Our four-part series, ‘Makers of the Danube’, takes us along the Danube River from Bratislava to Passau on a journey to meet some of Europe’s leading craftspeople, designers and makers. We’ll be finding out how they’ve managed to bring a modern spark to longstanding traditions. In part three, we’re talking to Alexander Schütz, one of the few remaining violin makers in Linz.
Hi Alexander – how did you get into the craft of making violins?
I started playing the violin when I was 11, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with wood as a material. It was only a matter of time before those two passions collided and turned into a career.
After school, I went to the international violin maker school in Mittenwald, Germany, but before I could take the exam for the master craftsman’s certificate, I had to have three years of work experience. Internships in this field are hard to come by, so I started applying across the globe. Eventually, I got an offer from a violin maker in Chicago, so I moved to the States for a year and a half.
How did your time in Chicago influence your work?
It taught me that there are great violin makers all over the world. It also made me hungry to find out who else was out there practicing, and who else I could learn from. That’s when I realized that I could travel anywhere with this job. After America, I bought a rail ticket and took my violin all over Europe in search of the experts. Over those next few years, I worked in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. After a long time away, I started to miss home and came back to Linz.
What is your average day like now you’ve started your own business?
I start working at 7 a.m., which is great because all the musicians are still asleep at that time, so I can work without interruption. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I focus on repair work, which takes a lot of concentration. I also craft new instruments on these days.
I need around 200 hours to build a new violin and double as much time for a cello. From Wednesday to Friday, my studio is open to everyone, so people bring in their instruments or buy new ones. Those days are really busy, so I look forward to Mondays again [laughs].
Where do you source your materials?
From all over Austria. Recently, a colleague from Vienna sold me wood that he had inherited from his father – it’s about 80 years old and still in surprisingly good condition. That’s a rare occasion, though.
There is a rich tradition of classical music in Linz. Are there a lot of violin makers?
There are three other violin makers here, but I see them as colleagues rather than competitors. We often go for lunch together and talk about annoying clients. No, I’m just kidding! But it’s nice to get some input from other people in the same industry, and Linz is a great place with its rich musical heritage.
Which hotspots in Linz would you recommend anyone interested in music?
The Musiktheater Linz is a must-see for music lovers. It’s a very modern musical theater with great music, actors and ballet. It attracts people from all over the country and is booked out 90% of the time. I’d recommend anyone to see a musical or an opera there.
Also, the famous Brucknerhaus building – named after famous composer, Anton Bruckner – is worth a visit. Every September, there is also the Brucknerfest, where many international orchestras come together.
It seems like there is bit of a renaissance of classical music. How do you think young people have reacted? Do you get a lot of applications?
You wouldn’t believe how many! There are actually more young violin makers than the market needs. I try to offer internships throughout the year and work closely with my old school in Mittenwald. From my own experience, I know how valuable internships can be, and I’d like to give something back.
How much has violin making changed?
The methods of violin making haven’t changed in 400 years. The tools are less expensive, but you still have to rely on your gut. The important thing for me is that all my instruments are 99.9% hand made. I’m very proud of that.
One difference to the past is that you can connect with your clients through social media. You even have your own blog!
Yes, not many violin makers have a blog, but I think it’s a great way to keep in contact with musicians and show them what I actually do during the day [laughs]. That’s been useful because they see where their money is going and can learn a bit more about the process. The feedback I’ve received for it has been positive. I definitely plan to keep updating the blog to show my friends and clients all over the world what I’m working on in my studio here in Linz.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Alexander.
Thanks to his expertise and friendly demeanor, Alexander Schütz has become a go-to person for string instruments in Linz. With his young age, he successfully represents Austria’s music heritage and proves that his traditional craftsmanship is more in demand than ever. Learn more on his website.
Curious to experience the remarkable music history of Austria for yourself? Take a look at our selection of Danube river cruises for more inspiration.