August Rau: The old-fashioned way

August Rau portrait

At a time when bow making in Germany was leaning towards industrialisation, August Rau kept up the tradition of independent craftsmanship. Gennady Filimonov tells the story of his long career and examines several examples of his work

In the late 19th century, the German town of Markneukirchen saw a flourishing of bow making activity. Stringed instruments had been the town’s main industry for decades, but bows had been relatively less regarded. As the century ended, however, both the quantity and the quality of the bows coming out of Markneukirchen exceeded what had come before, and the wave of activity lasted up to the onset of World War I in 1914. The town was home to such legendary bow makers as Wilhelm Knopf, Albert Nürnberger and Hermann Richard Pfretzschner (purveyor to the Saxony Court), who broadened the reputation of Markneukirchen makers far beyond its Vogtland borders. It also housed the workshop of Heinrich August Rau, who became one of the best German bow makers at the turn of the century.

In addition to making excellent bows, Rau trained and mentored a number of excellent bow makers such as Fritz Baumgartner Sr, Hermann G. Fischer II, Alfred F. Meinel, Otto Paulus, Hermann Wilhelm Prell and Adolf Curt Schuster. At a time when quantity and division of labour were dominating the scene, August Rau remained independent in his studio until his death in 1951, where he carried on the tradition of fine craftsmanship enjoyed by the 19th-century Maister Bogenmacher  (‘master bow makers’).

August Rau was born on 26 June 1866 to Gottlob August Rau, a shoemaker based in the town of Siebenbrünn near Markneukirchen. According to oral tradition and early publications, he served his apprenticeship as a bow maker from 1880 to 1884, in the workshop of the Nürnberger family. He then went to Dresden where he worked for six years with Wilhelm Knopf, and briefly with A.R. Weichold. Around 1890 he went back to Markneukirchen where he was supposed to work for Nürnberger but refused, instead starting his own business in Siebenbrünn. By 1897 he had moved his business to Markneukirchen, where his workshop was established at Bahnhofstrasse 332H.

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