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Almost 600 years of family history of PFRETZSCHNER in Vogtland, Saxony (Part 1)

Aktualisiert: 5. Mai 2020

On a trip through Tanzania in the 90s we stayed overnight in a beautiful lodge. For dinner the tables were finely set with crystal glass and silver cutlery and on them were name cards. But I could not find my name anywhere. I spoke to a friendly looking waiter and told him my name. Thereupon he led us to our table with a convinced "Ah, yes please follow me" - on his name card it was written "Afritz". But the German-Turkish travel guide in Antalya was completely helpless, when he wanted to check if all travellers were in the bus. He read out the names of the families from his list and the named ones should confirm their presence with a loud "Yes, I'm here, I'm here" or something similar. When it was our turn (my wife, my son and I), he first read out my wife's name (who kept her maiden name) - followed by a long pause - and then a desperate "... and two others". I don't like it, but I understand my wife. For centuries church book writers, secretaries of the master books and todays authorities, customers and fellow men have had their dear misery with this name and so sometimes only the "z", often also the "sch", sometimes the "P" is left out, and sometimes only a "Afritz" remains. In the old books you can find spellings like phretscher, phretzner, Pfreczner, Pfritzner or Pfretzner, Fratscher , everything there. But here it is about the family of the PFRETZSCHNER in the Saxon Vogtland.


My grandfather said the name comes from the word "Pfretsche", which is what the wine press was called in the Middle Ages. I always liked this idea and I have never questioned it until today. Unfortunately, no evidence can be found (at least not by me) and so I agree with the opinion that the first Pfretzschner came to the Vogtland as settlers from Southern Germany. Maybe from the village "Pretzen" near Erding in Upper Bavaria. I do not want to adorn myself with foreign feathers. Others have collected the many information about my family and their origin. First of all, August Heberlein should be mentioned here, who has dealt with the Markneukirchen families in great detail. Under the title "Das Geschlecht der PFRETZSCHNER im sächsischen Vogtland" (The Family of the PFRETZSCHNER in the Saxon Vogtland) from 1967 he wrote down the results of his geneological research. I am very grateful to him for this. Extensive information about "Vogtland violin making" can be found in two volumes with this title by Bernhard Zoebisch from 2000, which is published and edited by the Society of Friends and Sponsors of the Musical Instrument Museum Markneukirchen e.V. A truly impressive work that is infinitely valuable for the history of Vogtland violin making. Dr. Enrico Weller from Markneukirchen, together with Dirk Arzig and Mario Weller, researched and wrote the book "Historical catalogues" (the Markneukirchen music instrument dealer) about the family and company of G.A. Pfretzschner (published and edited by the Society of Friends and Sponsors of the Musical Instrument Museum Markneukirchen e.V.). And also the forum of the Musical Instrument Museum in Markneukirchen was an important source for one or the other information.


This illustrious male circle probably never thought that the offspring would be so intensively occupied with the Pfretzschner. The picture shows the men on a trip to Karlsbad (today: Karlovi Vari) in 1884, standing from left to right: Arnold Schuster, at that time owner of the company Paulus & Schuster; Heinrich Theodor Heberlein, founder of the company of the same name, later world-famous; Leopold Pfretzschner, my great-great grandfather; Otto Pfretzschner, my great-great-uncle. Sitting from left to right: Bernhard Louis Zoebisch, the grandfather of the above-mentioned author; Oskar Wurlitzer, then the landlord of the Hotel zur Post and also great-great-grandfather and Ferdinand Kessler, patent holder of a foldable bow for violin.



I have merely summarized this information available to me from my "family" point of view in order to preserve what seems important to me for future generations of Pfretzschners.

The first verifiable Pfretzschner in Vogtland was "Nickel" who was probably born around 1430 and lived in Oelsnitz in Vogtland.

He is mentioned by name in the tax list of the Voigtsberg office of 1467. The first seven generations (or 230 years !) are quickly told. Three times Hans, Johann, Thomas and Elias I were townvoigt, rectors and also mayors. A great grandson of Nickel, named Sittich (different line), was a master bricklayer, like his father, in Leipzig and completed the construction of the Nikolai Church and the new town hall. That was around 1560. In 1651 Elias I married Maria Körner, daughter of Valentin Körner from Adorf. It is unlikely that she is the mother of the son of Elias I, Elias II, as stated in the literature, since she is said to have died soon after the marriage in 1651/52. However, Elias II did not see the light of day until 28.01.1659. At that time Antonio Giacomo Stradivari was only 11 years old and probably had little to do with violin making at that time. When Elias II was 18 years old, the violin makers guild was founded in Markneukirchen in 1677. At that time he never imagined that this would one day be of special importance for him and his descendants. He became a clothier or shoemaker (probably not quite decipherable) and trader and probably earned his money later also by trading violins. On 09.11.1680 he married Catharina Jobst, with whom he had two sons, Johann Elias I and Johann Adam I.

On 15.06.1713 Elias II, at the age of 54 years and 36 years after the founding of the Guild of Violin Makers, achieved something incredible: he was admitted to the Guild as a master, although he did not master the craft of violin making and had never learned it. The following text has survived: "... hat sich Elias Pfretzschner bey Versammlung einer Löbl. Kunst vor offener Lade wieder angegeben und nochmals gefraget, ob sie ihn nach den aufgerichteten und sogenannten Reces, welche eine Löbl. Kunst seinetwegen und mit ihm, den 13. Marty 1713 aufgesezet, worden zu einem Mitmeister auff- und annehmen. Worauf dann eine nochmalige Umfrage (weil alle Frembte Mitmeister vor iezo vorhanden und beym Hauptquartal erschienen waren und also die ganze Kunst Versammlung beysammen gewesen) gehalten und gedachter Reces deutlich und wohl vorgelesen worden, da nun keiner nichts dawieder gehabt. So ist ihm hierrauf das Meisterrecht mit Handel und Wandel und wie es in den obgedachten und genannten Reces ausgesagt, im Namen Gottes zugesaget worden, hat auch davor Laut Rechnung 21 Taler erleget und ist diese zu beßerer Nachricht hierher registriert und unterschrieben worden.”

(Source: Bernhard Zoebisch - Vogtländischer Geigenbau Band I)


Elias II Pfretzschner had thus acquired the master's right with the meaning of acting as a violin dealer. This was probably only possible because he enjoyed the highest reputation and trust among violin makers who trusted him to represent and sell their instruments appropriately. He is considered the first regular violin dealer in Markneukirchen to be certified by the violin makers' guild. You can read about how things went on with the two sons in the next blog. Comments and suggestions for further information are very welcome.

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