With the demand for mass-produced German instruments skyrocketing in the 1920s, enterprising makers sent family members to America to represent them. Clifford Hall explores the careers and legacies of Andrew Schroetter and Heinrich Roth
Browsing the pages of an online thrift shop one day, I noticed a fairly beaten-up 16-inch viola from Indianapolis. Although it had clearly seen some hard times, as inlay had fallen out of its ebony pegs and scratches were abundant on the table, there were some indicators of quality craftsmanship. The nicely carved cello-style pegbox and ornamented tailpiece didn’t make sense on a generic German factory instrument, and I was curious as to what they were doing there. Luckily a photo helped me peer through one of the f-holes to see ‘Anton Schroetter Geigenbaumeister Mittenwald / Bayern Made in Germany’ on the label.
So who was Anton Schroetter? As I had never heard of this brand before, I wondered if this was just another example of what Scherl & Roth’s 1940 brochure The Master Violins Made by Ernst Heinrich Roth described as ‘a fantastic and fictitious label which represented a make and name that never existed’. It was a definite possibility, as the trade was thick with wholesalers who, in competing to offer the cheapest possible prices, unrelentingly valued efficiency and myth making over quality and integrity.
To answer this question, I would peer deep into the histories of violin making in Bavaria and Bohemia to unearth the story of Andrew Schroetter. During my search I discovered that the narrative of this somewhat anonymous immigrant strongly paralleled that of the equally ambitious, but more familiar, Heinrich Roth. Both men took similar journeys as they brought their family’s crafts across an ocean to pursue the American dream…
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