Bass Viol by Johann Hasert, Eisenach, 1726



The table is of two unmatched pieces, with 8 to 3 growth rings per cm. The wide soundholes are C shaped, and there is an oval boxwood rosette inset below the end of the fingerboard, consisting of ten lobes backed with cut-out flowers in parchment. The black-white-black purfling abuts an edging of diagonal ebony and ivory strips.

The back is three pieces of maple with a fine horizontal flame. The edge purfling is black-white-black, and the same purfling lies along the longitudinal joints as well as across the fold (presumably a later repair). There is an ebony pin either side of the center joint on the bottom block, and one ebony and two maple pins in the neck heel.

The ribs are six pieces of similar maple, butted at the corners, and with purfling inserted between the upper end of the top ribs and the neck joint.

The modern neck and head are maple. The back and sides of the pegbox are carved with a floral design that is echoed on the sides of the neck heel. The head is a lion. The six modern pegs are ebony with ivory pips.The modern fingerboard and tailpiece are maple with ebony veneer, boxwood stringing, and ebony and bone edging to match the body. The modern hookbar is rosewood.

The varnish is dark brown.

Body length 71.5
Body width
upper corner 34.1
      center bout 23.8
      lower bout 40.2
String length 69.8
Rib height
      top block 8.8
      fold 13.3
      upper corners 13.6
      lower corners 13.5
      bottom block 13.1

Johann Hasert
Eisenach. 1726
[printed except 26; the last digit might be 3 or 5]

Bought in March 1968 from Rembert Wurlitzer, Inc., New York, who prepared papers dated January 1969 for the sale to us


Several instrument makers named Hasert (sometimes spelled Hassert) were active in 18th-century Germany, the best known being Johann Christian, who lived from 1759 to 1823 and worked in Rudolstadt, about 30 miles south of Weimar. His father, Johannes Georg Christian, was a court trumpeter there who also made violins, and who had moved to Rudolstadt from Eisenach some time before the middle of the century.

The maker of the bass viol in the Caldwell Collection, who (at least on this label) called himself simply Johann Hasert, was presumably the father of J.G.C. Hasert. Surely he was also the person Johann Philipp Eisel had in mind when he wrote, in a musical instruction manual of 1738 published in nearby Erfurt, that viols made by "Hasert of Eisenach" were among those then held in great esteem. It is therefore all the more regrettable that no other viols by Hasert are presently known to have survived into modern times, although there is also a seven-string viola d’amore made in 1735 (formerly classified as a tenor viol) in the collection of Dean Castle in Kilmarnock, Scotland. To have made this bass viol by the mid-1720s, Johann must have been born not much later than the turn of the century, a date that fits well with the supposition that he was the grandfather of Johann Christian, born some sixty years later.

This large instrument was the first playable antique viol we bought, though we had found the not-yet-known-to-be-a-Tielke viol earlier. We were therefore very excited to be contacted by Ken Jacobs at the Rembert Wurlitzer shop in New York about a bass viol that was available. I had become acquainted with Jacobs in 1965 when I had bought a Vincenzo Panormo (1796) cello while I was a student at Eastman. The collection might have been dominated by Jim’s passion, but I can say that I had the first antique stringed instrument in the family. I had been able to play in the Rochester Philharmonic as an undergraduate as well as working in the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago for three summers, so that by the age of 20 I had earned enough money to buy an Italian cello. One might say those days are gone forever!

Love at first sound! The Hasert was the first antique viol that we owned and this is a picture taken in Philadelphia right after we had bought it.

Jim, who always enjoyed the fact that at Wurlitzer’s he was considered “Mr. Meints,” let Ken know of our new interest in viols. Several other viol players in New York had looked at the Hasert and passed on it, so we were happy we were finally in line to see it. We loved it immediately. It has a beautiful carved parchment rose on the belly and we requested that Simone Sacconi, Wurlitzer’s chief restorer at that time, cut off some of the very long fingerboard so the rose could be seen. We were delighted to take it home and hear our first special sounds of an old viol.

Those important papers from Rembert Wurlitzer.

It is a deep instrument and not easy to hold, and I have found that I am more comfortable holding it the way August Wenzinger held his large Stainer viol, with the right foot forward and left foot back. It had a thick, shortish, cello-like neck and did not have an original head so we eventually had it restored by Paul Reichlin. He put a new and longer neck on it with a simply decorated fingerboard and tailpiece as well as a new lion’s head. I used it for the g minor sonata when I recorded the Bach sonatas on three different instruments. It has a wonderful middle range.


» Swipe for more pictures.

Georg Philipp Telemann is well known today for his prodigious output, and was famous in his own time for the quality of his music. He played most instruments, including the viola da gamba, which gave him insight into the particular sound that each type of instrument creates. Much of his work is relatively simple technically, but this solo sonata seems to have been intended for an advanced player. He published it in two issues of his bi-weekly musical magazine, Der getreue Music-Meister, in 1728–29. Since this piece was written in Hamburg, it is particularly fitting to perform it on the Tielke viols, as well as two slightly later instruments, which also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the subtle differences between these four German viols. The slow first movement seems appropriate for the Hasert, with its beautiful middle range.

I haven’t played the Hasert much in recent years, so it was interesting to rediscover its qualities. It has a very open sound with a little of the graininess of earlier instruments. The bottom is somewhat coarse and the top is not as smooth as the other German viols, but the middle range is quite satisfying. It also takes quite a bit of effort to go from loud to soft, but responds well to using quite a lot of bow. The general sound is a rather loud, attractive tone without a lot of nuance or complexity.