Song of the gut string makers

Sring factory with big window for drying room

In 1877, Markneukirchen in Germany was at the heart of the world’s string making industry. The townsfolk were so proud, they even composed a drinking song all about it. Kai Köpp explains what the lyrics (translated into English for the first time) reveal about this convoluted process

In 1877, to mark the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Markneukirchen string maker’s guild, the guild masters and their families organised a huge festival to celebrate their craft. Over the past century, the German string making industry had grown to dominate the world – and since the Vogtland region of eastern Germany was the undisputed heartland of the trade, and wire strings still too crude to be an option for serious artists, they had every reason to celebrate. As part of the festivities, the town’s postal clerk August Wilhelm Jäger was commissioned to write a song in praise of the town’s gut string makers. The son of a string maker himself, Jäger chose to write new lyrics to a popular song of the time, Ich bin der kleine Postillon, and filled 17 verses with the finer points of the maker’s craft. The Song of the Gut String Makers had its world premiere on 18 April 1877, and now stands as a testament to the unsung heroes of the 19th-century musical world, as well as the obvious pride they showed in their – at-times somewhat distasteful – work…

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