Monday, May 27, 2013

Füssen Small Delights!

Tucked at the end of Bavaria's Romantic Road and the regional railway, Füssen is a small town of 14,000-odd inhabitants.  I would dare say given the number of tour buses and cars I saw on its main streets that during the height of the tourist season that jumps to over 20,000.  The main attractions is, of course, its closeness to those monuments to the morbidity of the those fun loving Wittelsbachs: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau

As fascinating as those two castles may be - in their own creepy way - Füssen is not without its own quiet charms.  Aside from a really first class hotel - Hotel Sonne - and some excellent restaurants - Galleria Michelangelo, yes we went for Italian after all that schnitzel and spargal - and I swear the last Woolworth's in existence, it also has a charming fountain dedicated to one of its native sons.

Caspar Tieffenbrucker was a member of a celebrated family of lute and violin makers who learned his craft in Füssen.  He emigrated to Lyon and the design of the modern violin is thought to be his.  In his Brief History of the Lute David Van Edwards remarks that in this portrait commissioned in 1562 Tieffenbrucker is surrounded by his instruments but significantly holds not a woodworking tool but a pair of calipers.  Is he implying that geometry was the most important aspect of his craft?
Caspar Tieffenbrucker (Gasparo Duiffopruggar) (b. 1514  Füssen - d. 1570 Lyon) was one of a family of famous lute and violin makers during a period when Füssen was considered the cradle of commercial lute-making in Europe.  The first Lute and Violin Makers Guild was founded there in 1562 and at one point 20 master craftsmen were working in their shops in the small town on the River Lech. Under these masters apprentices learned their craft and moved on to other centres exporting the knowledge and techniques of their Füssen masters.

German sculptor Joseph MIchael Neustifer created this tribute fountain to Caspar Tieffenbrucker in 1990. 
Largely dormant in the 19th-20th centuries lute and violin making had seen a Renaissance in Füssen in the
1980s. The fountain stands in front of Brotmarket 6 - the workshop of violin maker Achim Hofer.
But why Füssen?  A former Roman outpost, in the 1500s it boasted a population of only 2000.  True it was the site of a major Benedictine Monastery and a palace of the Prince Archbishop of Ausburg but little else.  Its secret lay in the available supply of raw material for building instruments and in its strategic position on the transportation network of the time.

Obviously modelled on the engraving by Pierre Woeiriot, Tieffenbrucer stands proudly in a square of his birthplace displaying a product of workmanship and a vital tool  of his trade.

The mountain forests of the North Tyrol and the Ammer Mountains were ready sources of the spruce, maple and yew trees that the masters turned into lutes and violins as beautiful to look at as they were to hear.  Situated on the Via Claudia, a former Roman road, Füssen was on a route, that until the 1950s, was the major connection between Augsburg and Venice.  Though shallow the River Lech is navigable by raft and joins the Danube providing a trading route to Vienna and Budapest.  By road or water merchants had easy - for the time - access to rich markets to the south-west and the north-east.

I'm not really sure what the story these three bas-reliefs are telling but I'm guessing it may be
of Tieffenbrucker's journey from his birthplace to far-way Lyon.  Or perhaps just the emigration
of craftsman from their small community on the River Lech to the wider world. 
 But lutes and violins were not the only things exported from those masters' workshops.  The history of Füssen's lute- and violin-making is also the history of labour migration. Hundreds of Füssen's lute- and violin-makers emigrated and set up workshops at princely courts and in the great European cultural metropolises:  craftsmen from the small town were to be found in Prague, Vienna, Lyons and Northern Italian towns.  The Füssen tradition spread and influenced the making of string instruments throughout Europe.  In the Imperial City of Vienna violin-making was almost a monopoly held by craftsmen from Füssen.

I'm not sure why this small brass money purse is sitting on the edge of the fountain or what
its significance is to the story of Tieffenbrucker or the lute makers of Füssen.  Any guesses?
The art of instrument making fell dormant in Füssen during the 19th and early 20th  however a small Renaissance took place in the 1980s.  There are now two violin-making workshops and a maker of guitars and mandolins producing high-quality instruments that are export internationally.  And Caspar stands proudly in front of one of the shops recalling the glory of the past and perhaps a bit of smug satisfaction in seeing his methods being followed 500 years on.

27 May - 1840:  Niccolò Paganini, Italian violinist and composer dies.
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