A Fine Violin by Leopold Widhalm – Nürnberg 1775


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Leopold Widhalm
Lautten und Geigenmacher
Nürnberg, fecit A. 1775

Leopold Widhalm (1722-1776) was an Austrian luthier who settled in Nürnberg in 1775 and who is recognized as one of the best makers in Germany following Jacob Stainer. This violin is distinctive with elegant wide Amati style f holes and graceful lines that are a combination of Amati and Stainer patterns. The modeling is only slightly petite in its appearance but is actually a couple of millimeters longer in its corpus. The violin retains old world charm and is light in weight. The spruce top plate has delicate fine grain and is powerful in its design with a relatively high arching, a characteristic that demonstrates Stainer’s influence. The scroll is over-the-top so nicely carved in an egg shape and shows much natural wear for a violin I feel was greatly loved and played. The entire violin shows off the natural ability of the carving level of this 18th century master. The small plane, chisel, and knife work was great to study for me as I worked on this instrument. The two-piece back features subtle shading and a transparent finish that reveals the violin’s golden/brown oil varnish, which has beautifully worn over its lifetime. This is a fantastic instrument with the craftsmanship and wood choice being standouts.
The violin neck was grafted sometime in the 19th century, long before I acquired the instrument. We meticulously went over the violin here in our workshop and determined the neck graft did not need to be touched, it was well done. We bushed all the peg holes and cut a new set of pegs. We also removed the old worn fingerboard and fitted a new fingerboard, cambered the board, and then cut a new nut. One new corner was added on the lower bout of the top plate on the bass side, and we cut a new bridge and soundpost. In short, gave the instrument a new set up. The treble side rib next to the neck varnish was worn away from years of playing. The rib was slightly twisted and needed to be removed; the lining was repaired and the rib refitted with some added wood, a 2.0 mm strip of maple, because there was an actual gap of material missing before the neck joint. The maple piece being added, artistic varnish work was needed at that spot and to correctly restore the worn, handled area of the rib. The instrument is 250 years old and I wish it could tell us some stories of who owned it over the years. I would have loved to develop a timeline tracing its owner and what was occurring in the various countries it was in, visually contrasting that to our American historical dates and what was occurring during the same dates here in the States. That would be a neat study. The violin is rare and exudes an unmistakable personality that is full of character. It is ready for a demanding player who might play orchestral literature and/or chamber music.

Corpus 358.9 mm., Major Width 203.0 mm., Minor Width 163.0 mm., Rib Height 30.0 mm.

Even though the violin is elegant and looks petite in its lines don’t judge the book by its cover. This violin is extravagantly full of sound and mature meatiness. It is hard to find better words to describe this sound. The bass side is better than gorgeous. I started playing and I felt– this violin has got it. Projection yes, with just enough power, clarity, response, and warmth all wrapped up in one. The depth of the color spectrum along with the overtone is beautiful. The sound is richer than the best cup of dark Italian coffee you ever had. The treble side is just as nice. The E & A strings are sweet, and powerful with the bold clarity of a Scottish accent- distinctive. The violin has a gorgeous palate of sound all wrapped up in forty pieces of wood carved from a master and never randomly thrown together. This violin was not put together by chance but skillfully carved and its pieces placed in a specific system of engineering to create a fantastic sound. What a violin! What a violin!! It is an instrument that has maturity, warmth, and wants to be played.