by Gregg Miner, as part of www.minermusic.com)
|After the impromptu demonstration at left, I obtained a copy of Stössel's own 1928 tutor - here's "how to hold and play". Just in case you thought I was making this up!|
The reason I decided to publish so much material on this particularly esoteric instrument is because, up to now, there has been ZERO information about it in English. And it’s just too cool to allow to fade into obscurity!
Stössel's first instrument was "Stössel’s Chord
Mandolin" (or Stössel-mandolin). Two early versions are shown at right. These were double-strung like a mandolin. He
then progressed to single-string "lutes" of five to nine
strings, and finally the Stössel-bass lute below. This seems to be the most common and preferred
instrument for serious players, and is what is being played by Georg Stössel
himself, and the sister act at right. My incredibly-lucky-find above, the contrabass
version, has got to be one rare beast indeed!
Notes on the accompanying articles (in addition to "editor’s notes" (-GM) I’ve included in the text):
I find it interesting that Andreas Michel (article 1) chose to include these
instruments in his wonderful book on zithers.
As usual, I have a completely different, third opinion.
Certainly, other than a superficial visual similarity – such as body shape and the occasional soundhole rosette - the Stossel-lutes are far removed from the lute family.
I would agree with Michel that they have many zither-like features, and are definitely more zither-like than lute-like. Features include the fretted fingerboard lying on the body, the bass strings lying to the right of the fretted strings (in the case of the Stössel-bass lute), right-hand playing technique and even zither tuning pins.
However, after reading about Stössel's own intentions of his invention’s design and purpose, I’m convinced that he was deliberately creating a brand-new, "hybrid" instrument – neither a type of zither nor a type of lute. If it had been only an ill-fated experiment, we probably wouldn’t be discussing it at all – but you’ll see, after reading below, that it was a remarkably long-lived, though locale-specific, success (and this despite endless his setbacks!).
Important enough that I propose the new category of "lute-zither" - a stand-alone group residing in the fretted plucked string instrument sub-class of the chordophones. It would contain only the Stössel-mandolins and Stössel-lutes.
1. Stössel-Lauten - Andreas Michel, 1995 (or get it straight from the horse's mouth in German HERE)
2. Stössel-Laute - DieMusikinstrumentensammlung, 1993
3. The Stössel lute: A Folk Instrument for Everyman - Revisited after 40 years of Oblivion - Stefan Lieser, 1985
Thanks to Chris Wilhelm for translating all the German literature he and I have dug up on Stössel!
From Zithern: Musikinstrument zwischen Volkskutur und
Burgerlichkeit - Andreas Michel, 1995 (used by permission)
Translated from the original German by Chris J. Wilhelm of Ketchikan, Alaska, September 2001.
In response to the mass production of cheap autoharps, the Cologne violin builder Georg Stössel (1867-1943) invented an instrument in 1914, which united characteristics of both zithers and lute-like instruments. It had a flat, zither-like body with a lute-like shape, sides and arched top, which is put together with Spänen (?)); a short, wide neck; a fretboard with three or at the most five frets; the strings are fretted by reaching the hand over the headstock and top saddle, parallel to the path of the strings themselves.
The design represents a compromise between simple chordophones, like zithers, and necked chordophones. The neck was minimized, so were the numbers of frets. In order to make possible the grip over the headstock, the strings and their fastenings were set into the neck and the tuners were located on the body. Although one may look upon the seven string Stössel lute as a basic style, the inventor experimented with a number of shapes and models.
It is clear from the patent description that the inventor had many plans for his "stringed instrument, characterized by the organization of a fretboard perpendicular to the strings". In only three decades he built a few hundred different representations of his lute instrument. Besides the many variations regarding the numbers of strings, there were attempts with single and double courses of strings.
The name by which this instrument is called today derives from the inventor. In the first learning materials for the instrument, for example, a manual from 1920 by H. J. Bachem, it is referred to as Stössel’s Chord Mandolin. The materials by J. Drechsler shortened the name to Stössel Mandolin. In Stössel’s own brochures the term Stössels Lute Mandolin arises. The Dusyma workshops in Stuttgart-Ostheim later propagated the instrument under the names ‘Mando lute’ and ‘German Lute’. The Leipzig instrument maker Richard Neutschmann called his model the ‘Psalterion’.
The inventor expressed himself in various articles and advertising materials about the motive for the development of a new instrument. Essentially, he named six reasons:
1) Full harmonic usefulness - the playing of different keys won’t include a higher level of difficulty, like the guitar in particular has with the key of Bb;
2) Natural technique - the way the instrument is held and fretted is physiologically more logical. The left hand grips over the upper saddle, which avoids the "unnatural" twisting of the wrist;
3) Ease for the beginner - a minimization of the period between the first lessons and the first recognizable results;
4) Usefulness as an ensemble instrument, making it possible to play musically with many types of instruments;
5) Simplification of fretting techniques through the optimization of the relationships between the strings; number of frets; tuning. [The musical range of a fretted instrument derives from the relationship between these three factors];
6) Low price - striven for through simple construction techniques and the use of inexpensive materials, which should above all make the instrument accessible to the lower social classes.
The formative idea of the Stössel lute’s musical possibilities is laid plain by its tuning. Tuning the strings in fifths, like a violin, was the basis. A second group of fifths is inserted, beginning with the minor third of the lowest note:
1 l l l
g bflat d’ f’ a’ c’’ e’’
Meanwhile, the three nearby strings make a major or minor three note chord, serving as a basis for the fretted chord. See the table on p.137 for tunings of the various models.
To make playing easier, Georg Stössel Jr. patented a design with slanted frets and slanted bridge in 1931, analogous to the Pandora, as Richard Neutschmann also built. There is more than one way to play the Stössel lutes. In the "Basics for the Stössel Lute", Joseph Drechsler wrote:
"Try to strike the strings with the side of the thumb for the best attack. One may also use zither rings (finger picks?). Also, the famous mandolin leaves (plectrum?) can be used for the double strung (two course) lutes."
Most frequently, and as Stössel himself intended, the instrument is strummed with the thumb. With the bass lutes, the strum of the bass strings was performed by the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers of the right hand. Probably under the influence of guitar technique, this style was also employed on the seven-string instrument, which came into conflict with the string order mind you. This led to various experiments. Stössel and Schiffler settled on the principle of the zither (bass strings left, strumming by right hand fingers). Neutschmann used the principle of the theorbierted neck chordophone as a model (bass strings right, strumming by the thumb).
For wider ranging distribution of the Stössel lutes, the company Stössel Instruments A.G. was founded June 23, 1923, in Stuttgart. Stössel was technical director there. Following its bankruptcy, the production manager Kurt Schiffler, an engineer, resumed production in his own company, the Dusyma Workshop in Stuttgart-Ostheim. Three modified forms of the Stössel lutes (Schiffler models) came from there. These were built in larger batches on an assembly line, and were marketed among other places at the "Hertie" department stores.
Stössel wrote in a report for the magazine "The Music Instrument" in 1915 that he wanted to create a ‘people’s instrument’ "that left nothing to be desired in terms of suitability, and which would lift up our German folk songs and strengthen our sense of family". Hereafter began instrument building attempts to revive folk music, like "Zupfgeigenhansl’, the ‘Wandervogelbewegung’, or the youth music movements of Walter Hensel or Fritz Jöde. The Stössel lute earned a respectable following in the 1920s and early 1930s.
From Die Musikinstrumentensammlung des Kölnischen
Stadtmuseums - Helmut Hoyler, editor, 1993
Translated from the original German by Chris J. Wilhelm of Ketchikan, Alaska, March 2002.
Georg Stössel was born in Wurzburg in 1867, moved to Cologne in 1900 and resided at Auf Dem Berlich 31, died June 26, 1943 at Moltke Street during an air-bombing raid on Cologne. He was a well-known and respected instrument builder. He developed the Stössel lute around 1914 in four different styles (actually, eight or more styles - GM) and received patent for them in August 1915 (Reichs patent no. 296436). In its introductory phase it was also called the Stössel Chord Mandolin. The instrument was playable using a tablature device developed by Stössel, where each line of a music-like staff represented a string. It allowed beginners with no musical knowledge to easily begin playing competently. The instruments enjoyed widespread demand following the establishment of mass production in Stuttgart at the "Stössel Instruments, Inc." factory in 1923. Georg Stössel was the technical production director. Following the bankruptcy of this company in 1925, its production engineer Kurt Schiffler founded the "Dusyma Workshop" in Stuttgart-Ostheim. Our three instruments (pictured above - GM) derive from the first series and have the original Stössel seal, which is seven angular star-shaped lines inside a round label. (mine appears to have a different label, printed as shown below. I am unable to determine what vintage it is or which of the factories produced it. It is nonetheless constructed with excellent workmanship and quality - GM)
lute: A Folk Instrument for Everyman
Revisited after 40 years of Oblivion
By Stefan Lieser, in ‘Gitarre & Laute’, Juli/August
Translated from the original German by Chris J. Wilhelm of Ketchikan, Alaska, September 2001.
What do we know about Georg Stössel and his Stössel
lutes? Three and a half months ago I felt about the same as you: Stössel? Never
heard of him. One day a musician friend of mine showed me an instrument he
believed was built by Stössel, the same man discussed here. He asked me to find
out who Stössel was. I have followed up on this. I visited the Cologne City
Museum, which has two Stössel lutes. I left as clueless as I was when I
arrived. There they told me all they knew was that Stössel was a Cologne
instrument maker whose workshop and music store were in the city core before the
war, and that his so-called lutes were used in the Cologne public schools in the
My professional curiosity was aroused. (By the way, in regard to my musician friend’s instrument, I discovered Stössel didn’t build it, but that is another story.) What kind of a man was Stössel, who nobody seemed to know anything about, although he must have had widespread recognition if all of Cologne school children played his instruments? What was different about his lutes? Were there perhaps eyewitnesses still alive who might know something? Why didn’t anyone talk about him anymore, and why was he well-known then? The road to finding Stössel led me in many directions, conducting personal interviews, making long distance calls across the entire republic, and required a good bit of luck as well because Stössel’s tracks are truly nearly completely dusted over.
What do schoolmaster Max Erben from Cologne-Rodenkirchen, Margarethe Will of Cologne-Kalk, former music teacher Hermann Engeländer of Bergisch-Gladbach, instrument maker Wilhelm Monke and Susanne Klas of Brühl have in common? Aside from their mostly advanced age, they share knowledge of a Cologne music history that has nearly passed into oblivion, the history of the Stössel lutes and their maker, Georg Stössel.
Stössel traveled a short victory mile with his "folk instrument" between two world wars, from Cologne to North Rhein Westphalia, to the Netherlands & England, to Switzerland & Austria. His instrument, the Stössel lute, is in the case of the basic model 42 cm long, 21 cm wide, 7.5 cm high and weighs about a pound. The beginnings of this middle thing somewhere between a lute and a mandolin lie back in November of 1915. Georg Stössel, a master violin maker since June 1, 1900, with a workshop and business located at Auf dem Berlich 31, announced "his new fingerstyle instruments" in a special edition of the magazine "The Musical Instrument": "Before today, one could not imagine a lute or a mandolin as anything other than with a neck with frets, upon which scales are played from the bottom to the top. To have a harmonically suitable, playable instrument with no neck had never occurred to anyone. At the same time you allow yourself the cleverness of removing the neck altogether, you can spread the strings apart and give plenty of room for even the fattest fingers. Even the fretboard is reduced to as little as one or three frets. With only one fret (1/2 step) and 13 strings, all complete scales in major and minor keys, all scales in the key of Bb, all sevenths, altered chords, all are amazingly simply played without playing a single wrong note. This ingenious invention would allow one-armed people to accompany most folk songs, even if you have only two fingers; the instrument is equally playable for both right-handed and left-handed people."
After fiddling around with his idea for four years, necessity eventually caused the instrument’s birth. His invention was directed against the American exports of cheap "Unterlege" zithers, which had flooded the German market since about 1910. They were selling well among the German public because they sold for only 8-12 marks ("Unterlege" zithers translates as "underlaid zither" - the name German's apparently (and derisively) gave to American guitar-zithers, because they were shipped with paper inserts containing notes or picking instructions. This was a kind of 'cheat sheet', which allowed the instrument to be played with a minimum of training or practice. Like Stössel's lute tablature, it promoted musicality without the difficulty of learning to read music first. The paper was 'laid under the strings', and therefore the strange name 'underlaid zither' - GM). German instrument manufacturers founded an "Association of German Instrument Manufacturers" upon Stössel’s initiative. Stössel became chairman. He wasn’t just after the money, rather, he based his commitment on the contemporary patriotic spirit of the idea of a "German folk instrument". E.H. Bachem wrote in the preface of the "Stössel Lute Tutor for the Self-Taught" in 1916, "It is especially pleasant to recognize Stössel’s inventions for what it represents as a completely original German National instrument, conceived by a German spirit, which will lift up German industry and retain millions for our country which would otherwise have gone abroad."
Stössel introduced his Association to the instrument in 1915. He argued in favor of the name "Cologne Lute". His ecstatic compatriots preferred to give recognition where it was due and insisted upon the name "Stössel Lute". Stössel’s concept was convincing: He wanted to offer an instrument that was so inexpensive every child could afford it; so simple in its construction that it could be made in great numbers; so easy to play that one need not have any knowledge of music or its notation to learn to play it. To enable this, Stössel developed a tablature for the fretboard, published a beginner’s course of music to learn by, and offered the basic instrument, a practice lute called "Freundenborn" for under 10 RMarks, which included a canvas tote bag, the course book, and a tuning key. He received his official start signal from the German patent office on August 31, 1915.
Stössel began his production based on the smallest of his lutes, a seven string practice lute (also called the mandolute or Cologne lute), a travelers lute with seven double coursed strings (this is actually the Stössel-mandolin mentioned at the top - GM); and the bass lute with 13 bass strings for the advanced player. Then, Stössel had quite a setback. The period of the first world war slowed the start of his lute sales, a setback that would recur 30 years later. Beyond that, the musical authorities were anything but open to what in their opinion was an instrument much too simple to learn, which did not satisfy their lofty standards. Franz Peter Kürten wrote in a memorial, "War and hard times slowed production down. However, after the craftsman exhibit in Cologne in 1925, the actual victory mile of this instrument was begun."
The instrument was introduced for music classes during the 1920’s on nearly to the mid-30s in the Cologne public schools. Teachers were surprised by its pedagogical effect. Male choirs, outdoors clubs and groups like the Catholic Girls Club or nuns in cloisters, kindergarten children in Munich, the Franciscan Youth in Cologne, the School Orchestra of St. Ursula High School in Cologne, groups in Steyr, Austria, in Switzerland, England, and Amsterdam played the Stössel Lutes. North German Radio broadcast in their educational programs a segment of lessons for the Stössel lute. There was an honest to goodness movement, with folk songs and familiar music, a lot of which was transcribed into Stössel’s notation.
Stössel, a master violin builder and a native of Würzburg, put himself to the task of fulfilling his dream of a "folk instrument for everyman", though his reputation as a violin maker, instrument repairman, and the inventor of the legato-zither was never in question. A new store was opened at Schwalberstrasse 10, the family moved from the Friesenplatz to the Moltkestrasse. In the basement of his new home, his instruments "were hanging everywhere like laundry, from the ceiling, from the windows, and hanging on the walls," according to the public school teacher Hermann Engeländer. (One odd fact: Stössel was recognized 1935 as an Outstanding Citizen. He was mentioned in he "greater Herder", a ‘Who’s Who’ of the times.)
Erika Liesmann, 63, who has dedicated herself to the tracking of her uncle from her home in the Teutoburg Forest, remembers, "He would first rise late in the morning as a rule. His wife watched the store in the morning, his son Hans-Georg helped in the afternoon, too. Stössel himself was a real night owl. That is when he had peace and quiet in his workshop. He sat with his instruments and worked on them until the early morning hours." This observation was repeated by the well-known Cologne brass instrument maker Wilhelm Monke, 72: "Once I visited him around midnight. Stössel was wide awake, working."
Georg Stössel responded accordingly to the growing demand for his instruments. On June 23, 1923, he founded "Stössel Instrument Manufacture AG" in Stuttgart. He himself was Technical Director, Engineer Kurt Schiffler was hired for Marketing and Production. According to Stössel’s plans, three instrument builders besides Stössel began building his instruments. Stössel was an idealist and the business sense for Sales and Viability completely eluded him. The factory in Stuttgart quickly noticed, because Stössel, sticking with his mandate to make a ‘folk instrument for everyman’, used only cheap, porous Gabon woods to build them. Soon the workshop in Stuttgart was overflowing with repairs, even the little shop in Cologne was swamped The thin profit margin did not produce the financial success he had hoped for, because he sold his instruments so cheaply.
After only two years, the Stuttgart company declared bankruptcy on November 8, 1925. The demand was still high as before, especially among music teachers in the public schools, who required huge numbers of practice lutes for their classes. That’s when the plant engineer Kurt Schiffler made his decision: "I have gathered together the tools and equipment I need to at least fill your old contracts" he wrote in a January 14, 1926 letter to Stössel. At first Stössel was in agreement with the plans of his former employee. However, during the next few years, the vanishing sales of these lutes made by Schiffler must have brought about a bitter disagreement over the patent rights. Schiffler improved the lutes, produced and improved their marketing with expensive advertising brochures, and founded the "Dusyma Facility" in Stuttgart-Ostheim.
In spite of everything these assembly-line lutes did not reach the level of quality of the handcrafted instruments. Perhaps this is why the widespread acceptance of the Stössel lute was limited to North Rhein-Westphalia. In addition, Stössel’s son’s 1930 attempt at producing instruments made of Bakelite at a Troisdorf firm did not increase production. In 1936, Hans-Georg Stössel took over his father’s position in the business. He could exhibit 20 different Stössel lute books, all in first edition, with a production level of 27,000 copies - a concrete indication the lutes were well established. The National Socialists (Nazis) didn’t have any problems with the "folk instrument"either, at first.
But that changed in 1937. Erika Liesmann said, "The imperial (Reichs) youth leadership decreed that none of Stössel’s instruments were to be played either in the Hitler Youth or in the Federation of German Maidens (Bund deutscher Maedel). The reason given for the Reich-wide ban was based on the characterization of the Stössel lute as a mechanical instrument."
Wilhelm Monke confirmed, "The Stössel instruments were classified as a mongrel or half-breed instrument." The verbatim decree no. 12/37 of November 1, 1937: "The Stössel company has repeatedly approached our party units attempting to introduce the so-called ‘Stössel lute’ as a particularly well-suited instrument for musical endeavors. The ‘Stössel lute’ is exceptionally unsuitable as a musical instrument for our society. Therefore, its introduction to our units is forbidden." The reason for this ban is unknown. Wilhelm Monke suspects "a personal animosity between the regional party leader and Stössel."
The fact remains that the principle market for Stössel lutes in the 1930’s dried up. It was a difficult financial blow for Stössel. On June 1, 1939, Georg Stössel opened a new store at Rothgerberbach 40. The former master violin builder’s workshop, then lute store, had become a kind of musical variety store, obeying the powerful pressures of the times: "In the store you would see a wide variety of accordions, strumming and plucking instruments, recorders and flutes, all the accessories, costumes for musical parades, as well as Stössel lutes in all price ranges", according to a newspaper ad for the store’s grand reopening.
Young Hans-Georg Stössel did not produce any instruments himself, only Georg Stössel continued to build and repair instruments. By the end of the thirties, things must have become pretty bad for building Stössel instruments, because Hans-Georg worked a second job at the Cologne Business Office, to help feed the family and grandparents.
During the night of June 26, 1943, an air attack brought an end to the music trade of Stössel: "The valuable collection of instruments, including more than 250 one of a kinds, the house on Moltkestrasse, the business and the workshop were completely destroyed, all schematics and diagrams, including the patent documents from Berlin were destroyed. Georg Stössel died in the rubble.", according to Erika Liesmann.
Georg Stössel was 76 years old. He was buried in a mass grave at the Cologne Melaten Cemetery. His wife, a native of Cologne, suffered from severe smoke inhalation but survived. His son, Hans-Georg Stössel, fell a year later at the front in France. It was the end of the Stössel business. Florentine Stössel tried until her death in 1960 to keep her husband’s inventions alive. The company "Marma Music Industry Karl Bauer" of Markneukirchen, East Germany, began test production after the end of the war, so did Richard Oertal in Braubach in Saarland, as well as the Moeck company in Celle. These have presumably become victims of the times, as have the offerings of the company ‘Willi Hopf, Instrument Makers at Taunusstein near Wiesbaden’.
Wilhem Monke says, "Frau Stössel came to see me repeatedly after the war since I had taken up business affairs with Hopf. Negotiations to begin renewed production were very difficult since Hopf wanted to make at least 100 instruments to start, in order to guarantee profitability - and the problem was no demand. In spite of all, Hopf did attempt a new beginning for Stössel lutes in 1952, but discontinued production after 1959. In a letter dated April 10, 1959, then business manager Hans Westendorp of the "Cologne Music House Tonger" described the situation:
"We have done everything humanly possible to try to get sales of Stössel lutes into the black. As you know, we have written to all the schools, sent them brochures, and at the same time had a special display in our large picture window. Unfortunately, there has been no interest at all on the part of the public. Perhaps this lies with the fact that schools are placing greater emphasis on guitar and flute instruction. Both instruments are showing a huge demand."
Today, 70 years after the first public exhibit of the "Cologne Stössel Lute", Meister Stössel and his dreams have passed into oblivion for the most part. "Anyone who still has one made by Stössel from their youth holds onto it as a memento. Young people view them as a curiosity at flea markets, perhaps without ever knowing who made it and how it is played." is how Erika Liesmann evaluates the situation. Like otherformer Stössel lute players, she is always looking for one for sale.
Margerethe Will, who taught music lessons in the 1930’s herself, owns seven instruments, including handmade models. A few scattered reports in memorium to Stössel in radio programs after World War II presented him as a blend of nostalgia and the exotic. These were an attempt to revive an epoch of house and folk music that had passed. Today, Stössel reappears from time to time, for example Bernd Korfmacher in Cologne-Brueck, who had an instrument built, or Mauricio Kagel as "Stössel Lute on Wheels", a part of his "Theatrum Instrumentarum", which used one at the Cologne Art Association in 1975.
Stössel found his place, however, small, in music history. At the Cologne City Museum the value of his instrument is estimated at about 40 DMarks, according the the registration card. Helmut Hoyler is in charge of the collection at the museum, and said, "The Stössel lute is one of the few instruments from this (20th) century with genuine Cologne relations. It was very popular, but did not stand the test of time as Stössel would have wished - as a musical instrument for everyman.
Dr. Martin Elste is responsible for the scientific care of the stringed instruments at the Prussian Foundation for Cultural Heritage in Berlin, at the Instrument Museum for the 20th Century. He judges Stössel above all as a master repairman of old violins. "His violin work has proved to be unnecessarily meticulous. His lutes belong to the category "Pedagogisation of Music", that means the attempt was made to produce the simplest instrument to play, which placed not as much value on the tonal purity as on the playing technique." Wilhelm Monke: "The astonishing thing was that you could essentially play more with the Stössel lute than you could with the guitar, for example. The lute has always been one of the most difficult instruments to learn to play - that is, until Stössel arrived. Now, in a matter of a couple of hours, you were in a position to play every song, thanks to Stössel's tablature and the unique construction of the instrument.
"Today, a new beginning would likely fail on the fact that there are no teachers for the Stössel lute anymore, and there are as good as no pieces written for it. And no matter the instrument, that is always a situation with no future."
I got a big surprise from Wolfgang Hopf, the retail business manager for the Hopf Firm, "Of course the Stössel lute is for us today completely unimportant. But if we received at least 50 requests for them, we would resume production again on a trial basis."
Susanne Klas, 73, might already know where the customers are. She ran an ad in the newspaper "Kölnische Rundschau" on March 1, 1982, asking, "Who has a Stössel lute?" About 20 parties replied, "who either wanted to buy one or still owned one." She had the feeling that "one could call the band back together for practice right away."