Berlin makers – Maximilian Vitalis Himmer, 1924

As part of new series on Berlin's historical violinmakers, Wolfgang Meyer takes a look at a violin made in 1924 by Maximilian Vitalis Himmer, lot 90 in our October auction.

By Wolfgang Meyer October 18, 2023

After Paris and London, Berlin was the third urban center of violin making. There is mention of Berlin’s first violin maker, Peter Rutte, in 1615 in a document put together by the Elector Johann Sigismund. That said, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the city became a noteworthy center of violin making. Industrialization resulted in a population increase, which meant there were more people in general, and more people eager to learn music and to participate in a varied and dynamic cultural scene.

The Himmer violin being sold in Tarisio’s October auction is a fine Stradivari copy from 1924.

Maximilian Vitalis Himmer was born in New York on January 13, 1871, the son of German immigrants, and returned to Germany with his parents at a very young age. He attended the Josephinum grammar school in Hildesheim, which was particularly musically oriented. Owing to his prodigious talent, he was persuaded by his violin teachers to enroll in violin studies at the Akademie für Musik at age nineteen. There, he studied under Joseph Joachim and Heinrich de Ahna, the second violinist of the Joachim Quartet.

Maximilian Himmer in his workshop in Berlin.

Unfortunately, Himmer was forced to give up professional violin playing in 1896 at the age of 25 due to severe arm paralysis. He subsequently trained as a painter at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. Although he tried his hand at painting, he remained devoted to the violin and became increasingly involved with the violin making trade from about 1905 onwards. Books including Apian-Bennewitz’s The Violin (1892) and August Riecher’s The Violin and its Production (1893), published only a few years before Himmer’s accident, certainly helped him in learning the art of violin making. So Himmer can rightly be described as the best Berlin autodidact in the violin making trade. In fact, he was probably the only autodidact in Berlin who also received great recognition from contemporary “trained” violin makers such as Otto Möckel and Michael Dötsch. Himmer himself claimed throughout the early-1900s to have rediscovered the crucial construction secret of the old Italian violins. Thus far, it has not been possible to find out exactly what he meant by that. He just vehemently insisted that the violin varnish was absolutely not one of them.

Willy Burmester (1869-1933) played a Himmer violin made in 1929.

It took only a few years for world-famous violin soloists to become his clients. Bronislav Hubermann was a longtime customer; Willy Burmester played a Himmer violin made in 1929; Franz von Vecsey asked Himmer to make a copy of his Stradivari; and Theodore Spiering asked Himmer to make a copy of his Guarneri ‘del Gesù’.

Himmer also had numerous clients in the many Berlin orchestras. Georg Kniestädt, concertmaster of the Prussian Staatskapelle, played a Himmer violin from 1924. This instrument was later purchased by the Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin in 1971.

Himmer’s violin making workshop was located at Sigmaringer Str. 30. The house is still standing today.

Wolfgang Meyer is the author of Berliner Geigenbau, the essential reference book on Berlin’s historical violinmakers. Tarisio is assisting Herr Meyer in his research for a second and third volume to be published in 2025.


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