The Guitars of Richard Jacob "Weißgerber" in the Museum of Musical Instruments of the University of Leipzig
Andreas Michel
The Collection
The Museum of Musical Instruments of the University of Leipzig has in its possession altogether twenty-eight guitars from the estate of Richard Jacob "Weißgerber", the well-known guitar maker of Markneukirchen. This represents not only one of the largest coherent documentations of the work of Richard Jacob, but also one of the more representative and valuable collections of the Markneukirchen master. In 1998 the Museum of Musical Instruments also purchased the workshop of Richard Jacob, which had been maintained in its original condition.
In the same year, the idea was developed to make this collection the object of scholarly research. From 1999 to 2000, this plan was carried out by members of the Department of Musical Instrument Construction (belonging to the Westsächsische Hochschule Zwickau), together with the Institute for Musical Instrument Research in Zwota and the guitarist Thomas Müller-Pering of the Franz Liszt Conservatory of Music in Weimar. In addition to the scholarly cataloguing and gathering of pictorial documentation of the instruments the result was a comprehensive sound documentation which can be found on the accompanying CD and which gives an impression of the sound of Richard Jacob "Weißgerber's" guitars.
The Richard Jacob guitars purchased by the Museum originated from the extensive estate of the master, which was supervised by his son Martin; the transaction evolved from his contact with Prof. Winfried Schrammek, the curator of the Leipzig Museum of Musical Instruments at that time. In the course of over fifty years of work, Richard Jacob had assembled what he called a "Kunst- und Leistungsschau" (Display of Art and Works). In his will of February 28, 1960, he made the following remarks on this display: "This is a unique achievement in the world, without equal in beauty, sound or the stability of its quality, for the use of the general public and our local music industry, as well as for our G.D.R. and German craftsmanship." When the legendary Spanish guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia gave a concert in 1924 in Markneukirchen, he visited the collection. Segovia's comment that he had never seen anything like it can be considered an expression of the highest degree of admiration from a fellow professional.
After the death of Richard Jacob, the collection was administered by his son Martin as conservator. The unbelievably rich store of half-finished instruments and completed instrumental bodies that certainly number in the hundreds made it possible for his son as well as other instrument makers in later years to take part in the completion of the construction process.
From at least 1920, Richard Jacob signed his instruments with a printed slip of paper on which the number and year of production were typed (see illustration). For this purpose he used two forms that differed only slightly from one another. The slips printed after the Second World War bear a seal on the lower right side that was required on all printed matter as proof of permission from the state to print it. Aside from a few exceptions, all instruments also display a branded stamp with the name "Weissgerber" (with double "s"), as a rule located on the inner side of the bottom of the body. Some of the slips bear two dates indicating specific years (e.g., Inv. No. 4777, 4775, 4764 and 4753), which indicates that Richard Jacob first made parts of the instruments beforehand-as a rule, the body-and then completed it later, usually responding to special specifications of the customer.
Richard Jacob - Life and Background
Richard Jacob's significance as a superior guitar maker of the 20th century is based on a number of influences, references to tradition and creative concepts. The starting point of his development can be considered the relatively self-sufficient guitar-making tradition of the Vogtland region of the state of Saxony. But at the latest by the mid-1920s he had achieved an individualism that proved him to be not only an excellent craftsman but also an indefatigable innovator and an astute observer of the development of the instrument, which found itself in an important phase in the course of its emancipation as a modern concert instrument.
Richard Jacob was born on February 11, 1877, as the second oldest of eight children of the guitar maker Carl August Jacob (1846-1918). He spent his childhood years under the supervision of the master violin maker Christian Wilhelm Seidel, his maternal grandfather. Between 1891 and 1894 he trained as a zither maker and then worked three years as a zither maker assistant. After serving in the military from 1897 to 1899 in Strasbourg, he turned to guitar making. He served as an assistant to the master guitar maker Wilhelm Voigt for six years, who had spent some time in America. In 1905 Richard Jacob began his independent career as a master instrument maker, though working first in the workshop of his father until his marriage in 1911 to Maria Magdalena Wächter of Töpen (in Bavarian Vogtland). Carl August Jacob later dated the existence of his own workshop to the year 1847. In this year the workshop had been founded by his own father, Carl Gottlob Jacob (1817-1891), who was a bass maker.
Richard Jacob first worked in the tradition of the production of six-stringed guitars, a tradition that had begun in the late 1880s in the Vogtland of Saxony. This production took place essentially as a home-based craft, whereby the master worked either alone or with one or two assistants. Often the workshops were located in apartments. In contrast to violin making, in which the division of labour was quite strict, the guitar maker alone produced most of the instrumental parts as well as the instrument itself. Until the beginning of the 20th century, distribution took place exclusively through large publishing companies. These were large firms that exported significant numbers of instruments abroad on the basis of mail order. It was only towards the early 20th century that individual craftsmen began to free themselves from their dependence on such publishers.
In the early years of his independent working life, Richard Jacob delivered instruments to two renowned publishing concerns, Gebrüder Schuster and F. & R. Enders. Later however he began to determinedly build up his own independent customer relationships. He had the house name Weißgerber patented as a trade name, which had its origin in the tradition of his forbearers.
Richard Jacob recognized from early on that guitar making in Germany needed new impulses and innovation. To justify his claim that his guitar making amounted to "artistic craftwork"-his company label bears the designation "Guitar Artistic Workshop"-he undertook numerous tours of Germany and Austria for the purpose of studying guitar making. He became involved with the goals of the so-called "guitar movement" (guitarristische Bewegung) in Germany, maintained intensive contact with the International Guitar Association (Internationaler Guitarrenverband, or I.G.V.) and to many important guitarists. Some of the latter, such as Emilio Pujol and Luise Walker, performed in Markneukirchen at the initiative of the local associations for plucked instruments and their makers. They influenced Richard Jacob's development in a decisive way and gave him the opportunity to become involved with Spanish guitar making and particularly with the Torres model.
In addition, the fruitful atmosphere in Markneukirchen cannot be underestimated, in which personalities such as Peter Harlan and Hans Jordan stimulated the discussion over the revival of early music. Furthermore, two more local factors gave the interested instrument makers of the town insights into international developments: the Gewerbemuseum (today the Museum of Musical Instruments), founded in 1883 and serving craftsmen as a study site, and the comprehensive international business relationships of the trades people.
During his lifetime Richard Jacob operated his workshop as a family business, which was located from 1929 in his own house at Goethestraße No. 2. Other than his two sons, he hired no other employees. His highly talented younger son Arnold (born 1917) worked in his workshop from 1932 but died in 1944 as a result of an injury received as a soldier in the Second World War-a loss from which his father never recovered. The older son Martin (1911-1994) worked from 1926 for only a short time in the Weißgerber workshop; thereafter he studied education in Leipzig and became an elementary school teacher in the school district of Oelsnitz/Vogtland. In 1945 he was removed from school service due to his membership in the Nazi party and began in the same year to retrain as a guitar maker in his father's workshop. In 1949 he passed the examination for a master craftman's diploma.
Already from the very beginning, Weißgerber guitars quickly gained an international reputation. Many of the most respected guitarists of that time corresponded with Jacob and had him build their instruments. Heinz Teuchert, considered the founder of the Frankfurt school of guitar and lute playing, ordered a Baroque and a Renaissance lute from him, and Jacob developed a long-standing relationship with Karl Scheit, a professor of the conservatory of music in Vienna. Beginning in 1951, he developed an intensive relationship with Siegfried Behrend, who became a valuable partner in the development of conceptions of tone quality and who purchased more than twenty guitars from Jacob.
In the final years of his life, Jacob dedicated himself with a special sense of satisfaction to his "art collection," certainly a unique collection of models and patterns. This collection provided him with comfort, as he sought a diversion from the oppressive economic and political situation of the G.D.R. and from his declining health, as well as from family problems.
Richard Jacob died on July 17, 1960, in Markneukirchen.
The Instruments
From the very beginning, Richard Jacob understood his work as a matter of creativity involving a high degree of craftsmanship. His father had already laid the foundation for this self-understanding, having felt himself obliged to the traditions of Viennese guitar making, just as his own teacher, J.F. August Paulus, had been. Paulus had even worked for a time in the workshop of Johann Anton Stauffer in Vienna. Richard Jacob attached great importance to this connection to the Viennese tradition, as emerges from several comments made in his advertising brochures.
In the first years of running his own workshop, Jacob oriented himself towards contemporary theories concerning the reconstruction of historical instruments. He concentrated on guitars of the 19th century, particularly the smaller French and German models, and experimented extensively with forms, materials and different types of construction. In 1920 Jacob borrowed a guitar made by the Berlin instrument maker Knösing from the Gewerbemuseum. As evidenced in the receipt books of the museum, he kept the instrument for two months in his workshop in order to reconstruct it faithfully and in as much detail as possible, then offering the reconstructed model for sale.
However, over the course of Jacob's career, this method of direct reconstruction of a model instrument remained more the exception than the rule. His work with historical models generally led him to create freer reproductions. The historical inspiration for such instruments could be certainly recognized, but the specific hand of "Weißgerber" became increasingly apparent. Aesthetic criteria played a role in this process, including the selection of special materials and the formation of edges and slats, of soundhole borders and of head forms. From these early works, one can recognize Richard Jacob's enormous love of detail, craftsmanlike finesse and extraordinary sense of form. Still, his first creative period bears above all a thoroughly historically oriented character. His son Martin Jacob once described the guitars designed after the models of the Hamburg instrument maker Joachim Tielke (1641-1719) as the "top models" of his father.
A radical change in Jacob's conception of guitar making resulted from the concerts given in Germany by the important Spanish guitarists Miguel Llobet and Andres Segovia. Jacob was able to hear both musicians - they also held concerts in Markneukirchen - and he thus experienced the tonal effects of Spanish guitars. Greatly impressed by the tonal qualities of the Spanish instruments, Jacob began to study this (for him) new style of construction. The level achieved by his Spanish colleagues became immediately clear to him. It was probably possible for him to investigate and make drawings of a guitar belonging to Andres Segovia. In any case, from this time on he became absorbed with the construction and design of "Spanish guitars." He publicly declared the Torres guitar to be the "ideal of concert and solo guitars" and praised the beauty of tone, purity, sound and tone colour of what he considered to be uncontestedly the most perfect of instruments. Conspicuously, many Torres models made by Weißgerber display a relatively small body and a scale of 62 to 63 cm. According to Martin Jacob, the large Torres model (cf. Inv. No. 4770) became Weißgerber's most popular model. Still, in spite of his concentration on Spanish construction types, the instruments of Jacob's second creative phase are also distinguished for their enormous diversity in reference to forms, materials used, their configuration of bracing and accessory formal elements.
The later work of Richard Jacob, which falls in the post-World War II period, led Weißgerber to an almost perfect classicism. His sympathy for a light, singing, overtone-rich sound that was highly capable of modulation stimulated him to create light instruments that did without any kind of decoration, including edging inserts and soundhole decoration. He created instrument top sides with fluting, heads and necks in extremely light forms, and filigree bridges and pegboxes. He gave these instruments names such as "Strad" or "Konzert Weißgerber", most certainly in order to emphasize their special value and sound ideal.
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