SAVER, Summer 1971
A Craft becomes an art by Mary Garrahan
For more than half a century, the bulk of Chicago's musical instrument business has centered in a two-square-block area behind Orchestra Hall.
Today, although there are many fine companies in every part of the city, the majority are still located along Wabash Avenue between Adams and Van Buren Streets.
To their workshops come the great virtuosos, the gifted amateurs or beginning students. With expert eye and hand, skilled craftsmen apply old world training to the exacting job of caring for all orchestra and band instruments. However, it is the strings that represent the most artistic endeavor—one where a man works with his hands, on wood, a natural material, often with tools he has made himself.
We visited a number of violin craftsmen, and found individual differences but certain things in common patience, a concern with detail and quality, and the conviction that a superb violin is the ultimate work of art. As a group, most of them were foreign-born, and trained as apprentices under the European guild system. In one instance, the tradition was passed on from father to son.
In each shop we admired glossy members of the violin family, many, of great value. Dozens of violins hang on brackets, and cellos and bass viols lean against the walls. Often a musical firm will shelter its most precious instruments in a fireproof, humidity-controlled vault. This inner sanctum may contain Stradivaris, Guarneris, Amatis, Bergonzis or Guadagninis (the most treasured names in the fiddler's world) awaiting restoration or repair, and ultimately purchasers.
Amazing as it seems, the men who restore and repair violins today may handle a product worth as much as $4,000 an ounce. A well-preserved Stradivarius, which weighs about 14 ounces, may be valued at $50,000, in some cases even more.
The expert craftsmen who work on the instruments often are the best appraisers of the origin of an instrument. Zenon Petesh, who tends to the valuable stringed instruments that pass through Kenneth Warren & Son Ltd. at 28 East Jackson, explained that there are literally hundreds of details that tell the identity of the maker—the wood, the varnish, the way ornamental details are put on, the curvature of the instrument. "The scroll is almost like a man's signature," he pointed out. “It helps to have a good memory. You have to be able to look at the violin, see it, turn your head away and recall every small detail.”
Born in the Ukraine, Petesh learned his profession in Warsaw where he operated his own business for a time. In 1944, to escape the advancing Russians, he and his wife left Poland taking only what they could carry. They lived in Austria until 1950 when Petesh came to Chicago to work for a firm at 30 East Adams Street. Later he joined Kenneth Warren.
“Here we have so much restoration and repair work we are too busy to make new instruments. I must make violins at home in my spare time,” he told us.
Kenneth Warren pointed out that many fine new instruments are being made today. "A friend of mine," he said, "has a fine Amati violin, but prefers to play a new instrument he bought from Mr. Petesh. In fact, there's a school of thought that the new violin made by a fine modern master comes close to the old masters. Of course, that must be proved because it takes time for a violin to develop tonally. It's an exciting prospect though that violins made by Mr. Petesh and his colleagues will be eloquent 200 years from now."
Franz Kinberg, another expert repairman and violin maker, has his workshop in the offices of Kagan and Gaines Co. Inc. at 228 South Wabash. Typical of violin shops, Kinberg's surroundings are immaculate. Pieces of 60-year-old, seasoned wood lay waiting to take ' shape as violins. An assortment of chisels, drills, gauges, files, clamps and tiny planes hang in neat array.
Kinberg began his apprenticeship at 17 under a master violin maker in his native Yugoslavia. He completed his work in two years and went to work for a large company in Zagreb, moving on to Vienna after the war in 1945. In 1949, he came to Chicago to work for Kagan and Gaines, a company built up around the violin family although today they are in band and orchestra instruments, too.
“Normally, a violin should be adjusted twice a year,” Kinberg told us.“Wood shrinks in winter which means the soundpost inside the instrument becomes too tight and must be replaced. In summer, as the wood expands, the soundpost may become loose. Edges need re-gluing from time to time, a fingerboard must be replaced or a neck needs to be re-set.”
For the new instruments he makes, Kinberg had been using a Guarnerius model because the size is better suited to today's large concert halls. Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern and Leonid Kogan prefer the Guarnerius, he said. David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein and Yehudi Menuhin favor the Stradivarius. One day, he recalled, Kogan came into the shop. “Before he trusted me to work on his violin, he handed the instrument to me and asked, ‘When was that violin made?’ I examined it and told him the year was 1732. ‘Pretty close,’ he said. Actually, the year was 1731, but I was accurate enough. He left the violin to be repaired.”
Walking north on Wabash we came to the shop of Prager & Ritter Inc. The firm deals in rare old stringed instruments, new violins, and following the trend of the times, handles guitars, both electric and classical. “The guitar is an artist's instrument, too,” Prager pointed out. “After all, Stradivari made guitars. But you have to sell a lot of guitars to make up the sale of a $15,000 violin.”
The other half of the partnership, Wolfgang Ritter, learned his profession at the renowned violin school in Mittenwald, Germany. In the 19th century, the small Bavarian town became a great violin center and has continued to attract students from all over the world. The seasoned wood used in violin making comes from Mittenwald, too. The old wood is more stable and won't shrink or warp. Maple is used for the back, ribs, neck, scroll and bridge; spruce or pine for the top, linings, blocks, bass bar and soundpost. Usually, the fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece and chinrest are made of ebony.
Although Ritter speaks glowingly of the; Mittenwald school, he believes it is more important that the violin maker have a natural sensitivity to working with wood. “If you find precisely the right counterparts of hard and soft woods, the instrument will produce a fine sound.”
On a lighter note, Ritter recalled an amusing story for us. One day, the concert master of the Grant Park Symphony brought in a violin which required a $600 restoration because he had sat on it. Laughing, Ritter said, “He was lucky Frank Miller hadn't sat on it,” Miller being the Chicago Symphony's portly first cellist.
對這些樂器開展工作的專業工匠通常最擅長鑒別樂器出身。Zenon Petesh負責修理進出Kenneth Warren & Sons公司的絃樂器。他解釋說，樂器上差不多有上百個細節可以說明其製作者的身份——木材、光漆、裝飾物安裝方式、樂器的曲度等。“渦卷形頭幾乎和人的簽名一樣，”他指出,“它有助於給人們留下美好印象。你必須能夠觀察小提琴、體會它，把頭移開，然後能夠回憶出每個很小的細節。”
Petesh出生在烏克蘭，他在華沙學習了他的職業，他在華沙經營了一段自己的生意。1944年，爲了躲避入侵的俄羅斯人，他和妻子只帶能夠拿的東西離開波蘭。隨後直到1950年,他們一直在奧地利居住。1950年，Petesh去芝加哥爲一家位於30 East Adams Street的公司工作，後來加入Kenneth Warren。
另一位專業的小提琴修理者和製作者Franz Kinberg在Kagan and Gaines公司的辦公地點擁有工作室。該公司位於228 South Wabash。Kinberg的工作室是典型的工作室，環境非常乾淨。這裏擺放著許多塊壽命達60年的木材，它們將被加工成小提琴。工作室整齊地懸挂著各種鑿子、鑽、量具、銼刀、夾鉗和小鉋子。
Kinberg在17歲的時候開始在其出生國南斯拉夫跟隨一位出色的小提琴製作者做學徒。他在兩年內完成了學徒期，然後進入一家位於Zagreb的大公司工作。1945年，戰後他搬到維也納，1949年他來到芝加哥爲Kagan and Gaines工作。該公司由小提琴家族設立，今天該家族還涉足樂隊和交響樂樂器。
Kinberg曾使用Guarnerius模型來製作新樂器，因爲Guarnerius模型的尺寸更適合今天的大型音樂會大廳。Kinberg說Jascha Heifetz、Isaac Stern和Leonid Kogan更喜歡Guarnerius提琴。而David Oistrakh、Nathan Milstein和Yehudi Menuhin喜歡Stradivarius提琴。
Leaving the heart of the music district we drove mid-north to the home and workshop of the Carl Beckers, Sr. and Jr. When we arrived, Carl, Jr., had just finished work on a Stradivarius cello. He told us it was commissioned in 1732 by Frederik William I of Prussia, and that Beethoven wrote two cello sonatas that were first played on it in the Berlin court. It was breathtaking to see such a famous instrument up close.
The American-born Beckers have worked for the finest virtuosos in the world—Milstein, Stern, Piatigorsky. “Dad started in 1901 at 14 years old, and he's still doing remarkable work,” Becker said. “He learned his craft from John Hornsteiner who was recognized as one of the best violin experts in the country. The Hornsteiner family came from Mittenwald, and enjoyed an international reputation.
“In the’30’s Dad was head of the workshop and appraiser for William Lewis & Son, the biggest violin company in Chicago. When he went to work for Lewis it was with the understanding that he could take three months off in the summer to make violins. We still follow the same schedule. We do our repair work nine months of the year. And in the summer we go to our northern Wisconsin home where we make our new instruments. We feel strongly that they should look new, not like simulated antiques. It takes us 85 to 100 hours to make a violin; 180 to 220 to make a cello.
“I started in the repair business at Lewis's in 1937, and two years later (when I was 19) Dad gave me a fine Amati violin to restore. That was really a milestone in my career to work on an instrument worth several thousand dollars.
“When Lewis moved to Lincolnwood we decided to go into business for ourselves, doing our restorations and repairs here in our own shop. Fine restoration depends to a great extent on knowing how to work with the varnish. We've developed a soft orange-red varnish resembling that used on the old instruments. The job is similar to restoring a fine old painting. You only remove the varnish that you have to to restore the instrument.”
Recently, Becker said he worked on one of the best Stradivarius violins he's ever seen. Due to the owner's health, Becker flew to California to deliver the instrument in person. "The owner, an amateur violinist, has one of the world's finest collections of instruments and bows. We felt honored that he brought the instrument to us," he said.
Continuing our tour of violin shops, we drove north to Lincolnwood, home of William Lewis & Son, a division of Chicago Musical Instrument Co. Lewis is one of the nation's largest distributors of stringed instruments; the parent company, CMI, also sells reeds, trumpets, guitars, accordions and organs.
Henri Vallon reigns as chief violin craftsman in the Lewis organization. “Each instrument that comes to our shop is taken through a step-by-step program involving the bridge, sound-post, pegs, fingerboard, tailpiece, strings, chinrest and bow,” he explained.
Born in France, Vallon learned the violin maker's art in Paris. On the day we talked with him, he was celebrating his 20th anniversary with Lewis. Since the company deals in rare old instruments as well as quantities of new ones, Vallon must be able to appraise an instrument's origin and see to its reconditioning.
Vallon told us that, contrary to popular belief, the chances of finding a valuable Stradivarius or Guarnerius in an attic or antique shop are slim. For one thing, the ownership of famous instruments is known to all the important dealers. Any expert worth his title can, at least in theory, examine an instrument and know immediately what he holds in his hand. To the connoisseur, each violin has an individual face. “Many people,” he said, “have been misled by a Stradivarius label that was probably attached just to say 'in the style of Stradivarius.' There have been many, though, that have been fraudulently labeled.”
在Wabash街道向北走，我們來到Prager & Ritter Inc.的店面。該公司生産稀有的老絃樂器、新小提琴，而且爲了順應時代的潮流，還經營電吉他和古典吉他。Prager 指出：“吉他也是藝術家的樂器。畢竟Stradivarius也生産吉他。但是你必須賣出許多吉他才能實現一把價值15000美元的小提琴所實現的銷售額。”
Ritter用輕鬆一些的口氣爲我們講述了一個有趣的故事。一天Grant Park交響樂團的音樂會首席帶著一把小提琴來到店裏，他把這把琴給坐壞了，這把修復提琴需要600美元。Ritter笑著說：“幸運的是Frank Miller沒有坐到琴上。”Miller是芝加哥交響樂隊的首席大提琴師，他體形肥胖。
離開音樂區的中心，我們駕車向中北部前進來到Carl Beckers, Sr. and Jr.的工作室。當我們到達時，Carl Jr.剛剛完成了修復一把Stradivarius大提琴的工作。他告訴我們普魯士的Frederik William I在1732年委託別人生産了這把提琴，貝多芬寫了兩首大提琴奏鳴曲，這兩首曲子由這把大提琴在柏林宮廷首次演奏。如此近距離地觀察如此著名的小提琴真是令人窒息。
美國出生的Becker家族爲世界上最出色的音樂演奏大師服務過，包括Milstein、Stern、Piatigorsky。“父親在1901年14歲的時候開始工作，他仍然在進行出色的工作。”Becker說，“他從John Hornsteiner學習到手藝。John Hornsteiner被認爲是美國最好的小提琴專家。Hornsteiner家族來自密騰瓦爾德，在國際上享有盛譽。
“30年代，父親在芝加哥最大的小提琴公司William Lewis & Son擔任工作室主管和鑒定人。當他進入Lewis工作時，約定每年可以在夏季離開三個月去製作小提琴。我們仍然沿用這一安排。在一年中我們用9個月時間進行樂器修理工作。在夏天的時候，我們去位於威斯康星州北部的家工作和生活。在那裏我們製作新樂器。我們深刻體會到這些新樂器的外觀應該是嶄新的，而不應像仿造的古董。製作一把小提琴需要85-100個小時，製作一把大提琴需要220個小時。
我們繼續小提琴店之旅，車向北到達William Lewis & Son所在地Lincolnwood， William Lewis & Son是芝加哥音樂樂器公司（Chicago Musical Instrument Co.）的一個部門。Lewis是美國最大的絃樂器經銷商之一。其母公司CMI還銷售管樂器、小號、吉他、手風琴和管風琴。
Vallon has discovered, too, that the daily demands of repairing and restoring leave little time for violin making. Like his colleagues, he must devote weekends in his home workshop to this aspect of the art.
Chicago’s master violin makers not only are helping to preserve the legacy of the great Italian school of Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri, they are creating one of their own.
照片：現年84歲的Carl Becker, Sir.一生都從事絃樂器修理和製作工作。他對自己的手仍然穩健感到自豪。