|Newsletter issue 18|
|Written by Richard J Milner|
|Friday, 15 October 2004 20:09|
Jakob Stainer and his Viol Instruments.
Jakob Stainer, the most influential and revered of all German violin makers, was also a prolific maker of viol instruments. He lived from 1617 - 1683 and was active in the town of Absam bei Hall, a few kilometres out of Innsbruck in Austria.
The German "Lauten und Geigenmacher".
Stainer, like all those singled out by their peers as a creative genius, was in essence a product of his time and environment. In what seems to our eyes an isolated corner of continental Europe in the 17th century, a great flowering of cultural activity was under way. As part of this, the regions of the Allgäu, the Bavarian alps and the Tirol became an enormously productive area for instrument making. An enormous number of the great lute and violin makers of the 17th century derived from this area and, at different times were spread throughout Europe by the religious and political strife of the mid 16th & early 17th centuries, most notably the peasant wars (1525) and the 30 years war (1618 - 1648). Thus we find many Germanic makers working in Venice, Padua, Bologna, Milan and Padua, whilst others immigrated as far as Lyon and London.
Stainers Own Instruments
Much confusion still exists surrounding the authenticity of Stainer instruments. Even in his own lifetime he was both excellently imitated and unashamedly forged. Thus, it is useful to consider the current state of knowledge and try to separate Stainer from the models his work subsequently generated. Stainer's period of activity immediately follows the 30 years war and coincides with the rise of the violin in contemporary art music. At the same time the Renaissance ideal of instrument families still exerts strong influence and the viola da gamba is the bowed instrument of preference among the nobility. The cello as we know it was still half a century away and tenor and bass instruments of the period were most often viols, even when the treble and alto parts are taken by the various sizes of violin & viola.
What Instruments did Stainer Build?
Stainer's production includes violins on several different models, violas of alto and tenor size, both arched and flat-backed, d'amore instruments, 4, 5 and possibly 6 string bass instruments of gamba configuration, violones of 5 & 6 strings. Opinion is divided on whether Stainer ever built cello instruments. Certainly the gamba style instruments definitely by him are not infrequent, though mostly altered in this and previous centuries, whereas it is very difficult to find a cello of Stainer model that is convincing as the work of Stainer himself. Certainly, any cellos by Stainer would be expected to be either very large or cut down for later use.