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New video: What Mozart sounds like on his own violin and viola

They are not great instruments – made by a luthier family called Klotz (pronounce that how you like) – but you’ll still get chills up your spine from hearing Mozart played on his own violin and viola. The players are Daniel Stepner and Anne Black and the filming was done by our friend Greg Shea at WGBH Boston. The piece is the Finale of the Duo in G, K. 423.
Leopold Mozart playing violin

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  1. Joelle Morton says:

    I find it a shame to introduce this video by saying that Klotz did not make “great instruments” – since he was a highly respected and sought luthier in his own day, and a great many modern period instrument players are or would be thrilled to have an instrument by him! Historically each region had very fine makers whose instruments had individual attributes that were reflective of the styles and preferences of players and music of that region. To be able to hear Mozart played on his own violin gives us the real personal flavour that is so often lacking in modern interpretations on modern instruments, or on an old instrument from a different region. The Cremonese school of violin making is obviously the one of choice in modern times, and this is reflective of “our” taste. The irony is that in fact a great many of those Cremonese instruments have been “modernized” — read, “improved” so that they give us exactly what we want in a modern setting! But again, a crying shame to imply that these Klotz instruments were in some way substandard or inferior – that’s not an opinion Mozart would have held, and the editorial “blinkers” are a disservice to a modern audience, too.

  2. thanks, Norman…wonderful to hear…. and as close as we’ll ever get to the horse’s mouth.!…and in such loving hands. Bravi.

  3. Too bad they don’t play very in tune.

  4. Timon Wapenaar says:

    Minus points for shoulder rests and post-transitional bows. However… I’d take a Klotz over a Klutz any day. *Unsponsored product endorsement*

    • Curious thing about the chin rests. I don’t know much about Anne Black, but Daniel Stepner has been an admired period violinist in the States for decades, and he has played Baroque violin without chin rests countless times.

      • Timon Wapenaar says:

        As he does here. Should have written “shoulder rest” (singular). That’ll learn me to drink and post…

  5. Michael Klotz says:

    No relation here to the maker, but have seen some really fine violins and violas by Klotz. Almost bought a violin once. Klotz plays a Klotz! Maybe some day…

  6. I thought the bows looked transitional. Granted, the intonation was not spot-on. But it was certainly an inspired performance. As to the shoulder rest, well, you could take points off for not being in period dress, too. Just how much authenticity should be striven for?

  7. Vanessa says:

    Stepner did NOT say they weren’t great instruments, he said that they aren’t “the great Strads,” which in itself is a ridiculous thing to say and a strange comparison to try to make. Everyone already feels like Strads are the best, it’s not like one needs to clarify and in the process bring down how people view another luthier’s instruments.

    I’m also curious as to why they didn’t hire people that actually specialize in Historical Performance, since it seems like that is what these people were going for but didn’t quite reach very well. What a shame.

  8. It appears to me that both players are using period-appropriate bows. Stepner’s looks like a pre-Tourte, late-transition model (after Dodd?) while the violist’s bow looks like a true Tourte design (which would have been very avant-garde at the time of Mozart’s death). This, in fact, would have been precisely the time of overlap for these bow types. It’s even possible that Mozart would have used a late-Baroque bow, which may have been the type initially he was taught by his father. I agree that the violist’s use of a shoulder rest is anachronistic by several decades, something that Stepner admits in the interview (though he doesn’t use one).

    Klotz violins today (and probably in Mozart’s day) get auction prices second only to original Stainer violins for those seeking a high-arch German-Austrian historical violin. These instruments were preferred to instruments of the flatter-arched Italians right through the beginning of the 19th Century. Mozart chose well. It is tantalizing to realize it is these instruments that were used in the earliest performances of the Mozart violin concerti and possibly the exquisite Sinfonia concertante, not to mention those “evenings with the boys” where Wolfgang Amadeus would play ink-still-wet performances of string quartets with his buddies, including Haydn.

    As for authenticity, the video shows the hall that they are performing in is paneled with quadratic residue diffusors, which were invented in the 1970s using mathematics that was only just being developed in Mozart’s day and about which he probably had no inkling. Ditto for the Fourier transform central to the encoding used for the audio and video signals themselves. A fully “authentic” experience would not only be live but would also require the audience being there in person.

    • Jan White says:

      I agree with Alex. The intonation was a negative factor. The violist didn’t have her strings in tune with each other, from the outset. And the violinist’s A string was flat and caused him to sound out of tune with the violist. Every time the open A string was played, it caused me to cringe. Also, the violinist seemed to become softer in his sound whenever he encountered difficult passages. His shifting, particularly on the E string, was noticeably weak. His vibrato, however, had a sweet sound that is representative of a Mozart performance. The violist was at times, overbearing in her dominant passages which caused an imbalance in sound whenever the violinist responded. Also, her vibrato was quite dull causing her performance to be rather dry in several places.

      It was interesting to listen to Mozart being performed on his own instruments.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      The anachronism imposed by quadratic residue diffusors can, I am told, be somewhat compensated for by means of knee breeches and a powdered wig. I stand corrected (in buckled pumps) on bow patterns.

  9. Gregory See says:

    Oh my!! Retired violinist here, who spent his professional years playing a Klotz…a sweet instrument with a warm sound, wonderful in chamber music. Not in vogue now…now it is all about power and projection.

    Who knew the instrument was in such company!!

    • Rich Sherman says:

      Seeing this video was a real treat, with the understanding that you can get some funky intonational issues with bare gut strings. I’ve admired Stepner’s playing for many years.

      Klotz violins of the 1700s are *very* nice violins. They have a very Amatise tuning of the top and back that lets them produce that rich, sweet sound that carries well. Part of the joy of seeing this video is that mine is a near-twin to Mozart’s.

      • Rich said, ” Part of the joy of seeing this video is that mine is a near-twin to Mozart’s.”

        With all due respect, part of the joy of being Mozart is that he could have made just about any instrument sound fantastic. :-0

        • Rich Sherman says:

          No question about that. He would have had fantastic sound and tasteful playing to boot.

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