Who were the Klotz family of violin makers?
The Klotz family and the history of Mittenwald are closely intertwined. There are at least 25 known violin makers in the Klotz family, many of whom worked at the same time as each other. Many of these makers did not use their own labels: this in conjunction with the sheer enormity of the production has given rise to the term Klotz school, a catch-all phrase that usually indicates that the instrument was made in Mittenwald and is modelled after Stainer.
Getting to know this family is well worth the effort: these are superb playing instruments which remain very affordable in comparison to their Italian or English counterparts.
Matthias Klotz (1653-1743)
The story starts with Matthias Klotz, a tailor’s son born in Mittenwald in 1653. At the time, the town was a prosperous and peaceful place to grow up, situated on several different trade routes and enjoying the right to sell goods to those passing through.
Not much is recorded about Matthias’ early life: the oldest surviving document is a certificate issued in Padua in 1678 which states that he worked as a journeyman in a lute-making workshop for six years. The document notes that he worked ‘faithfully and honourably’ during this time.
The fact that he was recorded as a journeyman at this point means that he had already served his apprenticeship by 1678. It is often believed that this was served in Cremona with Amati but this story is not backed up with historical evidence. Instead, it is likely that the young Klotz served his apprenticeship with a lute maker in Füssen or northern Italy before coming to the workshop of the Bavarian-born Peter Railich, a well-regarded lute maker in Padua.
The next official document finds Matthias back in Mittenwald. This is a deed dated 1686 which hands over a house from father to daughter on the occasion of her marriage to Matthias Klotz. This house likely became the first instrument workshop in Mittenwald. Now married and based in his home town. Klotz first made lutes for sale in the music shops of northern Italy before changing to the production of violins as fashions shifted.
The move home had three significant advantages: firstly, there was no guild system in Mittenwald at the time, meaning that Klotz was able to work without the restrictions very familiar to luthiers elsewhere. Secondly, the town’s situation in the Alps mean that high-quality wood was plentiful without having to buy from traders. Lastly, the town’s excellent trade and transport links made it possible for instruments to be sold to very distant markets.
The Klotz family were later instrumental in the foundation of a guild in the town: the advantages of both wood supply and transport links were instrumental in the success of the future generations of Mittenwald makers.
Matthias Klotz and Jacob Stainer
It is commonly supposed that Klotz studied with the Tyrolean maker Jacob Stainer, as his instruments are loosely based on that model. As mentioned above, however, we do not know where Matthias trained as a violin maker. We do know that his violins and violas are constructed in the Cremonese manner, i.e. the ribs are built on an inside mould and the neck and top block were independent of one another. Stainer was the earliest maker to build in this way north of the Alps, leading to speculation that it was he who taught Matthias Klotz. No such record exists and the significant differences in style make this very unlikely.
Apprentices of Matthias Klotz
Matthias Klotz trained three of his sons from two different marriages: Georg I (1687-1737), Sebastian (1696-1775) and Johann Carl (1709-1769), as well as the well-known maker Andreas Jais (1685-1753). Of these, it was Sebastian whose work was to have the most influence on the next generation of the Mittenwald school.
Matthias Klotz died aged 90, a hugely significant achievement in those days! An 1890 statue of the father of Bavarian violin making still stands in Mittenwald today.
Other members of the Klotz family
Georg I Klotz (1687-1737)
Georg I was the eldest of Matthias’ violin making sons and one of his first two apprentices. His violins often have carved lion heads.
Sebastian Klotz (1696-1775)
Although Matthias Kloz was the founder of the Mittenwald school, his son Sebastian is credited with establishing the town’s status as one of the most important centres of violin making in Europe. An extremely fine maker himself, his leadership of the workshop he took over from his father sowed the seeds of the workshop production system. Workshop production allowed for enormous output without compromising on quality and was eventually to take over from individual makers in Mittenwald.
Many of the Mittenwald makers passed through the large workshop. By 1760 the output was so great that it is not possible to directly attribute them to Sebastian himself but rather the workshop. These instruments are labelled differently.
Sebastian was the father of three sons who went on to become luthiers: Georg II (1723-1797), Aegidius (1733-1805) and Joseph (1743 – after 1811).
Johann Carl Klotz (1709-1769)
The youngest of Matthias’ violin making sons, it is thought that Johann learnt violin making with his half-brother Sebastian. He trained his own two sons, Wolfgang and Michael, in addition Phillip Sailer.
Georg II Klotz (1723-1797)
The eldest of Sebastian’s sons. Both Georg II and his brother Aegidius made significantly more instruments than their youngest brother: whilst Aegudius was a virtuoso workshop manager, the instruments by Georg II are less numerous.
Aegidius Klotz (1733-1805)
Like his father Sebastian, Aegidius was a key figure in the Klotz family’s continued success. An exceptionally fine maker, his efficient use of the workshop system whilst retaining very high standards led to an enormous output of fine violins. This output reinforced Mittenwald’s position as one of the world’s violin making centres for the generations to come. Instruments by Aegidius are thought to represent the peak of the Mittenwald Klotz style.
Joseph Thomas Klotz (1743 – after 1811)
The youngest of Sebastian’s three sons, Joseph was a very talented luthier and is also important due to the fact that his work is easily identifiable as separate in style to the rest of his family. His arching and edgework are particularly distinctive.
How do Klotz violins sound?
Tempting as it is, it’s a pretty risky business to ascribe one set sound to a huge body of work by many different makers over a period of more than a century. Having said that, we are extremely enthusiastic about these 18th century Mittenwald makers: in our opinion they offer an incredibly good alternative to fine Italian instruments of the same era.
Is it Klotz or Kloz?
A note on spelling: for the both the surname and various family members there are German versions, Anglicised versions and sometimes Latin ones too! Old German spelling was generally onomatopoeic: as ‘z’ is pronounced as ‘tz’, both spellings were used and are correct.
It is worth noting that generally speaking, the cheap German and French copies are labelled or stamped Klotz. The exception to this are instruments labelled Carl Kloz/ Mittenwald: this label was used on workshop instruments sold by Beare and Sons of London.
Klotz copies and identifying a Klotz violin
The use of the Klotz family name on workshop violins made in Germany and elsewhere has had a rather negative impact on our perception of the work by genuine family members. It was a very large family (at least 25 members) and so of course there are makers who were less skilled than others, however the work of some of the early members holds its own against good Italian work of the period.
The usual ‘red flags’ that we would apply to a Stradivari label are valid here: if the label is typewritten, we can be sure the violin wasn’t made in the 1700s! Furthermore, those stamped ‘Klotz’ on the upper back are not the real thing. Beware too of those labelled Sebastian Klotz with a date in the 1900s: these are factory-made violins sold by a London firm called Haynes and Co. at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Klotz or Klotz school?
In addition to the mass-produced instruments discussed above, there are the instruments which are referred to as being of the Klotz school. These usually share certain characteristics, most notably quite high arching and an outline that is based on a Stainer model but slightly more generous. The term is used to indicate that the violin was made in Mittenwald: as Klotz was by far the most common surname of the makers in the town, it’s easy to understand why the custom arose! It is a great pleasure to see these anonymous makers begin to be credited as research into this area of making develops: many of these instruments are very fine and both they and the genuine Klotz instruments have suffered as a result of the practice.
Who plays on a Klotz violin?
Mozart, for a start! A violin made circa 1760 by a member of the Klotz family now resides in Salzburg’s Mozarteum. It is said to be the very instrument that Mozart used when writing his five violin concertos.
Are there any Klotz violas and cellos?
Yes, in fact the earliest authenticated instrument by Matthias Klotz is a 1712 viola. There is also a bass viol, made in 1715.
You might like to consider visiting the very beautiful Mittenwald violin making museum! Their website has an excellent virtual tour which gives a good impression of the delights that lie within…