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Jacobus Stainer Violin     |   home
  Jacob Stainer remains an enigma amoung the great violin-makers.For a long time he and the Amatis were rated the greatest masters ; still today he remains close to the Amati-Stadaivari-Guarneri trinity.What we know of Stainer`s life is a bizare blend of truth and legend , myth and reality . Truth and reality are in his violins : their beauty and especially their tone prove that Jacob Stainer was great--truly one of the greatest--and the only non-Italian to be mentioned in the company of the Cremonese . During the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries many musicians were bewwitched by the sweet tone of his instruments :Johann Sebastian Bach left a Stainer violin amoung his prized possessions . In 1774 George Simon-Lohein in Leipzig wrote that "Stainers tone is full and soft like a flute" and that he perfered them to the Amatis for solo playing . Many violinists agree with him . In Paris elleven years latter the Encyclopedie Methodique reads : "The violins of the greatest reputation are those of Jacobus Stainer . . .who finished every violin by his own hands , and made a prodigious number  , as he lived to the advanced age of nearly a hundred years . . .His violins are very rare and much sought after ." In1800 , Count Cozio di Salabue called "Giacomo Steiner of Switzerland "(sic) " the best violin maker of all ."
  Back to reality . Stainer`s violins combine various sounds . The E string and A string have a warm , luscious , flutelike tone . The D string has often the warm timber of an oboe  . The G string reminds of a masterly ; softly played French horn . It was the variety of tonal shades that made Stainer`s instruments so highly valued . He was the first non - Italian who understood the secrets of the Italian violin tone . Mozart , another non-Italian who understood thesecrets of Italia music , loved Stainer`s instruments .
   Stainer1s violins have a very high curvature of the back and especially the top ; one can see through the F holes of a Stainer when it is held horizontally . This arching explains the sweetness of tone and the lack of carrying power ; the wood is thick in the middle but thinner towards the edges . The shape has some of the longish elegance of the brothers Amati and the earlier Nicolo Amati but Stainers characteristic f-holes are differant from any Cremonese Maker . They seem to reflect the differance between the sunny landscape of Cremona and the overcast skies of the Tyrolian mountain village of Absam , where Jakob Stainer was born . The birthdate is not certain ; many biographers believe it was July 14 , 1621 , but professor Walter Senn , whose biography of Stainer is the most thoroughly documented , believes that Stainer was born earlier , about 1617 . Andre Amati , the priciple creator of the violin , had then been dead for almost 40 years ;  Hieronymus was still working in Cremona , and sometimes Antonius would lend him a hand ; Nicolo Amati was learning his trade ; Stradivari was not yet born .
    Some historians claim, that Jakob Stainer spent some time in Cremona , perhaps working with Nicolo Amati . No proof exists . Senn believes Stainer may have been in Venice around 1635 , possibly working with Martin Kaiser ; there is no doubt that in the Tyrol Stainer saw Italian violins , perhaps some made by the Amatis . Absam is a short distance from Innsbruck , where Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Habsburg had his court orchestra . There Italian influence was strong ---the Achdukes wife was Claudia de Medici . Many court musicians came from Italy , bringing along thier Italian instruments . Anyway , no  Brescian influence is apparent in Jaob Stainer`s instruments . He began selling his instruments at an early age , perhaps eighteen . His violins were very popular , and no wonder ,for he was very conscientious even as a youg man , executing all details with care . Like the Amatis he had two models , one small and one large . Stainer1s varnish is justly celebrated ; it is differant from Cremonese varnish but soft and beautiful , applied carfully , and enhancing thebeauty of the wood . Sometimes he used two shades of Varnish on the same instrument , the top yellow , and the back , mostly of two pieces , deep red ; the contrast is striking . Sometimes he used a yellow foundation with several layers of dep red upon it ; since he couldn`t have known how the Cremonese makers mixed thier varnish he must have made his own ,and it presents another unexplained mystery .  How coujd a lonely man in a small Tyrolian village understand the top secret of the Cremonese varnish-----  something that no prominent maker has understood since ? In 1644 , when Stradivari was born , Jacob Stainer was already famous for his sweet sounding violins ,
   Of his life little is known that stands upto citical scrutiny . The people in Absam and the nearby town of Hall worked in the salt mines .  In their spare time many were skilled wood carvers . Perhaps young stainer began working with some of them . But in the 1640`s he got restless ; Senn has traced his travels to Salzburg (1644) , where where proof of his work was found in the archives : Stainer repaired some instruments there . In 1645 he shows up in Munich ; in1648 he is in Venice , Bozen(Bolzano) , and perhaps in Meran (Merano) . After 1649 he seems to have remained in Absam , but an interesting correspondence was found concerning the instruments that Stainer made for Karl Liechtenstein Castelcorno , the princve bishop of Olmutz (Olomouc) in Moravia . Stainer1s scrolls were beautifully carved , somtimes with a lions head instead of the scroll . He was always a great expert on wood , living in a village that was practically surrounded by deep pine forests . For his violins he used the finest resonant pine from his own region .and fine maple from the south Tyrol , just beyond the Brenner pass .
  He sold his instruments to the merchants who came with the "salt caravans" from all over Europe to Hall . he was paid about four florins for his early instruments , a very small sum .  In 1648 ,  Archduke Ferdinand Charlesbecame Stainers official protector , and persumably bought some instruments for his court  orchestra.           ten years latter Jacob Stainer was appointed court violin-maker . But after thr death of the archduke in 1662 the court orchestra was dismissed by Ferdinand1s brother . Archduke Sigismund , and after Sigismund`s death Tyrol became part of the Habsburg Empire . Emperor Leopold 1 was a most musical-minded ruler . He celebrated his marriage in 1666 with Infanta Margareta Teresa of Spain with a two year musical festival , climaxed by the performance of Marc Antonio Cesti`s pomo d`oro , an enormous opera with sixty seven scenes . fifty soloists , a cast of a thousand , and a reputed cost to the Emperorof over 300,ooo guilders .In 1669 Leopold confirmed Stainer`s position as court violin maker , and also named him court musician ; Stainer must have played the violin very well . A maker who plays well on his violin has no trouble selling them , and by that time Stainer got 24 guilders for one instrument .
   Still , he had worries ; as a young man he had married a girl from Absam , Margarete Holzhammer , and they had eight girls and one son . During the years of struggle he had made several instruments for an Austrian merchant , Salomon Huebmer , who claimed that Stainer had for some lived in his house and owed him money "for board , rent , and expenses" . Local historians give various versions of this story , and it cannot be checked . Humbmer seems to have sued Stainer , asking for money and a compound interest . Stainer was also in trouble with the powerful Catholic Church when informers accused him of buying hereetical Lutheran publications in Hall . Austria and the Habsburgs were militantly Catholic , and Jacob Stainer and a friend , Jacob Mehringer , were sent to prison . There was more trouble to come . Huebmer was still after him , and earlier Stainer (who must have been a rather unworldly artist) had guaranteed a debt of four hundred florins that his father-in-law owed to the Fugger salt works in Hall . Stainer did not have the money . and his appeal to the emperor was unsuccessful ; the Emperor could not protect  a suspected "heretic" .
  That was too much for poor Stainer ; he became deranged and "had to be tied up as a madman ." He died in Absam in 1683----the exact day is not known---at the age of sixty-two .This was the year of the Second Turkish Siege , the finest hour in Vienna`s long history and no one paid attention to the death of the great violin-maker in faraway Absam , in Tyrol. Western civilization was saved from the Turks . Stainer was forgotten .His house was sold by Auction in 1684 , the money was distributed among his creditors , and his wife died in poverty five years latter . In 1842 a memorial plaque was fastened to the wall of the church in Absam . stating that Jacob Stainer had died "on the Friday after St. Aegidi , befor sunrise." His house was latter restored and has become a tourist attraction.
   Jacob Stainer made many instruments during his lifetime . He used hand written labels , "Jacobus Stainer in Absam prope Oenipontum Fecit .......and often made spelling mistakes . Genuine Stainer violins are relatively rare today . Many of his instruments had been commissioned by Austrian monasteries , and after Emperor  Joseph 11 dissolved many monasteries these violins were sold by dealers to collectors in England especially .At the end of the eighteenth century collectors valued a Stainer violin at four times the price of a Stradivari.