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frlogo4.JPG (4715 bytes) REUTER'S FOCUS REPORT
English Report Summaries-Available German Titles


THE ART OF GÜNTHER REUTER:
Ennobling a Proud Tradition
 Copyright © Fritz Reuter and Sons, Inc. 1985, 1996-2000 All rights reserved
By Fritz Reuter, Jr. 


Gunther Reuter Instrument listing by Opus Number
Violins | Violas | Cellos | ALL

At Fritz Reuter and Sons, we like to remind people that Stradivarius made new violins. Stradivarius, though, is simply the most famous of the great masters of the past. Amati, Guarnerius, and so on -- all took pride in conceiving and creating new instruments. One can today purchase an antique by, say, Stradivarius. Yet it is obvious that the instrument was not an antique at all when it left the maker's shop.

2. Unfortunately, the current obsession with supposedly superior antique instruments -- an obsession which has been taken to a pitch of near hysteria by the "creative merchandising" practices of fiddle merchants who know nothing about instruments and everything about what is pleasantly called "marketing" -- this obsession has so captured public attention that relatively little notice is accorded today's makers of new violins. Given this circumstance, it is no surprise to find excellent biographies of the great violin makers of the past -- nor is there any question that the achievements of these men deserve celebration. What lover of fine violins and fine music would object? There's nothing wrong with honoring past achievements -- nothing, that is, unless our focus on the past closes out the present. Unless it sets up a false conflict between tradition and innovation. Unless it blinds us to today's true creative accomplishments. 

3. Regrettably, as a diplomat might put it, the present climate of opinion is not favorable to new initiatives! How remarkable, then, to find real innovation -- to encounter a maker who has been able to transcend the moment. In a musical culture where worship of antiques often thwarts creativity, it is especially heartening to meet a Master -- Günther Reuter -- who has been truly prolific and the author of works which rank among the finest of any century

4. Günther Reuter, like Stradivarius before him, is a maker of new violins. And he is certainly the most productive Master Violin Maker in contemporary America. Has he produced more violins than did Stradivarius? If we're talking about the output of a lifetime, the answer is, no -- not yet. But Stradivarius continued crafting violins into the year of his death, 1737, when he was ninety-three, whereas Günther Reuter is just now coming into the height of his powers. In truth, the parallel between Reuter and Stradivarius is most suggestive on precisely this point. The most prized of Stradivarius' instruments are those of his Golden Period, the works created during his fifty-sixth through seventy-second years. So, by analogy, Günther Reuter's greatest achievements should lie in the future, in the not too distant future. There is, in other words, every reason to expect that Günther Reuters contributions will continue, and his art continue to grow, long into the decades ahead -- that Günther Reuter is today drawing near tühe entrance to his Golden Period. 

5. This issue of the FOCUS REPORT could render Günther Reuter's life by limiting itself to a tabulation of the master maker's many SIGNATURE violins, violas, celli -- and (we must now add) violas da gamba. This strategy would not be unfair, and Günther Reuter himself might well prefer to have it that way. Among persons of great creative power, there is often a special kind of modesty. It is the kind of modesty which leads writers to claim that their books say everything important about them. From the writer's own perspective, his bibliography may well be the truest biography -- since everything he most values is in his poems, essays, plays, etc. Understandably, a master maker of fine instruments may have many of the same feelings. Even so, we often find inspiration in the life stories of accomplished artists and artisans. 

6. Indeed, it is likely that filling out some of the details of Günther Reuters life may prove as instructive as have the personal histories of notable luthiers from the past (Stradivarius, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, and others). A brief survey of his career may even lead us to a new appreciation of the master's concrete works -- the marvelous instruments which, year after year, have come forth from his workshop and which are heard today in orchestral performances and solo recitals throughout the world.

7. Günther Reuter, the youngest son of B. Fritz Reuter, was born in The Hague (Netherlands) in 1934. B. Fritz Reuter was himself a well-known Master Violin Maker -- the man who had, during 1922, established the firm which came to be known as Fritz Reuter and Sons. A moment's quick calculation tells us that Fritz Reuter and Sons is now in it's 75th year of service to the international musical community. Yet when the family firm was founded in The Hague, it already embodied the legacy of an ancient art -- a craft whose ideals and standards, both artistic and ethical, extend back at least to the time of the medieval guilds. (I, Fritz Reuter, Jr., and my brother Günther have striven -- as did our father before us -- to keep the guild tradition alive, to honor and continually revitalize it in the daily practice of our business and our art.)

8. Thus, when Günther Reuter enrolled in the world's premier school of violin making -- the famed Geigenbauschule in Mittenwald, Germany -- he was deliberately choosing to affirm the traditions into which he had been born. It was 1948, scarcely three years since the end of the Second World War. During the next three years, the years leading to his graduation in 1951, Günther Reuter pursued his education in a way which is all the more remarkable for its contrast with current notions of "education." In today's United States (and in many other countries) "education" seems to be whatever you get by logging a certain number of credit hours to your account. And, given the influential conviction that standards of excellence are unreal and "merely relative," the kind of education one has gotten is often open to question -- a matter which Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind recently explored in great depth. But Mittenwald's Geigenbauschule, in both method and stature, is comparable to the Bauhaus in the world of twentieth-century architecture. It provides education, but on the apprentice/master model. It is thereby true to its guild heritage and, ironically, true also to the legacy of student/master apprenticeships which marked the teaching within medieval universities. In this sense, the Geigenbauschule is more authentically a university than many modern institutions which bear the name!

9. During the three years between 1948 and 1951, Günther Reuter's education progressed under the guidance of undisputed Masters of the violin-maker's craft. He apprenticed himself to Andreas Furst, Mathias Klotz, Johann Karner, and Leo Aschauer. The full course of study extended over seven semesters. At the end of it, Günther Reuter had earned the equivalent of a genuine B.A. He was a Geselle, a Journeyman Maker.

10. By now, it was obvious that he was an outstanding and serious talent. Journeyman status was not to be a permanent stopping point. He was on his way to Meister or Master Maker -- though the road to this achievement would take much work and time. On the one hand, Günther Reuter made every effort to establish himself independently in Mittenwald. At the same time, on the other hand, he deliberately sought out further master makers. The reason for this needs to be stated very clearly. In 1988, a great deal of what is called "mastery" and expertise is little more than the product of public relations, influence peddling, various species of name dropping, and fraudulent claims foisted upon the innocent by powerful advertising. This, of course, is nothing more than a kind of magic relying upon trick mirrors -- a special kind of marketing of reputations and instruments, both, which is only a disguised con-game. Mastery in the Geigenbauschule and guild tradition is quite another matter.

11. True mastery is the foundation of Günther Reuter's art and reputation. And it is this -- "the real thing," so to speak -- which he was after when, as a Journeyman, he extended his education under the tutelage of Master Makers Anton Dietl, Rudolf Lang, and Ottomar Hausmann. Anything which these men could teach him, Günther Reuter welcomed. Given the level of his commitment and capacities, it is understandable that the Violin Makers' Guild (Munich) eventually conferred upon him the title of Master -- and, in fact, conferred it cum laude, with honors. He was now Meister Günther Reuter, Master Maker. As such, he carried dual authority. He was authorized to teach and supervise the work of others. (Roughly at the same time that his master's degree was received, Günther Reuter was accepted as a member of the German Association of Violin and Bow Makers, head-quartered in Stuttgart.)

12. The years 1958-1961 passed quickly. Meister Reuter continued to practice his art in varied ways. But 1961 marked a major change (with another soon to follow, merely two years later). During that year, while working for Rudi Lang in Oberau, Günther Reuter received an invitation from Chicago's William Lewis and Son. My own move to Chicago had come in 1955 and, now that we were again united, we soon determined to refound "Fritz Reuter".

13. Thus in 1963, Fritz Reuter, formerly of The Hague, became Fritz Reuter and Sons of Chicago. In that year, Günther Reuter renewed his commitment as an architect and maker of new instruments. He began crafting violins, violas, and celli exclusively for Reuter and Sons -- and, indeed, for a full decade it was impossible to obtain new Reuter instruments from any other source. Throughout this ten-year period, Gunther Reuter steadily became more and more productive. Between 1963 and the end of 1972, he made no less than seventy-three SIGNATURE instruments: violins primarily on Stradivarius models (but on Guarneri and his own models, as well), violas also on Stradivarius models, and celli (sometimes on his own model, more often modeled after Stradivarius). These bear the opus numbers 101-173, inclusive.

14. All of these, one must remember, are Gunther Reuter's American SIGNATURE instruments. In other words, the tabulation.does not include the numerous additional violins -- shop instruments -- made with his supervision and bearing the distinctive marks of his design and hand. Nor, as is clear from the dates, does it acknowledge the instruments made in Europe.

15. Calendar 1973 marked a new beginning, the start of Fritz Reuter and Sons' second decade in the United States. It also signalized a remarkable, most welcome increase in Gunther Reuter's already legendary productivity -- and an equally welcome expansion in his instruments' availability. For master-made instruments, these had always been modestly priced -- so access to them had never been limited by the kind of greed-driven inflation so well known to FOCUS REPORT readers, the unethical shenanigans often used to delude players into believing that only the sacrifice of several fortunes will give them a shot at a professional career. We at Fritz Reuter and Sons have long done all we can to expose the fraudulent mythologies which "legitimate" the too-frequent scams of musician-dealers. Even so. throughout Fritz Reuter and Sons' first decade in the United States. the Chicago shop had retained the only outlet for new Reuter violins. During that period players seeking new Reuter violins and violas and celIi could find them only here.

16. To the good fortune of all, this changed with the advent of 1973. During that year, William Moennig and Son of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, persuaded Günther Reuter to share his art with patrons of their firm. Predictably delighted by their success, Moennig and Son used their newsletter to announce it to the musical world. Good News for the Player, an illustrated feature article, was enthusiastic. "Günther's instruments are noted not only for their beauty and superb workmanship," they wrote, "but for their rich tone and carrying power as well." Indeed, Moennig and Son reminded their readers, "a list of proud owners of Reuter violins, violas, and cellos would read like a "Who's Who" of distinguished professionals and amateurs alike."

17. It was the auspicious beginning of an auspicious -- and truly exciting -- ten years. Günther Reuter's reputation continued to grow -- and, along with it, the standing of Fritz Reuter and Sons, Inc. Through all of this, nevertheless, Meister Reuter remained what the musical world has long known him to be: an industrious, talented creator who is so drawn by the demands of his craft that he cherishes the hours at his workbench more than almost anything else. Such commitment to his art has enriched the musical life of many performers.

18. By how much? To what extent? Simply counting tells a lot. From 1973 through 1982, Günther Reuter made one hundred forty two SIGNATURE instruments -- almost double the number of 1963-1972. And, to characterize the instruments themselves, he continued to favor Stradivarius models for his violins and violas. But, now, his celli--especially from 1977 on--were frequently done on Goffriller models. Taken together, the instruments from 1973-1982 bear the opus numbers 174-315.

19. All this is astounding. But the decade in question must not be allowed to pass without mention of the event which closed it in singular triumph. For 1982 was the year of Fritz Reuter and Sons' sixtieth anniversary, and it was in this very year that Günther Reuter achieved a new level of recognition. In November, a world-wide competition of stringed instrument and bow makers convened at Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. This 1982 convention was held under the auspices of the Violin Society of America. It was truly international in scope. It drew visitors and participants from many nations, and all judging was conducted by an international panel which included and heard noted artists and ensembles (such as the Fine Arts Quartet of the University of Wisconsin) demonstrate the tonal qualities of every submitted instrument. The competition, let us add, was the largest of its kind on record.

20. On November 10 of 1982, in this very setting -- a gathering which featured instruments crafted by the world's foremost makers, stellar representatives of the luthier's art -- Günther Reuter was honored at a level which thrilled and humbled us. He received two Gold Medals, though one alone would have been an Olympic-stature triumph. The first Gold Medal extolled a Günther Reuter quartet:

· Violin Stradivarius model Opus 312
· Violin Stradivarius model Opus 3l3
· Viola Stradivarius model Opus 314
· Cello Stradivarius model Opus 315.

21. A glance tells one that all four components were Stradivarius model instruments. They were truly an ensemble, completed but a few days in advance, especially for the Salt Lake City event. And all four -- honored by the first Gold Medal because of their exceptional tonal beauty -- had been crafted to gratify the eye's complementary demands. Here, words really are less adequate than any picture. However, one may at least suggest the instruments' splendor by remarking that all four had been made from perfectly matched wood.

22. In addition to the ensemble award, the same international panel awarded Günther Reuter another Gold Medal -- this recognizing the quartet's cello, the Opus 315, as a Solo Instrument. At the time, we wrote our friends and customers in order to share our jubilation. We said that the recognition of superlative ensemble and solo quality, both in a single instrument, indeed seemed like a third Gold Medal! Together, the two Gold Medals proved a welcome capstone -- the firm and splendid finish of an exceptional year, an exceptional decade, and an exceptional period in the history of our firm. Günther Reuter had been honored at the highest level. This honor bolstered our conviction that an honorable tradition and craft may yet prevail, even amid practices which have reduced so much of the violin business to a racket.

23. Obviously, neither Günther Reuter nor our firm took the celebratory events of 1982 as an occasion to retire. The Gold Medals were not a sedative but, rather, a stimulus. Günther Reuter continued -- and continues -- to practice his craft with ever-increasing skill and mastery. Thus, in addition to the creation of more new violins and violas and celli, our firm's third American decade has seen a further expansion.

24. In 1986, Günther Reuter became a maker of violas da gamba. This new departure itself involves a story. Some years ago, today's foremost viola da gamba player -- August Wenzinger of Switzerland -- was in town to give a concert at the University of Chicago. His instrument needed repair, and he sought out the best. This enabled Fritz Reuter and Sons to record the specifications for this particular instrument, especially its dimensions. This is the instrument, a classic produced by the seventeenth century's Jacobus Stainer, which in time became the model for Reuter' viola da gambas.

25. The new growth in Günther Reuter's art came, in part, as a consequence of the interest expressed by several Chicago-area musicians. "Since we know your work," they said, "we're curious. We would like to know what you might do by turning your hand to the viola da gamba." Fortunately, Günther Reuter had some bird's-eye maple on hand -- the very wood which Stainer himself had frequently used. And, by 1986, it had time to season properly. Very soon, therefore, two new violas da gamba were completed -- instruments whose appearance is not only stunning, but which must look strikingly similar to Jacobus Stainer's when new. They replicate Stainer's dimensions, and the visual appeal of his favored bird's eye maple as well. And this aspect of their attractiveness is completed by an orange-yellow varnish whose cast, depth, and clarity are virtually identical to the finish used by Stainer himself. In a sense, Günther Reuter reproduced nothing less than a revival of Stainer's art.

26. This revival witnesses to a constant theme in Günther Reuter's life as a craftsman: the sustained and sustaining theme of tradition and innovation. It is an important and inspiring theme because it reminds us that established values and practices are the basis for all genuine novelty. It is a challenging theme, too, because it stands in sharp contrast to the cacophony which has come to dominate so much musical life -- amateur and professional alike. Today, it is the voice of the huckster -- hawking violins as though they were bottles of Dr. Quack's Miracle Snake Oil -- which commands attention. It is the huckster, after all, who has the megaphone. Knowing nothing of the making of violins, he seeks to drive his listeners into a frenzy. That is when they are most receptive to his pitch! Often drowning out the voices of craft and the voices of reason, he tells his victims that they are dead professionally -- unless, of course, they accept his "help." In expensive brochures and costly ads, he screams that the supply of fine violins is dwindling fast -- that the few left happen to be available only in his showroom! Without one of them, no one stands a chance of a professional career!! So he tells his audience, very insistently and very loudly. The "reasoning" is clear. Those who hear his voice should pay any price, make any sacrifice to acquire one of these instruments -- for these are the last playable instruments in the world! All is lost unless the player, amateur or professional, is willing to BUY NOW!!

27. This is absurd, of course. Yet it is all that dealers can turn to once they have substituted vested interest protection for art, craft, and tradition. Marketing has, in short, become the substitute for making.

28. To all this, Günther Reuter's life and art are the sharpest contrast -- as are the policies of our firm. Our confidence in Reuter instruments is evidenced by the assurance we afford to every buyer. What we do is unique. Every master-made instrument we sell is guaranteed, in writing, to be returnable for cash at a minimum equal to seventy-five percent of the original purchase price. No other dealer offers such security.

29. But for Reuter instruments, Günther Reuter's SIGNATURE productions, we assure equity -- again in writing -- equivalent to a full eighty percent of purchase price. Because of our faith in these instruments' value, and because of their inherent sensitivity and power, growing numbers of players -- more receptive to reason than to hysteria -- are discovering them. They are discovering that violin mythology is what it is, and that beautiful instruments, resonant and responsive, are still being created.

For Günther Reuter invests his energies in art -- not advertising.

Copyright © Fritz Reuter and Sons, Inc. 1988, 1996-2000 All rights reserved

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