or have been spoiled by bungling workmen who
were employed to repair them. Such instruments often injure the solo
performer exceedingly, and the critic is right in charging the fault to
feebleness of tone. But the artist is generally satisfied if he only
possesses an Italian violin.

Also in the science of tone I have found the way to gain that experience
by which I have been enabled to make a violin which will satisfy an
unprejudiced solo performer of the present and future.

I have confined myself to the natural process which the Italian violins
underwent, and I have put the problem to myself that it must lie within
the bounds of possibility to construct violins which will bring forth
good tones at once and not depend on a promising future for all their
good qualities, and I have not been mistaken, but have secured what I

Many are still of opinion that the art of making violins and
predetermining the qualities of tone, is a mere accident. This is, if
taken in a general sense, true, because most of those who make violins
scarcely know any more of it than a joiner, but the ability to construct
violins according to the rules of art, requires a man who has enjoyed a
technical education, and whoever has acquired the necessary capabilities
knows the method by which the different qualities of tone may be
produced and obtained.

Above all, he who occupies himself with repairs can least dispense with
these capabilities, since he is often intrusted with the most valuable
instruments; but alas! with what inconsideration do those who possess
such instruments often give them, for repair, to botchers and fiddle

This proves how great in this regard is the lack of correct judgment.
Through such spoilers of violins most Italian violins have come to
naught, because many who own such instruments think that whenever any
one makes a neat piece of work and knows how to use his chisel, file and
sandpaper, he is the man to be intrusted with such instruments. But
where there is a lack of science, the repairer's work, be it ever so
neat, may cause damage in half an hour which will be greater than can
ever be made good again.

If a violin maker constructs bad instruments it is his own damage, but
to make bad repairs is to ruin the instruments of others, the creations
of masters.

Neither is a violin maker who does not know how to construct excellent
instruments a good repairer. Yet there are many who think that good
repairers need not possess the knowledge of making good violins. But
what a mistake! It seems, however, wisely ordained by nature that even
he who is less gifted and less learned may enjoy life, and thus gladly
bear sacrifices in consequence of his error.

This is the plain and simple explanation of matters in regard to the
manufacture of violins and the knowledge of tone, and those to whom this
does not seem comprehensible may submit to a more thorough experience
than they have gained until now; in this case they will, after they have
fully convinced themselves of it, sometimes remember G. G.

No. 52, 1873.

In the foregoing circular, treating upon violins, I said: "It is
indisputable that no production of art in the world has been less
understood than the violin." This truth has proved good again in Mr.
Schelle's critique concerning violins, and it shows how little he is
able to judge about them! In his very introduction it is plainly shown
that he has made no studies in regard to tone when he says: "Thus an
idea came to Vuillaume to make, by a chemical preparation, wood to look
like that of the old violins. Instruments made of this material excel in
regard to their splendid and real Italian tone."

Against this I assert just the contrary and can prove it to be nonsense
by the fact that wood, when submitted to a chemical process, will
produce a dry, covered tone, and the noble quality of tone--that which
affects the heart--is lost.

Mr. Schelle then says: "We may also discover a similar experiment in the
instrument which Mr. George Gemünder, of New York, has in the
exhibition, under the ostentatious name of Kaiser Violin (Emperor
Violin). Of course its manufacturer would protest against this
insinuation, for in a little pamphlet he declares that by the assistance
of three sciences, the mathematics, acoustics and knowledge of the wood
to be chosen, he had not only comprehended the system of Italian school,
but had even discovered errors in it, etc."

Mr. Schelle further says: "There have been many celebrated violin makers
who were gifted with the same talents and learned in the same sciences,
yet they could not reach what they aimed at, in spite of their most
strenuous efforts. We confess quite openly that in spite of his
assurance we harbor the suspicion that Mr. Gemünder has taken refuge in
a chemical preparation of the wood. The violin in question, a faithful
imitation according to Guiseppe Guarnerius, is indeed beautiful in its
appearance and has a very excellent tone. But the extravagant, really
American, price of ten thousand dollars could only be excused when its
excellence should have been proven good in future," etc.

From this (Mr. Schelle's) critique it is evident that he has tried to
throw into the shade the interesting production of art which I had in
the exhibition, in order to be enabled to put the productions of the
Vienna violin makers in a more favorable light. But this proves that
only such persons as are destitute of sufficient knowledge to judge of
violins may be transported to such one-sided critiques, dictated either
by partiality or other interests; for if that were not the case Mr.
Schelle ought to have blushed with shame in regard to that injustice and
disrespect with which he illustrated the experience of an artist and
spoke of his talents and sciences, to which Mr. Schelle is as much a
stranger as he is to the artist's person!

As Mr. Schelle takes into consideration that the violin at ten thousand
dollars exhibited by myself must first undergo "a proof of time," it may
be rather advisable for Mr. Schelle to take a lesson of Gemünder, that
he may learn those characters of tones which will prove good in future
and which will not; so that he may be able hereafter to show better
knowledge in his critique upon violins!

From my childhood I have grown up in this art in Germany and have
devoted myself to all those studies which are connected with it. The
last four years in Europe I passed at Vuillaume's in Paris, consequently
I am acquainted with the entire European knowledge of the construction
of violins.

Since 1847 I have made violins in America, therefore my instruments do
not require to be subjected to a "proof of time," for it is without such
a one that I have solved the problem and secured at once the fine tone
which all the preceding violin makers strove in vain to find. I obtained
my purpose in quite a natural way. This knowledge, however, does not lie
in an object whose secret is only to be secured by a patent; it lies
purely in the gifts of man. Another century may pass by before this
problem will be solved again. The closing page in Mr. Schelle's critique
sounds like a lawyer's pleading in favor of a criminal. In this regard
his writing is quite creditable, for he has well pleaded the cause of
the violin makers of Vienna!

But then those words in my circular about violin makers proved true
again: "This wonderful instrument has still remained an enigma to the
musical world until now. How fortunate it is that it does not understand
human language, by which circumstance it escapes the medley of opinions
which have been given in regard to it."

When, however, its clear tone was heard, and the easiness with which the
tones came was noticed, then it became an enigma to professional men and
they declared that this violin was an original fixed up again!

But later, when it was objected to and found to be a new Gemünder
violin, it was ignored even in the newspapers. The _Neue Wiener
Tageblatt_, of Vienna, called it afterwards "the false Cremona violin!"
How envy here glared forth again; for this violin was not exhibited as a
Cremona violin, although it has been demonstrated that it had been
previously really taken for a genuine Italian instrument.

Its introduction as "Emperor Violin" had a force and pungency which
tickled the professionals, and what surpasses all belief is, that they
themselves crowned the work. It was, indeed, the greatest premium that I
could gain, in spite of all the pains which those men gave to
themselves to deprive me of my merit. Thus a moral prize values higher
than a piece of metal?

Although many mocked at the high price, yet no such violin could be made
by all those deriders, should millions of dollars be offered to them.
Therefore an unrivaled artist has the right to fix any price on his
productions. Although an offer of $3,000 was made for it, yet nobody was
charged to sell it, even if $10,000 had been presented.

The newspaper of the exhibition of Vienna, published on the 17th of
August, 1873: "Gemünder found fault with the Italian constructions and
those of Vuillaume."

If Gemünder had not extended his studies so far he would probably not
have stirred up those matters which had given such a headache to those
people of Vienna, for George Gemünder became thoroughly acquainted with
both the faultless and the faulty points of the Italians in the
construction of violins. If those people of Vienna had had the good luck
to discover imperfections on the above mentioned constructions, then
they would have made a great cry about it.

The same newspaper says in another passage: "The tone of this violin is
indeed strong and beautiful and has an easiness that pleases, also it
has not that young tone peculiar to the very best new violins." In
saying these words the writer confesses the truth in his innocence, and
this verdict crowns this violin again, because this character of tone is
just that one which all violin makers in the nineteenth century have
been trying in vain to find.

And further: "For this reason some professional men gave vent to the
suspicion that the wood was submitted to an artificial preparation,
probably by the use of borax." Such was the nonsense to which this
peerless violin was subjected, since there was none to take up its
defence. _The annexed description in which all chemical preparations
were peremptorily opposed, was entirely disregarded by them._ Thus there
is no other way to advise those pseudo-professional men to have such
borax violins made and patented!

To those gentlemen who call themselves professional men, I, George
Gemünder, declare that I am ready at any time to sacrifice my "Emperor
violin" or any other which I have made, and I propose to give it to the
best chemists in the world to be cut to pieces, that they may examine
the wood and ascertain if any chemical preparation has been used. If
this is found to be the case they may be allowed to scold and blame me
publicly as much as they please; but, if nothing of that kind is found,
they are to pay ten thousand dollars for the "Emperor violin."

             ASTORIA, NEW YORK.


Page 70. Sentence beginning "He also
tried to persuade them into the belief," &c.,
should read, "He also tried to persuade them
into the belief that when _new_ violins sound
well and are serviceable for concerts they
are made of chemically prepared wood."

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

Inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation have been retained from the

The following obvious errors have been corrected:

  Page  8: the word "in" added after the word "remain"
  Page 18: the extra word "who" removed
  Page 77: "howevever" changed to "however"
  Page 88: "ingenius" changed to "ingenious"
  Page 89: "thories" changed to "theories"
  Page 98: "preposessed" changed to "prepossessed"
            "to fault" changed to "fault to"

Punctuation has been corrected without note.

The error notated on page 70 in the "Erratum" in the original has been
corrected in this eText.

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