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Detroit Violin Shop History


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#1 Frederick Dale

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 09:44 AM

Growing up in Detroit Michigan, I remember a small storefront violin shop located on Michigan Avenue near Livernois. It was called "Budapest String Shop" Can anyone here who is familiar with Detroit, provide any information on who the owner was or any other information?
Thanks in advance!
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#2 Michael Darnton

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 10:01 AM

Louis Bella Margitza. His son, Richard, played for many years in the DSO. When I went, which would have been around 1964 or 65, Louis' office was on the second floor in the side rooms of a dentist's office--a warren of little rooms stuffed to the fullest with violin stuff. It was the first violin shop I ever visited, and I still remember it as the best, in terms of ambiance. I had discovered him via one of those little flattering personal-interest articles that newspapers use to fill holes on Sundays--probably in the Free Press, maybe the News--I don't remember which, but I probably still have the clipping somewhere.

I bought my cello there. First he pulled out (a low grade Kay plywood) one for $125, and got a quick rejection, then one for $200, and I rejected that. Finally, he dug into the bottom of a closet and pulled out a really battered French cello from around 1850, for $325. I played it for a few minutes, and we bought it. It was actually a wonderful cello, in horrid condition, but stable, and had a good enough sound that people were always asking me if they could play it. It was raining cats and dogs that day, and my father was not too wild about driving from Adrian to what he considered a sketchy part of Detroit just to look at cellos, but we all piled in the car, went, and came back alive.

It later dropped itself (ahem!) on an inconveniently placed stone at Interlochen, and I had someone else repair it very poorly. I haven't seen it in 40 years, but it would be immediately recognizable by the lower quarter of the beautiful back being covered with a completely unmatching babyshit brown opaque varnish. That was done by a hack in Lansing, who also painted two completely unnecessary shiny wide stripes of clear stuff over the two long cracks on the top. When I was in college, in Ann Arbor, I sold it to the local guy, and haven't seen it since. If I ever do (and if you know who has it, tell them) I would be delighted to take off the crappy retouch the guy in Lansing did and do it right--penance for not doing the right thing and taking it back to Louis when I broke it.

Louis was a real gypsy, and a colorful character. I heard some good stories later about him (nothing bad, by the way), including from another violin person about getting dragged by Louis to one of those funerals where a band accompanies the casket down the street, sort of New Orleans style. Someone told me later that though he had a low profile, he owned the building his shop was in.

The "real" shop in Detroit at that time was Curt Wunderlich's, right downtown, a beautiful building with a classy, old-world shop somewhat like the old Moennig shop in Philly. I went to Wunderlich's in around 1968, when I first got the idea to really start to build a violin, and bought a set of wood from him.

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#3 Janito

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 05:58 PM

I bought my cello there.


Is that really Darnton Jr - the fingers are long, slender and graceful?

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#4 Michael Darnton

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 08:16 AM

That the from Budapest String Shop cello, yes, and I still have the fingers, but not the hair.
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#5 Richf

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 10:20 AM

What a nice little story, Michael. So much history gets lost without that kind of personal account. The Wenberg book, as comprehensive an effort as it is, missed Mr. Margitza altogether. My own cello sports a repair label from another Detroit maker, Adolph Krug. I wonder who he was?

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#6 skiingfiddler

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 01:27 PM

The "real" shop in Detroit at that time was Curt Wunderlich's, right downtown, a beautiful building with a classy, old-world shop somewhat like the old Moennig shop in Philly. I went to Wunderlich's in around 1968, when I first got the idea to really start to build a violin, and bought a set of wood from him.


My connection to the Wunderlich shop of the 1960's was a rather indirect one. My violin teacher at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, at that time was Earle Melendy, an ex Detroit Symphony member, and a client of Wunderlich's. Dr. Melendy got Wunderlich to ship me a selection of bows, one of which was a partially gold mounded Otto Durrschmidt with a heavily repaired frog, $125 -- big money for me at that time. The pieces of the frog kept falling out for me; the gluing just wouldn't hold. Modern wonder glues for ebony weren't available back then. So after some back and forth, with Dr Melendy as the intermediary, Wunderlich finally put on another frog.

Dr. Melendy's violin, a Joseph filius Andrea Guarneri, was, I believe, from the Wunderlich shop. It carried a del Gesu label, a great sounding fiddle. Dr. Melendy would say he was grateful that the violin had been designated a filius Andrea, rather than del Gesu, because that made it more affordable.

Whatever happened to the Wunderlich shop?

Back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s the Detroit Symphony would have been one of America's premiere orchestras, on par with Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York, or at least close. Josef Gingold, Mischa Mischakoff were among its concertmasters. Whether the Detroit Symphony still enjoys that luster today, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if the general decline of Detroit has hurt the Symphony also.
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#7 Ken_N

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 02:41 PM

I saw in the latest Strad that Emmanuelle Boisvert joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as associate concertmaster. I'm pretty sure she was Detroit's concertmaster. Who's to blame her? They were on strike through the entire season. On a higher note I saw them last summer (I think) with Leonard Slatkin their new Music Director, playing Pictures at an Exhibition, among other things at Meadowbrook and they sounded great. Thinking about Livernois, I remember going down Livernois over a thousand times to see my Grandmother. Never went down Michigan,just Grand River to Livernois, to Fort St. Learning to read I would read all the signs out loud, driving my parents nuts. I finally started reading them to myself when the didn't seem too happy that I was reading the signs on the bars promoting their lovely ladies.
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#8 David Burgess

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 04:26 PM

Emmanuelle was allegedly the youngest concert master in the US when she got the Detroit Symphony position at age 25. She had previously been a member of the Cleveland Orchestra. A great talent, and a pity to lose her.

Back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s the Detroit Symphony would have been one of America's premiere orchestras, on par with Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York, or at least close.

That continued, at least until the extended strike. I haven't heard them since then.

Louis (Margitza) was a real gypsy, and a colorful character. I heard some good stories later about him (nothing bad, by the way), including from another violin person about getting dragged by Louis to one of those funerals where a band accompanies the casket down the street, sort of New Orleans style.


On the "gypsy" front, maybe seven years back, the Detroit Symphony conductor, during a rehearsal, said something to the violin section like, "Play this like a gypsy". A protest was lodged, and the conductor had to apologize to Richard Margitza in front of the orchestra. :rolleyes:

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#9 skiingfiddler

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 05:07 PM

On the "gypsy" front, maybe seven years back, the Detroit Symphony conductor, during a rehearsal, said something to the violin section like, "Play this like a gypsy". A protest was lodged, and the conductor had to apologize to Richard Margitza in front of the orchestra. :rolleyes:


That's rather sad that something that should be interpreted as positive gets the opposite interpretation. In Germany, Austria, and Hungary, "gypsy" is used as a slur. I didn't know that's true in the US music community, too, especially since the gypsy influence in classical violin and orchestral music -- Brahms, Lalo, Sarasate, Ravel -- is pretty extensive.
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#10 David Burgess

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 05:22 PM

I wouldn't have anticipated it either. "Gypsy" is a recognized style of violin playing, and needn't be taken as a slur, particularly if that style of playing is being elicited, not criticized.

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#11 brokenbow

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 09:59 PM

Slurs are associated with playing the blues. Gypsy music seems to have lots of flatted seconds and sharp thirds.

#12 UG Fiddlesmith

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 06:34 AM

My tenure in Charlotte as a repairman began nearly 10 years ago when I started working one day a week on 7th street as a repair apprentice; after a couple of years I bought the business and ran it and did the repair for several years, then sold the shop but remained there doing the repair and still work there two days a week. Several times a year instruments are brought to the shop for work bearing a repair tag stating the instrument was repaired by Eugene Knowles and was dated in the 1940's and 1950's; just recently a violin built by Knowles came in and it was dated 1952 and a photocopy of his obituary was in the case giving a short history of Knowles career on 6th Street in Charlotte where he occupied a one room shop building and repairing instruments; it stated he built two violins a year which sold for $300 each and that several players in the Charlotte Symphony played his instruments. Unfortunately the date of the obituary was missing and I have been unable to find out much about him. It was probably John Sipe who followed Knowles as builder and repairer and he worked for many years and built hundreds of instruments and only recently closed his shop. I plan to stay on 7th street working on instruments as long as my health permits and take seriously the trust placed in my repair and I enjoy reading in Maestronet about the many people around the world who care for these wonderful instruments.

#13 Chad Sobodash

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 05:29 PM

That's rather sad that something that should be interpreted as positive gets the opposite interpretation. In Germany, Austria, and Hungary, "gypsy" is used as a slur. I didn't know that's true in the US music community, too, especially since the gypsy influence in classical violin and orchestral music -- Brahms, Lalo, Sarasate, Ravel -- is pretty extensive.

"Gypsy" as a slur pales in comparison to the use of "bozgor" in Romania. If you walk down a street in a Hungarian neighborhood in Romania and say "bozgor," you'll windup with a Columbian necktie or worse.

#14 AtlVcl

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Posted 18 July 2011 - 01:35 PM

I remember the Wunderlich shop from the 60's. Way downtown, as a young man I felt I was really stretching the boundaries to venture down there. Later I was sad to learn they had gone out of business. Last I was there,they had a pretty cello they wanted to sell me as an Ernst Heinrich Roth for $5,000. Have no idea what happened to the proprietors (the neighborhood is another matter entirely!), but these days there are plenty of choices for the DSO guys to get their needed work done.

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#15 Frederick Dale

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 12:03 PM

I remember the Wunderlich shop from the 60's. Way downtown, as a young man I felt I was really stretching the boundaries to venture down there. Later I was sad to learn they had gone out of business. Last I was there,they had a pretty cello they wanted to sell me as an Ernst Heinrich Roth for $5,000. Have no idea what happened to the proprietors (the neighborhood is another matter entirely!), but these days there are plenty of choices for the DSO guys to get their needed work done.

I too used to visit the Wunderlich shop in downtown Detroit. The shop was moved to an upstairs location on E.Warren just East of Outer Drive. It is located on the top floor of a two story office bldg. I used to live several blocks from it until I moved to northern Michigan in 1975. I believe it is still in business now run by a son or other relative. There is also the Psorianos violin shop in Troy Mich which is visited by some DSO personnel.
Fred

#16 AtlVcl

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 01:57 PM

How right you are, and imagine my surprise! 16641 E. Warren. Now thinking back that far, I wonder how/why I was told they were out of business/no longer listed in the phone book. Sounds to me like it's possible the old man gave up the business/died, and it was later resurrected, with the same well-known (to Detroiters) name by a relative. O well, 'tis only an academic mystery to me since I left Michigan in 1970. That Roth cello was nice, but then $5,000 was a considerable sum back in the 60's. Besides, aural memory being famously unreliable, I'd probably hate it today.

I've been told Psarianos are good for some things, but of course, this is an issue on which people tend to feel very strongly, and I certainly wouldn't want to pick a fight, but a professional friend of mine used to go to AA when she lived in Detroit 2-3 years ago. I know there are only 1 or 2 luthiers I'll let touch mine. Besides, when it loses its "sound", it usually turns out just to be a simple $50 string that needs replacing. Live and learn, right?

I'm curious, Fred, when you moved North, did you end up near Interlochen, by any chance? It's always possible we have mutual friends.

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#17 Jeffrey Holmes

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 03:33 PM

I have not heard of any activity related to the Wunderlich family's instrument business for at least a a decade. Just prior, many of the remaining instruments in the collection were sold off (an Amati, an interesting Stainer model Tononi which Wunderlich copied a few times, etc.). Presently the only listing I can locate connected to the the workshop's name on E. Warren is the "Bagley Grill".

We see, and really always have seen, many of the DSO players in Ann Arbor (for repair they frequent my own shop, Mark Norfleet, Anton Smith as well as David Orlin for bows) and Peter has a following in Troy as well... Despite the troubles the orchestra has had, the players stay active.

#18 David Burgess

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 05:28 PM

I have not heard of any activity related to the Wunderlich family's instrument business for at least a a decade. Just prior, many of the remaining instruments in the collection were sold off (an Amati, an interesting Stainer model Tononi which Wunderlich copied a few times, etc.). Presently the only listing I can locate connected to the the workshop's name on E. Warren is the "Bagley Grill".

We see, and really always have seen, many of the DSO players in Ann Arbor (for repair they frequent my own shop, Mark Norfleet, Anton Smith as well as David Orlin for bows) and Peter has a following in Troy as well... Despite the troubles the orchestra has had, the players stay active.

That's a bit modest. People come to Ann Arbor from all over the US, and occasionally from other parts of the world for repairs and adjustments.

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#19 AtlVcl

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 06:26 PM

OH fergodsake, of course there are multiple choices in both cities, it was not my intent to single out any one shop. I've hardly set foot in "the lovely peninsula" in 40 years, so anything I could contribute should be suspect anyway.

http://www.merchantc....2.800-599-6166


I don't see a date on this anywhere, but it sounds as if it is archived. Anyway, this was my source re: wunderlich. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the shop was long defunct, as Mr. Holmes says, and this link is N/A

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#20 Jeffrey Holmes

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 07:04 PM

OH fergodsake, of course there are multiple choices in both cities, it was not my intent to single out any one shop. I've hardly set foot in "the lovely peninsula" in 40 years, so anything I could contribute should be suspect anyway.

http://www.merchantc....2.800-599-6166


I don't see a date on this anywhere, but it sounds as if it is archived. Anyway, this was my source re: wunderlich. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the shop was long defunct, as Mr. Holmes says, and this link is N/A


Oh forgodsake, if my previous response was "all about you" I would have quoted ya'! :)

Tried the number on the link you supplied. Says it can't be connected from my calling area.




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