In Europe, the art and science of musical instrument making is a tradition that spans centuries. In particular, instrument making in Markneukirchen, Germany, has been traced to the early 1600s. In this article, zitherist William Kolb explores the musical foundations of Markneukirchen and visits a workshop where the tradition of instrument making is kept alive and well by Steffen and Frank Meinel, the Master Zither makers at Horst Wunsche Zitherbau KG.
The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, devastated large parts of Central Europe, which at that time comprised the many kingdoms, duchies, counties and bishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire. It has been estimated that in some areas more than one-third, maybe as much as one-half of the population lost their lives. The horror of this war serves both as background and immediate cause of the rise of musical instrument making in Markneukirchen.
Markneukirchen (without the “t“ to distinguish this town from another with the name Marktneukirchen) is a town of approximately 8,900 inhabitants, and is situated close to the Czech Republic border in the area called Vogtland. Sometime during the Thirty Year’s War (no one remembers the exact date) a group of 12 violin makers fled their native Bohemia to continue making violins in the relative safety of Markneukirchen in the kingdom of Saxony. Today this is considered the beginning of establishing Markneukirchen as “The Music Town“.
As was the accepted practice in the Middle Ages, these twelve artisans made application to establish a guild for violin making and in 1677 they received confirmation that their guild was accepted. Today it is the oldest still-existing guild of violin makers in Germany! Gradually, other stringed instruments, bowed and plucked, began to be made in Markneukirchen. This was followed by woodwind and brass instruments. By the late 1700’s, the instruments for an entire orchestra, including the necessary accessories like strings, cases, bows, etc., could be purchased in Markneukirchen. Its reputation for excellence extended throughout Europe and even to the New World. In fact, in the 1800’s there was even a United States Consulate located in Markneukirchen because of the tremendous amount of trade between this small town and the US!
Today, this reputation for excellence in musical instrument making continues in Markneukirchen and the surrounding area in Vogtland with more than one hundred companies making quality musical instruments. I recently had the opportunity to once again visit one of them, the workshop of Horst Wünsche Zitherbau KG. Looking back on a zither-making tradition that began in Markneukirchen in 1852, one can trace the roots of Horst Wünsche Zitherbau KG to the work begun by Oskar Robert Hammig in 1877 and continued by his son Kurt after the First World War. In 1948, Kurt’s son-in-law, Horst Wünsche, entered the business and began producing zithers under his name. The company begun by Mr. Wünsche, who died in 2006, is run today by his two grandsons, Steffen and Frank Meinel, both of whom have received their “Meister” diplomas, recognizing them as Master Zither makers. In 2007, the brothers Meinel received First Place Honors for Musikinstrumentenbau and at the same time received the first ever State of Saxony Award for Design. In their workshop at Schönlinder Straße 17, Steffen and Frank produce some of the world’s great zithers. Their zithers are recognized around the world for their rich, full sound and flawless performance.
If you are considering purchasing a zither, be sure to include Horst Wünsche in your search.
For additional information, visit the home page of Horst Wünsche Zitherbau KG.
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