A Wm. Moennig & Son Memory – Lynn Harrell

Hearing of the death of the great Cellist Lynn Harrell last week reminded of me of a vivid memory from the Moennig days….somewhere near the age of 90…the legendary Cellist and teacher at Curtis ( and teacher of Harrell) decided to finally part with his lifelong companion … the great “Sleeping Beauty” cello by Domenico Montagnana made in Venice 1739. It was a special treat to live with / work on a Cello of that stature ….and eventually when it was ready to show …Mr Cole ( I could never seem to call hm Landy) came in with Lynn Harrell to play it…Harrell was a great, big Linebacker of a man …..and I’ll never forget being 6 feet away from a big, broad World-Class Cellist…. playing a big, broad World-Class Cello …and hearing more sound ( and great sound!) coming from a Cello that I had had my hands on… I remember being forcibly struck…. and my sense of whats possible was enlarged… that is probably the best way any one can be influenced by someone…

Beautiful 15 1/8″ Viola by Ernst Heinrich Roth 1922

Ernst Heinrich Roth inherited a violin making business in Markneukirchen, Germany  ( where the Moennig family emigrated from in late 1800’s)…. and he turned it into the premier larger shop in Germany between the wars….. and his instruments were in demand all over Europe ..and eventually the world. One of his most famous instruments is a beautiful Bass made in the 1920’s that was the partner of Jazz great- Charlie Mingus all his playing life.

Like all big shops, instruments were made in many different levels to suit many different levels of players. The craftsmanship, wood selection, varnish etc …are  the ways that this is evident.The Viola pictured here is a small gem…at 15 1/8″. It bears the original label dated 1922 ..and it has the original oval brand at the center of the back – The Viola wa made in the finest era of the Roth shop ..1920’s to mid 1930’s. Sadly with the coming to power of the Reich and the catastrophic World War that followed ..the Roth instruments – and German instruments in general never reclaimed this level of craft and beauty.

I have worked on this instrument thoroughly inside and out to give it all the power and depth that a Viola, this comfortable to play, can have….and I’m proud to offer it for sale.

Major violin repair

It seems amazing to me how often Violins suffer a fall…but then I sit very still with them..I don’t play/teach/travel/move around constantly with them with many other people around me….like players do. This one fell from shoulder height and suffered a dramatic injury. The top was essentially in two pieces from a crack that runs right through the soundpost area.  This is the interior repair with the crack glued and studded to stabilize the crack long term. The patch area has been carefully carved out and the patch is being fit …with chalk as a transfer to make sure that there is total contact before gluing in….otherwise the top will be distorted. In the process of removing the top to repair the damage … I thought that the Bass Bar was not up to the crucial role it plays – and that the Violin sound would be dramatically improved by a better one … so in this photo the new Bar is fit and glued … but not shaped yet. As they say …”never let a good catastrophe go to waste”. I’ll update this post with the exterior varnish restoration when it gets to that point.

Here is the next step.. gluing in the patch…supported by a cast of the top…with the Bass Bar shaped.

Finally, the patch is worked down flush with the topography of the arching…but interestingly the grains are oriented on the diagonal to add a slight “plywood” strength….so that the pressure of the soundpost is not being borne solely by the soft summer grains …but there is some added strength by the winter grains coming across the crack at an angle.

Cello soundpost crack

This nice older German Cello developed a long soundpost crack…. happening during the 15 minutes it spent in its case during the walk through (cold!) Pittsburgh on its way to the Grad School Cello studio. The top of the  Cello is in rather poor condition… and it bears this handwritten inscription. showing who repaired it and when. Judging that the cracks on the top were rather clumsily repaired…and the date..I wonder if this Cello wasn’t brought back from Germany from the Second World War… and into the hands of someone completely unknown ..who really wasn’t unto the job. Its interesting to wonder abut the history of instruments based on the clues and evidence that can be seen…So the old Post repair was just a slab of spruce glued down across the grains. not the carved, insert patch that is the way to do it. I removed the old patch …glued and studded the new crack….and fit a proper post patch. A few take aways come to ind ..always have insurance on a Cello…and maybe one more reason not to live in Pittsburgh!…

Fine Cello by Joseph Bassot Paris 1790’s

I’m proud to offer for sale this beautiful Old French Cello by Joseph Bassot. I’ve known the Cello and the Cellist for many years …first at Wm Moennig & Son( where we sold it to him) and in the years since then.   I,ve had the pleasure to work throughly on the Cello both inside and out, over the years.    Its branded on both sides of the Pegbox and in the center of the back. Basset was born in the Provencial violin making town of Mirecourt and worked there until the 1770’s when he moved to Paris….became inspired by what he saw in Paris.. and began to produce the work which we justly esteem him today. The Cello does strike a beautiful balance between the charm of Mirecourt with the more sophisticated sensibilities  and details of the the Parisan world.On top of that….one can only imagine that Paris in that time of Revolution must have been a tumultuous  climate to work at all..

Beautiful Juzek Master Arts Viola

Beautiful 16″ Viola from 1938 by John Juzek . This fine instrument, built on the Strad model, bears the Master Arts label and show all the characteristics of that high level. It has the stunning wood, painstaking workmanship, bony crown on the button, subtly grafted neck…etc that sets it clearly apart from the typical, plentiful instruments that bear a Juzek label. When I  acquired it , it appeared that the Viola had lain dormant for a long time . The neck was unglued, and needed resetting…and I took the top off for some repairs needed – including a new Bass Bar to make this fine instrument be all it could possibly be. I’m now happy to offer it for sale.

Wonderful way to wait out the Virus

Having a large workshop in my house is perfect for this whole uncertain era of the Virus. The work goes on even more intensely… with less distractions from in the outside world. People can and do still come…but obviously the world has changed for now.  So its wonderful to have a shop filled with inspiring projects … both repairs/restoration and bringing along instruments for sale….and even some making is starting.  I love working at home … there is no separation between life and work… the total immersion feels like just the artist life that I set out to lead…though maybe I (or my wife!) didn’t imagine it this crowded!

Cello press out

Pressing out the top of a fine, old English Cello by clamping it into a corrected cast. A cast is made of the sunken/distorted top ….the mold is then scraped to what the arching should be/ had been.Then using a heated sandbag to distribute the pressure…with a little moisture … The clamping pressure will then conform the top to the corrected arching….over a period of many days. Then a breast patch of new wood is fit… then glued in….with a new bass bar fit on top…and the Cello is ready for another generation of string tension strain. its amazing how pliable wood can be….I also get a kick out of using this sandbag…..which I stitched together back in my Moennig days ….and have used countless times since then…….

Varnish Restoration on a fine Carl Becker Cello

Carl Becker is probably the finest American maker of the 20th Century …and his Cellos are among the best of his creations. This fine example dates from the 1930’s and has all the defining characteristics …especially his luminous, transparent reddish-orange varnish.

This cello is owned and played by a wonderful player/teacher in the area who comes from Chicago ….the land of generations of Beckers. The dramatic wear pattern is a testimony to both the close-up physicality of playing the Cello colliding with the delicacy of Becker’s varnish.

It was pleasure to be entrusted with this delicate repair (which consisted of restoration over the entire instrument)… the building up of layers of color and vanish .. doing your best to give the Cello what it deserves. Its a reminder that old instruments are now a collaborative effort; stretching from the maker, through all the hands in the past, to the hands of the present.

Stunning Sebastian Vuilluame violin

This stunning  back is from a violin by Sebastian Vuilluame…. and shows the hand of his protoge and successor Nestor Audinot. Sebastian is the nephew of the great J.B. Vuilluame… and , interestingly, married the daughter of Dominique Peccatte. This is very much in the tradition of French makers and dealers….where the illustrious head of the shop often doesn’t actually make the instrument. Typically there are  number of craftsmen involved with the finest instruments made by the premier artisans…with sometimes ( as in JB Vuilluame’s case) the master varnishing the finer instruments. Nestor Audinot was the premier worker for S Vuilluame, and even eventually took over the shop upon the death of S. Vuilluame.

I am proud to offer this crisp, stylish violin for sale.