In 2016 the music city of Klingenthal was celebrating the 300th anniversary of the establishment of its violin-makers’ guild. On the 24th of January, 1716 the establishment took place with a constituting meeting. For Klingenthal this was the beginning of a musical instrument making tradition which is lasting till now and is having a decisive part in the worldwide reputation of our music city, attracting numerous guests to cultural events every year.

It was preceded by a relatively short application process which, however, contains a peculiarity which underlines the significance of the violin making as an unusual craftwork: On 17th of December, 1715 the bailiff of Vogtsberg reported to the duke Moritz Wilhelm of Sachsen-Zeitz that four violin makers of Klingenthal namely “Hannss George Ludewig, George Caspar Hopff, Johann George Doerffler and George Friedrich Hopff” asked for the permission for the establishment of own guild in Klingenthal. Besides, a master’s widow should be admitted. Her late husband Johann Michael Hopff had done what he could do for the establishment of the guild. Only four weeks later, on 20th of January, 1716 the ruler confirmed the guild articles and on the 24th of January, 1716 the foundation convention took place.

Generally the establishment of a guild was permitted only for craftsmen settled in towns and having civil rights. At that time, however, Klingenthal did not have rights and privileges of a town and thus duke Moritz Wilhelm of Sachsen-Zeitz gave the right of the foundation of the guild as it were to the inhabitants of a village!

However, the violin makers did not see themselves as craftsmen, but historical sources speak mostly about the “art” of the violin making. Also the guild articles reflected this pride: A master violin – till this day an exclusive instrument, should – from the cutting of wood up to the violin making and finally the varnishing – come from one and the same crafts shop “totally from one hand”. The sale of so-called “white products”, i.e. of unvarnished raw violins were considered unacceptable and expressly defined as a punishable offence according to article 11.

Article 8 already forbade peddling – the violin masters were to sell exclusively to serious violin dealers. The knowledge about the art of the violin making came to Klingenthal mainly by Protestant exiles which left their native country of Bohemia in the result of the Thirty Years’ War and the re-Catholization, and they settled in Saxony. For the Klingenthal violin making the family name of Hopf (also: Hopff) became also an instrument type with the same name type and is in demand till today; its design has been adapted by many violin makers.

However, also other violin masters and dynasties contributed to the good reputation of the instruments from Klingenthal: Doerffel, Schlosser, Uebel, Goram or also Meisel made instruments of excellent quality. The careful choice of the wood has also contributed to it: Spruce wood for the top plate and maple wood for the back plate were cut around Klingenthal. So-called tone wood and exact processing of this raw material were the bases of high-quality instruments famous throughout the world.

At the middle of the 19th century there was the beginning of the production of mouth organs, and a little later, of accordions. As a supplier in home work or factory worker it required neither a four-years apprenticeship nor an expensive premium – the violin makers were running out of new blood, even from their own ranks. On 9th of January, 1887, finally, the violin makers’ guild of Klingenthal was disbanded.

(text by: Xenia Brunner, head of the Klingenthal Musik- & Wintersportmuseum)