5-String cello by Louis Moitessier, Mirecourt, c1820



The table (possibly a replacement) is of two pieces, with 10 to 8 growth rings per cm. The purfling is very narrow black-white-black.

The back is two pieces of not quite quartered, irregularly flamed maple. The single black-white-black purfling has a wide center strip and does not match that of the table. There are two ebony pins in the bottom block.

The ribs are six pieces of quartered maple with regular medium flame.

The neck, fingerboard, and tailpiece are modern. The modern pegs are ebony, and the extra fifth a mismatch.

The possibly original pegbox and scroll are of regular flamed maple. There is an incised vertical line on each cheek of the pegbox just behind the nut, and along each of these lines is stamped the name Moitessier.

The varnish of the back and ribs is a light golden brown, the scroll a little darker, and the table considerably darker.

Body length 70.9
Body width
      upper bout 32.2
      center bout 21.4
      lower bout 41.0
String length 64.4
Rib height
      top block 9.8
      upper corners 10.5
      lower corners 10.5
      bottom block 10.5

There is no label.

Given to us in June 2002 by Hannelore Mueller, Mariastein, Switzerland, from the estate of August Wenzinger, Basel, Switzerland


Louis Moitessier’s dates of birth and death are not known; he was active during the last quarter of the 18th and the first quarter of the 19th centuries, working in Mirecourt despite signing his instruments "Moitessier à Paris". Among other things he is remembered for using a larger-than-average model for his violins (some of which were made entirely of maple, including the table), and for occasionally replacing the scroll with a lion’s head. He was married in Mirecourt in 1787 and was still living there in 1824. Moitessier is frequently singled out as the teacher of Claude-Victor Rambaux (1806–71), a violin maker who later worked for Charles-François Gand in Paris for more than a decade before opening his own shop in 1838 and establishing a reputation comparable to Bernardel, Vuillaume, and his former employer.

This is the last instrument to enter the collection and one that meant a great deal to both of us. When I first went to Jim’s apartment “to see his gambas” he played me the Archiv recordings of August Wenzinger that he had fallen in love with. My initial reaction was amazement at how difficult these pieces in D-flat major must be, as this was my first experience hearing the historically lower performing pitch of a′ = 415 Hz. We later met Wenzinger in the summer of 1967 at a workshop in Saratoga Springs and started a life-long collaboration. We traveled to Switzerland for two summers to study intensively with him (three two-hour lessons a week!). When Jim took the Oberlin position, he immediately realized that the facilities at the Conservatory would be perfect for a summer workshop to be led by Wenzinger, and we therefore started the Baroque Performance Institute in 1972. Wenzinger was the Musical Director for eighteen years and Jim and I planned, played, and recorded with him during that time. Jim would visit him in Switzerland each year to do the planning and to see to viol restorations. We became good friends and he was a wonderful mentor to us both.

So when his colleague Hannelore Mueller wrote after he died that we could have his five-string cello, we were very moved. She told us that Wenzinger “got the Moitessier as a four-string cello from Fritz Baumgartner in Basel, who thought it might be qualified for reconstruction into a five-string instrument. And as August has always been very fair, he gave the commission to Fritz, though knowing he was not a real expert in the specific structure of baroque instruments. This was about one year after August’s recordings of the Bach Suites” (which were released on the Bärenreiter label in 1961). He did make subsequent recordings of five-string cello music on it. We went to Basel for the cello in 2002, on the same trip we picked up the 1691 Tielke after its restoration by Ingo Muthesius, so Hannelore had a chance to see that beautiful viol as well.

I have not had a chance to perform on the Moitessier yet. It is about a three-quarter size instrument, and I have had trouble finding strings that work for it. I am also confounded by the tuning. It is surprisingly difficult for someone accustomed to top Ds to have a top E string, even if the tuning is in fifths.


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