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The PFRETZSCHNER in Vogtland, Saxony (Part 2) - the first violin makers

Aktualisiert: 15. Mai 2020

So Elias II Pfretzschner had two sons, Johann Elias and Johann Adam - that is undisputed. But the historical records of these two and their further ancestral succession are probably no longer clearly comprehensible and the interpretation in the different sources is partly contradictory. I cannot judge it, therefore I would like to show the variants known to me here first of all, since it has in the consequence quite geneological effect on the ancestral lines. And because I am dealing with it right now, I have made my own thoughts about it. The sources for this are: Willibald Leo Frh. v. Lütgendorff: Die Geigen- und Lautenmacher - vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, first edition (1904) and third extended edition of 1922 (Lue) Karel Jalovec: Encyclopedia of Violinmaking, 1965 - who, however, at least as far as the Pfretzschner aer concerned, has taken over much of Lütgendorff's work (Jal) August Heberlein: The Gender of the Pfretzschner in the Saxon Vogtland (manuscript), 1967 (Heb) Bernhard Zoebisch: Vogtland violin making (Volume 1) - Biographies and explanations until 1850, 2000 (Zoe) In my opinion, the main problem lies in the same naming, namely Elias, Johann Elias and Johann Adam - of all three there were several each. In the different sources these names are assigned to different persons, so that it first of all needs clarity, with which name which person is meant.


In the first column "Person" is the name I use here. In the second column "Lifetime" one find the person I mean by this. Below the different sources are the respective names that were used in the sources. Cells marked with "-" were not listed in the respective source.

Scroll of Johann Elias Pfretzschner

Another reason for the differences are probably the different perspectives with which the authors have looked at the historical documents and information. Although Lütgendorff already mentions in the title that he "edited them according to the best sources", he had all European violin and lute makers since the Middle Ages in mind and certainly could not go into the last detail for each name. Jalovec took over much of Lütgendorff's work and merely updated it with younger violin makers. Zoebisch in comparison "only" focused on the Vogtland violin makers and their biographies. This, however, with a very profound and detailed approach. He is also the only one who has given his sources in great detail. However, he has limited himself (at least in the case of the Pfretzschner) to the master violin makers who are also listed in the master book. And finally Heberlein, who has investigated and researched the name Pfretzschner and not, like the others, the violin makers guild. So Elias I was only mentioned by Heb and Zoe. It seems that both are the same person. Elias II, who is described in more detail in the first part of the blog, is considered by all four to be the progenitor of the family, but is named Johann Elias I by Lue and Jal and Elias by Heb and Zoe. The first son of Elias II, here named Johann Elias I, is only listed by Heb, by the others not at all. I will talk about him later. With Johann Adam I the same person is named by all, this also applies to Johann Adam II. With Johann Elias II there is agreement with Lue, Jal and Heb, only Zoe names this Pfretzschner Johann Elias. Johann Elias III is so named by Lue, Jal and Zoe, Heb does not list him. If one compares the different sources, there are further differences. According to the records of Heb, Johann Elias I was born around 1685, died after 1750 and was married twice (around 1709 and around 1730). Heb attributes to him the children Anna Catherina, Johann Elias II and Johann Adam II. For his brother, Johann Adam I, he names a year of birth around 1696 and a year of death after 1750. According to Heb, he is said to have married a Reichel in 1732 and Anna Catherina Martin in 1738. To Johann Adam I Heb attributes the children Johann Gottfried, Johann Carl, Carl Friedrich I, Christian Gottlob and Johann Gottlob. As a child of Johann Gottlob Heb names Christian Gottfried and August Wilhelm I (who is also said to have been a violin maker but not a master).



However, if one follows Bernhard Zoebisch's remarks, a different picture emerges. Zoe assigns the marriage to Anna Catherina Martin to Johann Elias II (and not Johann Adam I) and refers to a corresponding entry in the death register. According to Zoe it can be deduced from marriage entries that Johann Gottfried and Johann Carl were the sons of Johann Elias II and not those of Johann Adam I as stated by Heb. Zoe also mentions a Johann Elias III, who according to Lütgendorff is said to have lived around 1750. However, this cannot be proven with certainty and so Zoe assumes that it is Johann Elias II. Zoe assigns the descendants Carl Friedrich I and Christian Gottlob to Johann Adam I (perhaps also Johann Adam II) and Johann Gottlob to Johann Adam II, who according to Zoe was the son of Johann Adam I. Another difference to Heb is the assignment of Christian Gottfried to Carl Friedrich I and not to Johann Gottlob.


All this is very confusing and probably not fully comprehensible on the basis of the available documents from master books, church records and other sources. In addition, there are possibly differently motivated interpretations, which consciously or unconsciously have led to different classifications. Who should, will and can still prove this today? Basically, I tend to the statements of Zoebisch (only because of the detailed research, all of which are supported by references). But with all the information I have gathered, there are conspicuous features that make me wonder whether all this can be true. So I found (thanks to Google) a compilation by Jörg Schnadt from Potsdam from 27.9.2005. It contains a list of the citizenship of the city of Markneukirchen from 1521 to 1722 by Erich Wild, a list of names of the house owners of the city (Markneukirchen) from 1812 and "A Markneukirchner tax list from the Thirty Years' War (1642), also by Erich Wild. And although Zoebisch was very conscientious and many documents by Erich Wild can be found in the source references, these citizen lists are missing.

violin by Johann Elias Pfretzschner

In the year 1688 an Elias Pfretzschner is mentioned for the first time under number 21. This can only be Elias II from the above lists, i.e. the progenitor of the family of musical instruments, since Elias I already died around 1675. Much more interesting, however, are two entries from the year 1722, where under no. 27 a H. Elias Pfrötzschner and under no. 134 a Johann Adam Pfrötzschner are listed. Even if the name was written with "ö" instead of "e" (we already knew that), the former can only be Johann Elias I, who was born in 1685 and was named neither by Zoe (nor by Lue, Jal), but only by Heb. In any case, it cannot have been Johann Elias II, because he was only 13 years old in 1722 and will not have been a house owner yet. His father, Elias II, had been accepted into the guild in 1713 as a master violin maker, by which time this Johann Elias I was already 28 years old and had probably taken up another profession. Therefore he had not been found in the master books and the church books of Markneukirchen before 1748 are not preserved. Which sources Heberlein used is not known. So if we assume that Johann Elias I was the older brother of Johann Adam I, then Johann Elias II (*1709) can only have been the son of Johann Elias I, because Johann Adam I was only 13/14 years old at that time. So it seems that, contrary to Zoebisch's statement, there were at least two persons with the name Johann Elias, father and son. Whether Johann Elias III mentioned by Lue actually existed is unclear. By Heberlein, who seems to have followed all lines (no matter if he was a violin maker or not), this person is not mentioned. Regarding the different attributions of the following generation, two statements by Zoebisch are interesting. He assigns the marriage to Anna Catharina Martin to Johann Elias II and proves this with an entry in the death register (on the death of Anna Catharina) of 12/13/1758 in which it says: "Weib von Joh. Elias Pfretzschnern, Rathsverwandten und Geigenmacher all hier." Not only that Johann Elias II must have been alive at this time, this entry is also proof that Heberlein's assignment of Anna Catharina to Johann Adam I cannot be correct. Furthermore, Zoe states that from marriage proposals of Johann Gottfried (20.11.1760) and Johann Carl (25.04.1770) it is clear that these are the sons of Johann Elias II (with Anna Catharina) and not as listed by Heb, who assigned them to Johann Adam I. Why Heberlein assigned Anna Catharina differently is not known. Interesting is also the statement of Lue that Johann Adam II was a nephew of Johann Adam I. In Lütgendorff's first edition it says even more concretely: "Son of Joh. Elias. As long as it is not known when Johann Adam I died, it will remain difficult to distinguish his works from those of his "Oheim". Now the term "Oheim" stands for the mother's brother (the uncle on the mother's side). This in turn would mean that Johann Adam II was the son of a sister of Johann Adam I. But why would he then have had the name Pfretzschner? The second contradiction in the statement of Lütgendorff is that Johann Adam I probably never made his own violins (he was a dealer) and therefore there can be no confusion between the violins of these two Johann Adams. So if one can question the correctness of Lütgendorff's statement, it is more likely that Johann Adam II was the son of Johann Adam I, as Zoe also describes. The dates of birth of Johann Adam I (1696) and II (1716) would also speak for this.


That Carl Friedrich I and Christian Gottlob were the sons of Johann Adam seems to be a certain knowledge, especially since they had their apprenticeship together, as can be seen from entries in the master book from 1760 to 1765. The sources also agree on this. However, if one compares the years of birth of the father and the sons, one finds that Johann Adam I would already have been 47 or 50 years old when he got them. For this time a proud age to become a father twice (not impossible, but unlikely). And since it is apparently unknown to whom Johann Adam I was married (and when), it is more likely that Carl Friedrich I and Christian Gottlob were also the sons of Johann Adam II. That Johann Gottlob was not the son of Johann Adam I (as Heberlein writes) is conclusive, because at the time of his birth in 1753 he would have been 57 years old already. Zoebisch assigns him to Johann Adam II. And there is one last assignment that differs, namely that of the brothers August Wilhelm I, who became a violin maker but not a master, and his brother Christian Gottfried, who was admitted to the violin makers' guild as a master in 1807. According to Zoe, both were probably sons of Carl Friedrich I and not of Johann Gottlob, as Heb explains. If we now bring all this together, the following picture emerges for the period between 1659 (Elias II) and the 1850s, which I will start from in the following remarks. Whether this is actually correct remains to be seen. Perhaps it is an approach that might tempt one or the other interested person to take a closer look at the still existing historical documents. I would be pleased.

If one follows this picture, Johann Elias I was the forefather of the two branches of the family from which later on the bow makers as well as the dealers, merchants and manufacturers emerged. The line of Johann Adam I would then have continued in the same way (possibly via Johann Adam II) and today leads to the Pfretzschner, who as innkeepers run the hotel and inn "Zum heiteren Blick". Both lines have therefore been continued until today, which I personally like very much. Johann Elias I was probably born around 1685 and was (according to Heb) married twice. With whom is not known. In any case, he had a son, Johann Elias II. Whether Heb's statements about his daughter Anna Catharina and son Johann Adam II are correct is questionable (see above). Johann Elias II is admitted to the violin makers guild on 06.02.1730. Zoe writes that Johann Elias II, as a master son, was granted remission of fees. There is therefore still a contradiction here, as the profession of Johann Elias I is not known, but he was apparently not a master violinmaker. Whether this is the same Johann Elias about whom Lütgendorff already writes "he used a Hopf model for his instruments. The back of the instruments was usually better made than the top. The scroll and f-holes were of ugly shape. On his label, he loves to refer to Cremona as the place of origin in meaningless Latin." is unclear. This could also have been a later Johann Elias III, perhaps a son of Johann Adam II.


Johann Elias II was married to Anna Catherina Martin. With her he had two sons, Johann Gottfried (*14.07.1733) who founded the line of the famous bow makers and Johann Carl (*07.10.1739) from whom later the dealers, merchants and manufacturers emerged. The second son of Elias II was called Johann Adam I and was born around 1696. He was able to play various musical instruments and, together with two other sons of citizens, was privileged by Duke Wilhelm of Saxony as a city and church musician in 1710. In this office the title "Choradjuvant" was held. Professionally he followed in his father's footsteps and also became a violin dealer. Only three years after his father, at the tender age of 20, he too was admitted to the violin makers' guild as a master, although he had no more mastery of the craft than his father. But he was probably also a very good and trustworthy dealer. His master craftsman's diploma is documented in the Master Book of the Guild of Violin Makers as follows: "Johann Adam Pfretzschner Actum Neukirchen den 15. December Anno 1716. Erscheinet bey Versammlung Einer Löbl. Kunst vor offener Lade, Johann Adam Pfretzschner und bringet vor, wie er gesonnen sich bey E. Löbl. Kunst nieder zu lassen und Meister zu werden. Auff welch sein ansuchen E. Löbl. Kunst geschlossen, daferno er sich nach den auffgerichteten Reces welcher zwischen E. Löbl. Kunst und seinen Vater Herrn Elias Pfretzschnern (weilen keiner von ihnen beyden die Kunst erlernet) achten und halten wolle, daß er nur Handel und Wandel treiben und sich nichts wieder unternehmen, so soll er hierauf angenommen und zu Einen Ehrl. Meister dieser Kunst gesprochen und alle Handtwerks Wohlthaten mit zu genüßen haben, so ist ihn solches wohl erlaubt worden, er hat sich deßen so balden durch öffentl. Handtschlag wieder begeben und weile er nun auff Vorherstehendes alles Eingegangen, so ist ihn das Meisterrecht in Nahmen Gottes zugesaget worden und hat die Gebühren, was eines Mstrs Sohn gibt an 6 thlr vor die Mstr Mahlzeit und 18 Groschen an forder- und Muthgeld erleget laut der rechnung, wegen des Jungmeister Ambts das er deßen befreiet, hat er einen Thaler in die Lade gegeben." (Zoe)


Johann Adam I was married, but to whom exactly is not known. Heberlein writes, around 1732 with a Reichel (first name not known). The second marriage to Anna Catharina Martin seems to be wrong (see above). His son, Johann Adam II (1716)*, was admitted to the guild of violin makers on 13.11.1738. He was chief master in 1783, 88 and 89. Nothing is known of his violins. Johann Adam II married Margarethe Paulus in 1748 and had at least two sons with her. Carl Friedrich II was born in 1748 and later became the co-founder and master foamer of the Stringmakers' Guild of Markneukirchen, which was confirmed on 11.04.1777 by the sovereign's approval. And his son, Carl Heinrich Eduard (* 13.08.1805), also became a string maker in Markneukirchen. He in turn had three daughters, Bertha Auguste (who later married Hermann Theodor Voigt), Emma and Auguste. The second son, if he really existed, could have been Johann Elias III. The youngest son of Johann Adam II was Johann Gottlob, who was born in 1753, probably learned the craft of violin making from his father and was admitted to the guild of violin makers as a master on June 10, 1778. He was also chief master. In 1784 he married Christiane Eleonore Ebner, they did't have children. Lütgendorff already wrote about him: "The most skilful of his family. After he had originally still used a kind of Stainer model, he was one of the first Vogtlanders who tried to imitate the Stradivari model. The work is good, the patron long and narrow, the curvature at the beginning mostly strong and stiff, but later flat with a narrow rim. The f-holes are dainty and the scroll is small with a long pegbox." He used various types of labels.




In the case of those described below it is not quite clear whether they are sons of Johann Adam I or Johann Adam II (see above). However, both of them were good violin makers. Christian Gottlob Pfretzschner (* 1746) "... after his return from his travels, he made his masterpiece (a pickled violin and an ordinary violin) just like his consorts, which were acknowledged in the assembly and found nothing wrong with it. On July 7th, 1766 he was appointed master of the violin makers' guild in Markneukirchen. Nothing more has been handed down about him." Carl Friedrich I was born in 1743 and founded the Pfretzschner line with the most violin makers. I will write more about him and his two great cousins Johann Gottfried and Johann Carl and their families in the coming blogs.

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