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A Summer in the Alps . . .

Two Great Instruments Loaned for Exhibition in Innsbruck

Schloss Ambras, near Innsbruck.  Photograph courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.

Above: Schloss Ambras, a 16th-century conversion of a medieval castle overlooking Innsbruck, was the venue for the 2003 retrospective exhibition, Jacob Stainer.

Two rare musical instruments from the Museum's collections--a unique tenor viola built by Jacob Stainer (1617-1683) in Absam bei Innsbruck about 1650 and one of only two Jacob Stainer violins known to survive in unaltered condition, dated 1668 - were loaned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna to be shown in the retrospective exhibition, Jacob Stainer, that the KHM presented in Ambras Castle, overlooking Innsbruck, June 4-October 31, 2003, just a few miles from where the master luthier lived and worked for most of his life.

NMM 3371.  Tenor viola by Jacob Stainer, Absam bei Innsbruck, ca. 1650 and NMM 4548.  Violin by Jacob Stainer, Absam bei Innsbruck, 1668.

Left: NMM 3371. Tenor viola by Jacob Stainer, Absam bei Innsbruck, ca. 1650. Ex colls.: Hammig, Hamma. Witten-Rawlins Collection, 1984.

Right: NMM 4548. Violin by Jacob Stainer, Absam bei Innsbruck, 1668. Ex colls.: Hamma, W. E. Hill & Sons, Sam Bloomfield. Board of Trustees, in memory of Arne B. & Jeanne F. Larson, 1988.

Jacob Stainer, the greatest of the German-speaking violin makers, is considered by many to be the greatest luthier of the 17th century. His instruments were still preferred over those of the Italian masters by Leopold Mozart and his contemporaries because of the beauty of their tone, well into the 18th century.

Probably the most important special international exhibition of stringed instruments to be mounted since Antonio Stradivari, an exhibition held in Cremona in 1987 to mark the 250th anniversary of Stradivari's death, Jacob Stainer, which was assembled by Rudolf Hopfner, Curator of the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments at the KHM, featured some 170 objects, including 21 instruments by Stainer and another 25 instruments made by other makers of the time. Books, paintings, and documentary materials (including those documenting Stainer's "heresy" trial) illustrated the cultural environment in which Stainer lived and worked.

In addition, there were two interactive computer presentations with sound analysis, information about violin making and the documentation of stringed instruments, live workshops during June by students from the Hallstatt School for instrument making, and an audio guide with music and information in English, German, and Italian.

Institutional lenders to the exhibition, in addition to the National Music Museum, included the Museum der Stadt Vils, Musikkollegium Winterthur, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Francisco-Carolinum, and Stadtmuseum Füssen. Privately owned instruments were also included.

NMM 4548. Back of Stainer violin. X-ray of NMM 4548 taken through the violin's back.  Courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. NMM 4548. Belly of Stainer violin.

An x-ray of the Museum's Stainer violin (NMM 4548), taken through the violin's back, documents the instrument's pristine condition and the original nail used to attach the neck to the body.

The Museum's two Stainer instruments were taken to Vienna in March 2003, where they were x-rayed and photographed for the scholarly catalog that complemented the exhibition. They also underwent comparative acoustical and other scientific tests, including dendrochronology, confirming that the wood dates from before the years in which the instruments were built.

Necks on 17th-century violins came straight up, not tilted back, as they are today.

The Museum's Stainer violin, which survives in remarkable original condition (including the straight neck typical of 17th-century violins), is also featured on a CD that was produced for the exhibition. The violin was played by Maria Kubizek, who has been influenced musically, in particular, by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. She has soloed at such venues as Vienna's Musikverein and the Konzerthaus, where she has performed all of the Mozart violin concertos.

The CD and posters are available for sale at the National Music Museum.

From: André P. Larson, "A Summer in the Alps . . . Two Great Instruments Loaned for Exhibition in Innsbruck," National Music Museum Newsletter, Vol. 30, No. 2 (May 2003): 1-2.

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