Mittenwald Original

Stefan Krattenmacher examines an 18th-century bass by Mittenwald maker Matthias Klotz

Only a few facts are known about the life of German instrument maker Mathias Klotz 1653-1743) and the more details that are uncovered, the more confusing his life story becomes.Born in 1653 in Mittenwald, Germany, it seems that he started his apprenticeship at the age of 10, in the upper Lechgau, a region close to Mittenwald. At 19, he began to work with Pietro Railich in Padua, and stayed with him for six years. Klotz's early work concentrated on instruments of the Gamba family, Viola d'amore and other plucked instruments, as they were also Railich's speciality. Eventually, Klotz also began to make violins.  

It is unclear where Klotz worked in his late twenties, but in c.1693 he returned to his hometown, determined to transform Mittenwald into an influential centre for violin making. His idea was welcomed by local woodcarvers whose businesses had suffered when the lucrative fairs from the trading route to Italy had relocated to the Tyrolian town of Botzen.

The craftsmen were eager to learn from Klotz, and they used the pine wood that grew locally. With its delicate yet strong and highly resonant fibre, it was a highly suitable material with which to build cheap fiddles for the churches and castles throughout the Tyrol. Mittenwald soon returned to its former prosperity rivaled other cities with of similar businesses, while Klotz was labelled the founder of the Mittenwald violin making tradition.
There are only five instruments that can be attributed to Klotz, so this small double bass is of considerable historical importance. Its label reads: 'Mathias Khloz Lautenmacher in Mittenwald Anno 1715'.
Mathias Klotz uses a very well balanced model, typical for the viol school of upper Bavaria. The upper bouts of the bass start with a slope before curving round, and they arrive at the upper with an attractive curve. The middle bout is designed with the same elegance, adding a roundness to the instrument's outline. Keeping this balance, the lower ribs are also energetic in shape.
Living at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, Klotz was able to use the high quality timber that grew locally. The Table of this bass is made of very fine-grained spruce, and the back and the ribs of fine-grained, lightly-figured maple, cut on a half-slab.
Since this fined-grained spruce was no rarity in Mittenwald at that time, Klotz also used it for the soundboard, blocks and linings.
The table arching rises very slowly from the top-block to a very wide platform, making plenty of space for the bridge to sit on. It then falls gradually with a last steep drop towards the sattle. The f-holes are set wide apart and placed with an angle that suits the arching design. Both upper and lower balls are cut on a circle design: the wings are typically round and the nicks quite small for the size of the instrument.

The purfling, which sits rather close to the edge, is made with precision and taste. It features a comparatively wide white wood strip framed by two thinner black strips.

Despite its age of nearly 300 years, the two-piece back displays superb craftsmanship.. The bottom has been visibly replaced in a past repair. The pined procession hole at the back means that this bass was probably used as a church instrument. There is not very much original varnish left, but what remains is of the highest quality. The imposing, red pigments lay on a soft, dark, golden-brown ground. In places one can see a slight craquelure.

The interior craftsmanship reveals the German master's hand at his best: the very clean work is admirable. The bottom-block is small and very round, the brake at the back is secured with linen and looks original.

The size of this bassis closer tothat of a cello. Its present owner , David Sinclair, bought it in the Mittenwald area, where it seems always to have remained, and set it up as a "violone in G" tuned one fifth below the bass viol. However, since the bass no longer has its original neck, it is not possible to know how it was originally strung and tuned. It might have been a five or six stringer, or even a four stringer tuned one whole step (tone) below the cello (basse de violon). Hopefully, some future comparative study of this type of instrument will allow its original set-up and range to be determined.

Measurements:
Table length: 83.2 cm
String length: 80.6 cm
Table stop: 43.3 cm
Distance between f-holes: 11.2 cm
Rib height: 14.7 cm
Upper block: 8.0 cm
Body width: 47.85/ 24.6/ 37.75cm
Tuning: G, C, f (e), a, d, g
Repair: Innsbruck XXth Century
Restored in Paris in 1998
Certificate by Zunterer and Roland Baumgartner

Originally published in Double Bassist 23, Winter 2002
reproduced with permission
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