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Modern Violoncello da Spalla from 1900 Markneukirchen

The pomposa by E. R. Schmidt.

Following several sources, it is generally acknowledged that the five strings piccolo cellos by Hoffmann that we have today are the “viola pomposa” as used by Bach and Pisendel. Many notes should be added to this sentence, but just as a starting point for today’s newsletter, let’s keep it like that.

The trouble with the Hoffmann’s is that they were modified over the years, and we don’t know exactly how much. Those that still have original necks were lost during WWII, and only one pic survives.

So one cannot simply make a copy of the Hoffmann, because several considerations are involved, and not only about the necks but also about the thicknesses. The instrument in Leipzig, for example, which is considered in better condition than the Brussels one, it’s badly deformed as the thicknesses are as thin as 1.2 mm. One for sure shouldn’t want to do the same! So, a “copy” of the Hoffmann would probably only mean copying the outline. Which is not a particularly interesting thing in itself and even, one must admit, not beautiful for the standards of today. This is why the Violoncello da Spalla of today, as proposed by D. Badiarov, is based on the Hoffmann but redesigned to be more appealing.

If one wanted to remake it from scratch, studying the sources, studying surviving instruments, and redesigning a Violoncello da Spalla to have something suitable for today’s market, he would probably come to something very close to that.

When we suddenly found ourselves face to face with this same attempt but made in 1900, the surprise was quickly replaced by pure fun, like when you meet a colleague that did your same research and arrived at the same conclusions: “Oh, and you also found that” - “ and then you did this” - “ and turned for this way”!

In Markneukirchen’s Musical Instruments Museum, there’s a viola pomposa made by Ernst Reinhold Schmidt in 1900 which looks so close to today’s Violoncello da Spalla that it was pure fun to study it.

Daniela and Alessandro with the E. R. Schmidt viola pomposa in Markneukirchen Musical Instruments Museum.

E. R. Schmidt (Markneukirchen 1857/1926), was a luthier, son of a brass instruments maker. He worked in four different luthier’s workshops in Leipzig and Berlin before going back to Markneukirchen and founding his own company, trading bowed and plucked instruments and strings. He also had a branch in Cleveland, Ohio. With the trademark “Schmidt’s Standard”, his instruments became internationally appreciated and prize winners. Recently, chatting with luthier Don Rickert, he told me that his first fiddle was a Reinhold Schmidt!

In 1900 they already had custom strings for Violoncello da Spalla, and they work! They are all steel, pretty much like piano strings.
The label has the hand-written signature E. Reinhold Schmidt, and there is another label Schmidt’s Standard - Banjo: “Standard”. So all that has five strings is a banjo? 😅

In the firm’s catalogue, no viola pomposa was offered, so that this particular instrument could be something like a prototype for a show. It entered the museum in 1920 when the company passed to his son. However, as it seems it was made by E. R. Himself (and not the factory) and as it has been used, could it be that it has been the own instrument of E. R.?

Wear signs on E. R. Schmidt’s pomposa
As a curiosity we show here the viola page of the 1905 E. R. Schmidt catalogue. Look at the konzert viola! Small shoulders and no upper corners for the maximum confort of a virtuoso!

News from da Spalla world

A few places still left for this summer Sergey Malov’s masterclass! Violoncello da Spalla players welcome! Don’t miss this unique opportunity!

Updates from our workshop

Alessandro’s new Violoncello da Spalla already played his first notes, that you can hear in the title video, and is now on varnishing. Daniela’s one will be settled in white tomorrow! ..want a chance to try them? Get in touch, they won’t be with us forever, so be fast, or better: do it now!

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Featured video of the week

Did I already share this? Maybe, but it is so beautiful!

Violoncello da Spalla
Violoncello da Spalla
Daniela Gaidano & A. Visintini