W.A. Mozart – String quintets 5
A violin for Isabel Demenga 6
A violin for H. Schneeberger 8
A viola for Eli Karanfilova 10
A viola for Nicolas Pache 12
A cello for Patrick Demenga 14
“Berner Totentanz” - Bernese Dance of Death 16
Violin making – a child’s dream 17
School of Arts and Crafts 19
Christoph Götting 22
Apprenticeship with Edith Dittrich 23
Stage as a journeyman in Los Angeles 24
Stage as a journeyman in New York 25
Entente Internationale (EILA) 28
In touch with the masters 30
Swiss Association of Violin and Bow Makers (SVGB) 31
Gerechtigkeitsgasse 4 (workshop address) 32
Workshop 18thand 21st century 33
Visits to the workshop 34
Children’s drawings 35
The double-bass 37
Edith Peinemann 38
Max Rostal 39
Young musicians 40
Christoph Müller 42
The voice of Mattinata DRS2 (Swiss Broadcast) 43
Visit to China 48
Bow making 51
A first performance in New York 53
Igor Moroder 54
Grade of Master 57
Address / Imprint 59
25 years violin making
Otto Karl Schenk Berne / Switzerland
A jubilee is a special event.
It was my professional goal to have my own workshop in my hometown. 25 years after its opening I have good reason to celebrate.
The surroundings that delight and nourish me have inspired me to organise this jubilee concert.
I was very lucky that Patrick Demenga was enthousiastic about my idea to give a concert using five specially created instruments. He immediately was able to persuade Hansheinz Schneeberger, Isabel Demenga, Eli Karanfilova and Nicolas Pache to participate.
This booklet will give you an opportuniy to evaluate my professional background and personal development. What usually happens discretedly in the workshop is for once in the spotlight. It was quite a revelation for me to see how many different facets come together.
Berne, October 22, 2004.
The String quintets in C major and G minor
Four of the six string quintets were composed by Mozart without a private commission. They are outstanding masterpieces: the quintets C major, G minor, D major and E flat major. The early B major quintet (Salzburg era) and the C minor quintet, a transcription of his serenade for wind instruments KV 388, cannot be compared to these master pieces.
The quintets in C major and G minor were written in the spring of 1787. Mozart wrote them at the same period as his opera Don Giovanni and offered them for subscription, in the hope that they provide some income during the composition of Don Giovanni. These quintets are sister works: the C major quintet fresh, striking and virtuous, the G minor quintet dark, eloquent and dramatic.
The string quintet in C major KV 515 is one of Mozart’s most extensive instrumental works, the outer movements showing the influence of Beethoven. The main theme of the allegro shows unusual range, developing from the low notes of the cello through the violas to the very high notes of the first violin. The second motif has various episodes, the execution is intense and constructed contrapuntally. It is followed by a witty menuetto.allegretto, in which the two violas play a tender ten measured theme in thirds without the support of the bass.
In this menuet as also in the F major trio the effect of a sudden change from forte to piano is surprising in Mozart. The use of subito piano in this menuetto surprises the listener and is reminiscent of the trio in F major. The andante in F major introduces two themes in an intensive dialogue between the first violin and the viola, and instead of a development Mozart writes a repetition, followed by an epilogue in the form of a dialogue.
The string quintet in G minor KV 516 has a shorter character but is not less emotional
“...it has a mysterious message of tragedy...” (Wolfgang Hildesheimer).
The first movement allegro is a contrast between painful grief and a suddenly eruption (side theme in B major), creating a pessimistic dark mood, concluding with two forte chords.
The resigned atmosphere continues in minor key, with the trio turning to a lighter G major.
The fervent expression of mourning is left to the adagio ma non troppo in E flat major, where the five instuments play con sordino (muted). The Mozart researcher Alfred Einstein called it “the prayer of a lonely person” and said “what is happening here is perhaps comparable to the scene in the garden Gethsemane. The cup with the bitter drink must be emptied, and the disciples sleep”.
The final movement begins with an introduction (adagio) in G minor, which leads to an optimistic end by an allegro inviting the listener to the dance.
A violin for Isabel
The Giuseppe filius Andreas Guarneri violin has been the long time companion of Isabel Demenga. The instrument has a very strong and appealing personality both in sound and appearance. The slender model guarantees an easy handling. Therefore it seemed logical to make a copy with only a few modifications. The result is an instrument that looks the way I assume the original did, with no attempt to imitate age and wear. The dent on the scroll could be a chisel slip by the master, a detail I did not copy.
Isabel Demenga was born in 1954 in Bern and received her first violin lessons at the age of 5 years. At 17 she was accepted in the Convervatory of Berne to study with professor Max Rostal. She graduated in 1970. Further studies with C. Romana in Geneva followed.
1974 Isabel Demenga was appointed concert master of the Orchestre de chambre de Lausanne by Armin Jordan.
Various appearances as a soloist with Arpad Gerecz, Neville Marriner and Heinz Holliger, followed. She is also a member of various chamber music ensembles.
A violin for Hansheinz
Antonio Stradivari – the ideal proportions
The violinsit who chooses to play a brand new instrument when he has a wonderful Strad at home must indeed be very adventurous.
Stradivari was 75 years old when he created the instrument which Hansheinz plays.
The basic proportions for the construction of a Strad both for technical playability and aesthetic reasons were laid down by the early seventeen hundreds. However this model gradually evolved over the years. Its starting point was what he learned from his teacher Amati, but the evolution that took place resulted in the widening, followed by the shortening of the instrument until finally it reached its apogee in the final model of the golden period.
Hansheinz Schneeberger was born in 1926 in Bern. He started playing the violin at the age of six. Studies with his main teacher Walter Kägi at the Bern Conservatory.
After graduating in 1944 he continued his studies with Carl Flesch in Lucerne on the advice of Jacques Thibaud and later with Boris Kamensky in Paris.
From 1948 he has taught at the Conservatoires of Bern and Biel.
He formed his own string quartet in 1952 and gave numerous concerts with it until 1958.
Since l961 he has been the professor in charge of violin master classes in Basel.
The illustrious career has taken him all over the world, giving many premieres, master classes and concerts.
A viola for Eli
Eli Karanfilova played an OKS viola loaned to her during her studies at the Menuhin Academy in Gstaad. She ist not particularly associated with any special instrument and it is still her goal to find an instrument she can identify with. With her in mind I designed a little sister to the one Nicolas Pache plays (8 mm shorter than 41 cm).
Stradivari made 18 violas, varying in length from 40,5 cm to 45.0 cm. The early models were made with a step at the peg box similar to what one would find on the cello. This looked better proportioned to the whole instrument but irritated the vibrato in the first position. Later he abondoned this and made them following the design of the violin.
This ensures free space for the first finger to vibrate
I used this ergonomic solution not only for Eli’s instrument but for all my other violas as well.
Eli Karanfilova was born in 1976 in Varna, Bulgaria, where she began to study the violin at the age of 5. After graduating in 1999 from the Conservatory in Sofia she went on to study at the International Menuhin Academy in Gstaad with professors A. Lysy and J. Eskaer.
As a member of the Camerata Lysy she often appeared in festivals in Gstaad and Salzburg from 2000 to 2003.
Since 2003 she has been concert master of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. She is also member of the World Orchestra for Peace whose conductor is Valery Gergiev.
A viola for Nicolas
Nicolas Pache plays an instrument designed by Carl Christian Otto of Halle made in 1826.
It is a very large instrument and tiring to play. Therefore with that in mind I decided to make him an instrument of standard size (2 cm smaller – see the white line in the picture) and for it used a model based on Andrea Guarneri.
Nicolas Pache studied with Thomas Füri and after further studies with Christoph Schiller was awarded the Diploma of Virtuosity at the Zurich Conservatorium.
Then he joined the Sine Nomine Quartet which received first prize in the international competition in Evian. At the same time (1980-88) he was first viola with the Camerata Bern, followed by two years as first viola at the Orchestre de Chambre Lausanne before he decided to dedicate himself to chamber music. In addition he teaches at the Geneva Conservatoire.
In June 2002 Nicolas Pache left the Sine Nomine Quartet and returned as first viola to the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne.
A cello for Patrick
Throughout his professional career Patrick’s constant companion has been his Ruggeri cello. The instrument was in my care long before I introduced him to it. The alliance between this instrument and the musician is in my opinion a “mariage magique”. I have used it as a model for many of my cellos.
The jubilee cello is also modelled on it but not a detailed copy. The original back is of four pieces joined together. No master other than Francesco Ruggeri achieves such short and yet elegant corners.
Refinement in styling
The two channels on the scroll front end as one in the mouth. This creates the effect of making the head look light and elegant.
Born in Bern in 1962 Patrick Demenga studied at the Bern Conservatory where in 1983 he was awarded the “Tschumi-Preis” for being the best soloist.
Further studies with Boris Pergamenschikow and Harvey Shapiro in New York.
His professional career started with the Stadtorchester Winterthur as solo cellist 1984/85, followed by three years with the Neues Zürcher Quartett. At the age of 25 he was appointed as professor at the Bern Conservatory.
Concert tours as soloist and chamber music player throughout Europe, USA, Canada, South America, Australia and Asia, followed by regular participation in important international festivals.
In 1997 the world premiere and CD recording of the cello concert “Slow” by Gerhard Schedl took place with the Symphonie Orchester Wien, directed by Dennis Russel Davies.
In 1999 Patrick Demenga played Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” with the RSO Wien under Ulf Schirmer.
Since 1999 he has been professor at the Lausanne Conservatory. In addition he is the founder and artistic director of the “Vier Jahreszeiten-Konzerte Blumenstein” (Four seasons concert series), Switzerland.
Berner Totentanz (Dance macabre)
A directive experience!
I sang with the children’s choir of the Bern Conservatory (director Toni Mumenthaler) and participated in the drama on the Cathedral Square in Berne in 1964.
At that time I realized that my life would always be influenced in some way by music.
Picture: But no actor’s career was the result of this performance.
Violin making - a boyhood dream
After 34 years of violin making I reassessed my very first attempts at violin making not without some humour.
I am indepted to my parents for keeping this amusing collection.
How a sport finds itself reappearing in violing making….
As a youngster I chose a sport where I could express my creative temperament.
The interpretation of the music was often more important to me than the competitive component.
At that time figure skating - such as loops and the figur of eight – were compulsory. These forms can also be found in violin making.
The competitive part of the sport continues in violin competitions, here again with more emphasis on artistic expression than on prize-winning.
School of Arts and Crafts
During my apprenticeship there were no special classes for violin makers at the Professional School in Bern. At this time the Violin Maker School in Brienz did not accept extern pupils.
Instead I went to the Arts and Crafts School in Bern for classes in sculpting, these I hoped to satisfy my wish to create.
My teacher was Heinz Keller. However he thought of something different for me to do and told me to make copies of Greek sculptures.
Disappointing at first, the copying of three-dimensional objects became more attractive. My sense for shape was awakened.
I am grateful for this hard training. Even to-day when shaping the arching of a violin my teacher comes to mind, escpecially when I am working on a copy.
The changing of objects often becomes compulsive, but this can lead to absurd results.
For example the small bush in my garden did not please me. Unhesitating I shaped a “dear-duck” out of it!
If I was naughty I was put in the cellar. Instead of being scared, I got for worse turning the potatoes into animals to play with. Much to the displeasure of my parents the potatoes were ruined.
Refusing to set limits to creativity
It has always been my habit in order to counteract the rigid discipline of violin making to try to be creative in different disciplines.
Sculpture: Angel 1968
Sculpture: Pewter cast appr. 1968
Water-colours The man on the beach 1966, Sailing boats 1968, Clouds in the sky 1997
In 1968 Christoph and I were contemporaries in the Edith Dittrich workshop, he as a craftman, me as an apprentice.
The wonderful small world of violin makers sustains our relationship even today. Christoph’s career took him to Beare’s in England. Today he works in a small barn which has become a mecca for violin lovers.
From England I send my heartiest congratulations to Otto Schenk on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of his workshop in Berne.
I still remember Otto’s good temper and good humour and am grateful for his friendship.
Christoph Götting, Mittelmersch
Pleased to see again....
The first violin I made during my apprenticeship with Edith Dittrich was recently shown to me by a customer.
My apprenticeship with Edith Dittrich jolted me into professional life. Standing all day was hard on my feet.The work rhythm was aimed at productivity from the very beginning.
This is still part of my make up to-day.
My master’s international connections made me curious about what was going on elsewhere. I was introduced to Hans Weisshaar who later became my employer and master.
Stage as a journeyman in Los Angeles 1972-76
In Hans Weisshaar I found a true master.
He had been an apprentice of Sacconi (Wurlitzer Company) and was keen to pass on what he had learnt both knowledge and professional skill. His former employees although now working throughout the world represent the Sacconi-Weisshaar-School still to-day.
Through his book about repairs Weisshaar’s knowledge was made accessible to many amateurs and professionals.
Even to-day I am related to David Burgess (USA), Andreas Mages (Germany) and Bruce Carlson (Italy), other journeymen at this time at the Weisshaar shop.
Hollywood as a centre of the film industry is also the place of many specialised musicians.
Some of them had very valuable instruments looked after at Weisshaars. I was able to sell some of my new instruments to studio musicians.
Watching a film from the eighties I sometimes wonder whether one of my instruments is in the back grounds.
Stage as a journeyman in New York 1976 – 79
Jacques Français was an important personality. He was friends with many famous musicians who came regularly to his atelier located as it was next to the Carnegie Hall. This was an opportunity for me to see and study many great instruments. Jacques was interested in the arts in general and for him a violin was always an individual creation.
This was a new experience for a young violin maker whose teachers up till then had always put the emphasis on perfection of craft. No wonder that we got on very well.
René Morel managed the atelier.
The chief goal in the reparing of every instrument was to achieve the correct tonal function. This was the result of his training in Mirecourt and later with Sacconi which, combined with his natural talent, enabled him to achieve wondertul results.
Concerts in New York offered the possibility to listen to many soloist. With friends from the Carnegie Hall (George Cree and Leonard Raver, organist of the Philharmonic Orchestra) I was more often evenings in a concert than at home. In addition it was a unique opportunity for an amateur cellist to play with a great professional musician.
Every three years a competition for violin makers takes place in Cremona. Young competitors from many countries compare their craft.
1994 I was invited to be a jury member.
The high standard in craft is mainly maintained by Violin Maker Schools all over the world (Chicago, Salt Lake City, Cremona, Milano, Shanghai, Tokyo, Brienz, Neward, Mittenwald, Mirecourt etc.).
It was my observation that many instruments fail to manifest the style of their country of origin. There is no instrument that is above critisism. Technical perfection is not the aim.
Creativity can easily be criticized by niggling judges. Bu this way of judging does injustice to a piece of art.
Consequently the value of such competitions is to be questioned. Successful works of art should be of strong character, impressive, personal, interesting, elegant, but not clean, perfect or exact.
In my opinion these competitions are interesting for young makers who can compare their skills and be stimulated to develop their craft.
The opportunity to discuss technical, craft and stylistic questions with fellow jurors was unique for me.
While I was a yourneyman with Hans Weisshaar I had the opportunity to take part in newly created competitions.
The gold medal in Ypsilanti in 1975 was my first success, other prizes followed in 1976 in Philadelphia and in 1978 in La Jolla.
The Cello Festival in Manchester which I participated in in 1992 and in 1996 was a new departure for me.
For the first time the jury members were responsive to suggestions as to how to get better results. In the final round the ten best instruments were played in public.
Picture: In the final round in Manchester 1992 the cello OKS no. 200 is played by Colin Carr and Murray Welsh
Picture: Zara Nelsova plays a Schenk cello at the master class in 1996. It is a copy of her Strad with a willow back, wood from the Marzilibad (Marzili swimming baths in Bern).
Entente Internationale des Maîtres Luthiers et Archetiers d’Art, EILA
Personal contacts and exchange of professional knowledge are the purpose of this organisation.
The invitation of Mme Chirac for the 50th jubilee of the association was a fine event.
The French association organised an extremely festive and impressive meeting and the reception in the Petit Palais des Champs Elysée was a social highlight.
I became aware that I now was the professional heir of my late masters Hans Weisshaar and Jacques Français.
Both of them were founder-members of the Entente.
Picture: It was an honour to plant a small maple tree in the garden of the Vézelay
monastery in the presence of Mme Chirac as a patroness of culture and of
Mstislav Rostropovich as representative of music and musicians from all over the
Professional lectures and studies of the Entente
The aim of these meetings is the exchange of new discoveries and historical research.
Picture above at the left:
their latest descendant, Gaël Français, nephew of Jacques Français, speaks
Picture above at the right:
Label of the Family Gand, descendants of Lupots and ancestors of Gaël
Document showing an inventory of the Testore family, presented on the
occasion of a
Such documents enable the violin maker to go back to earlier times. They show the financial and social conditions of the old masters, the organisation in their workshops and who worked as employee or apprentice.
To certify an instrument to-day we study the old documents to compare hand-writing, ink and writing tools.
In touch with the masters
Instruments to touch
Exhibitions where we can touch and examine the instruments are ideal. Insurance allows this only for small groups.
Many of those instruments belong to musicians or private collections. Different opinions and impressions will be discussed.
SVGB (Swiss Association of Violin Makers and Bow Makers)
Back in Switzerland I joined the Swiss Association of Violin Makers.
It was only after eight years abroad that I got to know this association of Swiss colleagues. The annual conferences of the SVGB and their master classes are of great value to their members.
The SVGB organises the exams for the Violin Maker Master Degree.They traditionally take place at the Violin Maker School in Brienz.
I graduated 1978 in company with Daniel Schranz and Fabrice Girardin. I passed in theory, managing and practise.
I represented the Association at the board of the Violin Maker School in Brienz.
My visits to the wood carving and wood sculpture school reminded me of my time at the School of Arts and Crafts.
Although the necessary skills required to master violin making were achieved, the future financing proved to be problematic and was more time consuming.
To-day the Violin Making School, managed by Hansruedi Hösli and Simon Glaus, is a private foundation.
Workshop, Gerechtigkeitsgasse 4, Bern
I opened my workshop in the spring of 1979 at Gerechtigkeitsgasse 4. My landlord Samuel Burkhard was born here.
The family painter’s business is to-day in nearby Gümligen in the third generation.
Samuel Burkhard, double-bass player for years in the Berner Musikkollegium, has always shown sympathy and interest in my craft. Thanks to his understanding of my needs I have felt very much at home here for the last 25 years.
I would like to take this occasion to thank Samuel Burkhard for his goodwill and kindness.
Drying of the instrument is a popular photo subject for tourists
A less welcome “visitor” was the bus that crashed into the shop window on New
Years Eve 2002.
Workshop 18th and 21st century
A comparison of a workshop in the 18th century and a workshop of the 21st century
To understand the development of the violin we have to go back to the 18th century.
Violin making was developing parallel to music. Cremona produced not only Stradivari but also Monteverdi as well.
The violin makers were affiliated to a craftman’s guild.
During that period Cremonia reaches an apogee never subsequently rivalled.
The violins are artistically and technically perfected. You may call to-day’s creations a variation on the theme.
The manner of working and the simplicity of their tools are still the hallmarks of today’s craftsmen.
The workshop of the 21st century does not look much different to the one shown in Diderot’s cyclopaedia.
Picture: Antonio Stradivari’s scrapers
Picture: Cyclopaedia Diderot
Picture: Thickness marker with a pencil OKS
Picture: Thickness marker Stradivari with a prick
The high standard of restoration in the 21st century has brought new technics and materials to the workshops.
Plaster casts to restore archings, moulding technics from dental laboratories, computer analysis of materials, ultra-violet light from dendrology, dendrochronology (the new science of the proportion of annual wood grain to date the wood) acoustic analysis similar to the voice analysing systems make a restoration workshop into a laboratory.
Some of these tasks are sometimes outsourced to scientific institutes.
I observe with great pleasure the developing of new analysing systems. The workshop for new making will, through historic research, look more and more like it was to Stradivari’s time.
Visits to the workshop
Visitors to my workshop are indulged in their romantic expectations.
Wood chips fly through the air, archings develop and the smell of varnish fills the room.
What is everyday life for me seems to many persons exotic or a trip into the past. The most courageous of them try their hand at planing, carving or sawing. In a crashcourse of expertise they learn to compare plaster cast models.This enables the smartest ones to use the newly acquired knowledge to criticize my craftmanship!
The audience on such workshops is very divers. Some of their descriptions revise my point of view. Like the one from a six years old boy who compared the soundwhole with a loudspeaker.
Most people ask what wood a violin is made of. Spruce for the top, maple for the back. More interesting is the question why these materials are chosen. Spruce has the best sound qualities. It is strong, stable, resonant. (This has been known long before Stradivari. Medieval instruments already are made of spruce.)
Picture 1: Hazelspruce
An unanswerable question is the “wherefrom” (origin) hazels, little zig-zag marks in the grain.
Hazelspruce was preferred at the golden period in Cremona. It is not clear if it is only an optical or an acoustical advantage as well.
It is also a mystery why maple grows in a wave pattern.
When light reflexes on the waves, they make the varnish dance. Picture 2
Workshop lectures are offered to groups on appointment.
Visitor from South Africa
He was interested to learn that wood grown in the northern hemisphere has annual rings from summer and winter, unknown in tropical wood.
Children’s impressions after a workshop visit
Picture 1: Grock violin (Grock was a Swiss musical clown)
Picture 2: A violin for improvisations
A violin as white as a blank sheet of paper was the aim.
Semi-tranparent varnished like the make-up of the Japanese Bhuto dancers.
Picture 3: Mirjana Reinhard plays the travelling cello.
Two amusing miniatures, made during my apprenticeship
Picture 4: Mini cello
Picture 5: Mini guitar
A double- bass for a soloist
It was a special challenge to make a double bass for Garry Karr’s European tours.
The model was his instrument – a gift from Koussevitsky.
To offer more than one, I made a copy and a version with violin corners.
Pictures: original copy / version OKS
Large picture: Garry Karr sailing in Switzerland
Edith Peinemann with her Guarneri del Gesù, Cremona 1735
A 25th jubilee is a very special event. I congratulate you to this anniversary.
It was 20 years ago that René Morel recommended your workshop to me and since then
I have visited it bringing with me all my violins and bows.
In additon to your professional competence I have been time and again impressed by your enthousiasm for your craft.
Comparisons with pictures from your library and if necessary spontaneous hand drawings were part of it.
As a young girl I visited Berne regularly. Henry Werro, Berne, loaned me my first grade instruments.
Through your artistry and your knowledge Berne continues to be a focal point for me and my violins.
I wish you many more creative years
Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù
To have the legendary Professor Max Rostal as a customer was a great honour and a challenge.
He formulated very precise and demanding questions, but was also an attentive and grateful listener.
He respected and cherished his wonderful Guarneri most. The violin’s expressive character and charme suited him very well for 45 years.
Characteristic of a man of his style he wanted to know who would play the violin after him and he asked me to find a possible buyer.
He personally carried his well respected del Gesù to Bern’s Concert Hall. And when he heard the new player, he approved of the change of hands.
I shall never forget his insight and magnanimity.
Picture: Former student Jitzka Adamusova with Max Rostal, Chalet Rusalka, Lake Thoune
Thiemo Schutter plays an OKS cello No. 226, made in 1998.
Picture 1: cello OKS no. 226, 1998
Picture 2: The model: Domenico Mantagnana 1737 (Alexander Rudin)
I am very happy to have had the patience to wait for my cello. It means a lot to me and I am very happy about its strong and flexible sound.
When asked about it I am glad to answer that it is a new instrument made by Otto Karl Schenk, expecially made for me.
It is nice to pursue my professional training on such a fine instrument.
Rufer Seraphina – pupil of Hofwil Gynasium – student at the Music Academy Bern/Biel
For three years I have played a OKS cello on loan. It has been interesting to accompany the development of its sound. I estimate its open clear sound which projects very well in a big hall. It suits compositions from the baroque to the 20th century. The feedback from the audience and the competition judges confirms my impression as a player.
1st price Cello Solo Final Swiss Music Competition 2004
1st price Swiss Chamber Music Competition 2003
3rd price International Chamber Music Competition Charles Hennen Netherlands 2002
The OKS cello has always been a great support when playing with orchestra or in a chamber music group.
My elder sister Noémie plays an old Italian violin acquired for her by Otto Karl Schenk.
We are both very happy with our instruments and value the support and service given by by OKS.
A big “merci”.
A faithful customer writes:
“I wish my Grancino and Sartory curator and serviceman a lot of success for the next
Artistic Director of the Gstaad Festival
Director and cellist of the Chamber Orchestra Basel
Co-director of swiss classics GmbH (Lucerne chamber circle at the KKL Luzern)
During my studies at the Bern Conservatory I was able to witness the “birth” of my cello modelled after Ruggeri.The odyssey for a suitable instrument ended when I saw and played a OKS cello modelled after Ruggeri. It was love at first sight.
The timbre, the colours and its easy response made it to an ideal partner. The instrument satisfies all my wishes and is my constant companion through all my various professional activities.
The voice from „Mattinata“ Swiss radio
I worked intensively with the violin Otto Karl Schenk made for me. It was part one of
my professional training. While practising and even more while playing chamber music or with big orchestras I appreciated the qualities of my violin.
On concert tours with the Bernese Symphony Orchestra in Greece and England my violin was my constant companion.
After that time I realised that my vocation was in chamber music. The attentive teamwork, one moment leading, the next accompanying, the togetherness, the contrapunctual playing led me to feel that I was in the core of music. This sensation is the greatest. The Schenk violin with its warm and dark sound was always of great support.
After these six formative years I decided to play the viola. I have never regretted that decision.
First cellist in the Berne Symphony Orchestra
Constantin’s spontaneous visits to my atelier are always inspiring. He is my “test pilot” for sound adjustments.
Picture: Constantin Negoita
Cellist and cello teacher
Hobby: Studies of ants
From my notebook
I found MY CELLO!
Beautiful and charismatic
WHERE? Unbelievable under my nose in BERN.
WONDERS NEVER CEASE!
Ants might not dream, but my dream came true. The cello I fell in love with that had a label on it “not for sale” became mine.
2003 CELLO FESTIVAL LIESTAL: a performance of sound adjustment
Otto Karl Schenk adjusts the sound post and the bridge in front of an audience, I as the demonstration player play individual notes and test pieces.
The sound becomes three dimensional. The workshop turns into an adventure.
Playing with materials and forms
My visits to Otto Karl’s shop can turn into playful confrontation between a player and the art of violin making.
His visual acuity, his practical abilitiy and his sense of the aesthetic are an enrichment in many respects. I can even get his advice at the end of a long distance telphone call.
Thanks for the last 25 years and Iook forward to our future exchanges
Kaspar Zwicky, Basel
Hand drawings with exaggerated detail help the memory, for example the long strict line in the back of the peg box become obvious by comparing these Landolfi scrolls.
This factory violin was built without corner blocks. Only when opened you will see that the corner blocks are simply glued together. There is no corner block. To deceive the eye there is a small piece of spruce covering the cavity.
A detail for the microscope
Francesco Ruggeri corrected the inlay in the corner joint with a small wedge, smaller than 0,3 mm, which can only be seen using a magnifiying glass.
Different varnishes and retouching materials can be detected by different refraction under ultroviolet light. This picture shows the different layers of the untouched varnish of Guarneri del Gesù. This is an extremely rare example.
The alteration that can be seen by ex-ray only is the small repair to the sond post crack (see oval line around the sound post), an outstanding example. This well preserved Ruggeri from 1690 is a beauty even in this meditechnical lighting.
To trace the origin of an instrument much detective work may be required, comparing similar objects and searching in the vask archive of registered details. Sometimes it takes years to find a missing link.
Good copies or false attributions as well as excellent repair work can sometimes only be detected by painstaking studies. The better the make the better they hide a repair of another hand.
Developing ones drawing skills is a great help in identifying different styles. To-days flood of digitalisized images has taken over and very few are now able to draw an f-hole.
Research into the material used can also help identify the maker. With the new science of technology it is possible to date a piece of spruce (violin top) to the exact year. This technology can only be done by specialists matching with computer data.
The legal consequence of a certificate is immense whereas the details identifying an instrument are often weak. We can only be a 100 percent sure of the maker if we witnessed the making or even better made it ourselves.
computer technique allows the comparison of the two Ruggeri scrolls and
"We have an obligation to support our contemporary violin makers. Their highly accomplished instruments merit our respect and we should not hesitate to commission instruments from them.
With this in mind I asked Otto Karl Schenk to make a cello modelled on my Carlo Giuseppe Testore. It is dated 1984 and it is very possibly the first cello created in Otto Karl’s workshop in Berne. According to the brochure of the Viva Cello Festival in Liestal Otto Karl Schenk has so far made 240 instruments.
Congratulations and many productive years ahead in his honourable profession.
Werner Schmitt, Bern
A visit to China
Handmade mass production
Chinese instruments have flooded the European market.
In February 2000 a small delegation of violin makers from Switzerland and France toured from Peking to Shanghai.
We were made very welcome by the Chinese. Our translator had to learn a new language, the so called fiddle-talk. The workmen/women were not about to interrupt their work rhythm (they are on piece rates). The managers who had often received their basic training in Europe were eager to pick our brains. I am sure that many of our comments influenced their next production to please the European market.
The Chinese craftsmen show astonishing flexibility. I was impressed how motivated and precise these young people are, most of them between 15 and 20 , but no underage makers that I had heard about were to be seen.
A remarkable result for a nation which still remembers the cultural revolution and the embargo on foreign music.
A production line with over 100 employees is inconceivable in Europe, where the trend goes back to the model of the Stradivari workshop. For example: Details like inlay are individually made here of stained pearwood, too complicated for Chinese mass production.
When it takes a 150 steps to make an instrument a Chinese workshop will have
150 specialists, each of them earning a Chinese wage.
The learning process is in this way minimized, the output maximized.
This form of collaborations (unthinkable for Europeans) shows surprising results at an unbeatable price.
Picture: Erhu, the Chinese violin, has been continuously produced in this manner.
Workshops / lectures / demonstrations
1) Making a violin, the construction and its craft
2) Expertise, identifying shapes, historical and national diffences of manufacture
3) Acoustic experiments, sound tests
This workshop was presented at the Viva Cello and at the Music Academy in Lucerne.
A workshop for an interactive audience and live demonstrations.
Tests with French and Belgiam bridges.
The soundpost, its function and influence on the sound.
All three workshops / lectures / demonstrations are offered to be presented to interested groups.
The production of bows
Is an art in itself. It needs daily practice to achieve good results.
I am very happy to have on show in my shop contemporary masters of that guild: for example Hans-Karl Schmidt, Rudolf Neudörfer, Klaus Grünke and Mitsuaki Sasano.
I am very proud to do so, since each one of them is a master piece in itself.
The German bow tradition and the knowlege of French bowmakers is perfectly combined in Rudolf Neudörfer, teacher of Sasano.
Hans-Karl Schmidt was able, even during East German regime, to maintain international contacts. He contiues the best of the old German tradition of bow making up to our time. To-day Daniel and Jochen have taken over.
Picture: To-day Mitsuaki Sasano has his atelier in Paris. He was pupil of Neudörfer and
Thomachot and is to-day THE winner of competitions.
Violin maker graduate of Cremona
Worked on a monthly basis at different times
To-day she has her own workshop in Palermo together with her husband
-Fedder Catarina (Germany)
1988-1989 Journeyman (graduate Wales)
To-day she is working in Zurich
-Knöpfel Urs (Bern)
1983 – 86, trained as a carpeter
Specialises to-day in the restoration of antique furniture
-Philippe Pasquier (Lucerne)
1989-95, apprenticeship , worked after for years as an assistant
Professional cello studies with Thomas Demenga
He now has a workshop in Zug
Lincoln Center - A surprising premiere
A New York story
Working as a journeyman for the biggest workshop in New York I was continually making instruments in my one-room appartment, working at night, inspired by the instruments seen while restoring at Jacques Français.
When I finished my cello I brought it to my workshop boss René Morel. He was pleased to see a cello with an unusual willow back (rarely used even in Cremona in the 18th century).
This material and the model reminded him immediately of the Guarneri cello of David Soyer (cellist of the Guarneri quartet), and he suggested having him play my newest creation.
Encouraged by his recommendation I called D.S. who showed great interest and invited me to show the cello that very night and was pleased to find a cello resembling his own, made 300 years later. He asked me to play it for him. Seeing the reluctance to play before a master he put me at ease by suggesting that he played it himself.
He gave a thorough examination. Despite my anxiety the instrument survived the test. “It needs more resistance on the A string and is buzzing on the C string”, was his professional comment. Somewhat disappointed and ready to pack my cello, he added: “Oh no, may I play it at the Lincoln Center next Sunday?”
What a surprise; the cello was really a success. The following Sunday in concert the Guarneri ensemble and friends and my cello had a great performance.
A perfect surprise for my parents who happened to be in New York.
The cello is still in New York played by a professional musician.
A contribution to the 25th jubilee of the workshop Otto Karl Schenk
A short time ago my sometime teacher OKS asked me to contribute something to this brochure. The special relationship between the master and the apprentice led me to reflect on the tradition of our craft. To-day schools are the common way to learn the craft. The institutionality made it more democratic. This way more interested people have the occasion to get a basic training.
I am convinced that there is only one way to transmit artistry and tradition.
The battle of materials, technics and shapes puts great demands on a master – apprentice relationship.
To-day’s violin making tradition is based on the French school of the late 19th century.
Master Schenk worked for Français and Morel as a journeyman and is very familiar with these techniques.
Artristry cannot be learned, but a school can transmit the basic knowledge to survive in this profession.
Small workshops resulted from the disappearance of large shops. They rarely take on apprentices and the decline of the apprenticeship is a consequence. The do-it-yourself culture blossoms.
For me personally it was a unique chance to find a position in the workshop of OKS. These years were of great importance for my future. Coming from a school, I now had to learn the reality of cost-efficiency.
My years at Schenk’s were very intense. I learned to balance between my own artistic ideas and a resonable time investment.
All learning motivate ones own ideas. Therefore it is desirable to learn from different masters.
The violin makers of to-day are often intimidated by the works of the golden period.
Confidence in our art became more and more questioned. I am personally convinced that it is still possible to create a violin to-day as a work of art.
It would be desirable that studies of artistry in general would be part of the education of a violin maker.
Igor Moroder, Verona October 2004.
Lady luck was certainly on my side when I found Rosmarie Begert. She makes up for my every deficiency: is a good administrator, discreet and very competent. Her way of dealing with customers, suppliers and colleagues has made her a highly esteemed part of my business.
A big thank you
Having been graduated as a violin maker I had the opportunity to work and to get practical experience in different workshops in Europe and the United States. Most of those workshops are either specialised in making new instruments or in restoration and repair. There are only a few possibilities to acquire practical experience.
Otto Karl Schenk not only deepened my knowledge of restoring and repairing but he also tried to teach me how to recognise different violin making schools and styles. He showed great confidence in me and taught me the work behind the counter.
Skiing together, swimming in the river Aare, sailing and educational trips helped us to become friends.
The 2 ½ years of my employment were very interesting and instructive.
The benefit of Otto’s knowledge and information helped me to get a good result in my Master’s examination.
A multitalented ambassador between America and Japan
Profession: translater; part time cellist, violist and violinist
She was the ideal tour guide for Yo Yo Ma and other musicians touring Japan.
The cello that I bought from Otto Karl Schenk has brought great joy and pleasure through the years. Its voice has lent beauty to chamber music, orchestral music and solo works. In fact, the sound is so entrancing that I went back and bought a violin and viola from Otto, so that I have a matched trio. The cello has travelled from Switzerland to Japan, where it stayed for ten years, and then to the high mountains of Colorado, where it continues to bring pleasure to its owner and all who hear it.
To my parents Theo and Trudy Schenk-v. Grünigen who allowed to realize my boyhood dream.
Despite wondering if I might succeed, I could always count on their moral and financial support.
A violin made in the laundry
When I returned from America I prepared for my Master’s exam. While searching for the ideal business location I started working in the laundry at my parents home. Eiko Furusawa was studying with Professor Max Rostal at the time and witnessed the birth of “the masterpiece”.
A long time friendship began.
Eiko concert master at the Tonhalle Zurich, here on a visit in my house 1998.