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THE BECHSTEIN-MOOR VIOLA
Neuner u. Hornsteiner, Mittenwald, 1931


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Emanuel Móor (1863-1931) was a Hungarian musician of remarkably varied talent:  composer, pianist, acoustic theorist, painter, engineer and inventor.   His compositions, mostly involving strings, found many admirers before 1914 – Ysaye, Marteau, Thibaud and above all Casals – but from that point forward he almost abandoned composition and concentrated on his schemes for the improvement of instruments.   His best-known idea, the Móor duplex coupler piano (which had two keyboards acting on a single action and allowed one hand to play a spread of two octaves) dates from 1921 and he continued to work on it for the rest of his life, but from 1927 onwards he was equally absorbed in the re-thinking of stringed instrument design.   Some years earlier he had conceived an extraordinary six-stringed instrument covering the entire range from violin to double-bass;  now, however, he reverted to instruments of largely conventional size and plan but with the innovative profile and internal construction described below.   After abortive negotiations with a Mirecourt firm, manufacture was undertaken by Neuner und Hornsteiner, the instruments to be distributed (and signed) by the Bechstein piano company.   Violin production began in October 1930 with violas and cellos following in May 1931, and in the same month the directors of the Berlin Philharmonic undertook to commission a full suite of instruments for the orchestra's experimental use, while at about the same time Lionel Tertis viewed a Móor viola in London and commented favourably on it.   However, Móor's sudden death in October, combined with the economic conditions of the day, resulted in the rapid collapse of the enterprise, although a tiny handful of instruments were made during 1932 to fulfil existing orders.
It is possible that this viola is one of the suite made for the Berlin Philharmonic, although the use of the English language on the label perhaps casts doubt on this.    

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This 16.25-inch viola bears the label Patented / Bechstein-Móor / No. 22 /Made in Germany.   The side view (below) gives an idea of its individuality;  the back is normal, but the table runs perfectly straight from top to bottom, without the usual bulge under the bridge. The neck, fingerboard and scroll are normal, as is the soundpost.   Fittings are plain ebony.

The curious green object beyond the bridge is a home-made mute made from scraps of lithographic printer's ‘blanket’ (canvas-backed rubber), cut to shape and glued together;  not an original feature, I must confess.

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The profile (above) shows the curious cross-section of the belly, which is identical throughout its length.
The provenance of this instrument is worth noting.   It belonged for nearly forty years to Julius Ungerson, an English violinist who had been a member of the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra first violins since the orchestra's foundation in 1930 and who was among the first to demonstrate the Móor violin in London;  his friend Herbert Shead, a pianist who was another of Móor's early champions (and who long afterwards wrote the standard monograph on the coupler piano) bought it for him in Germany in 1938.   Ungerson, having long since retired to Cornwall as teacher and freelance player, kept it until his death in the 1980s;  his widow later sold it to a pupil, from whom I bought it in 1999.   It is now in regular if very humble use for amateur orchestral and chamber work.

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Móor' s instruments, unlike (for example) those of Tertis, were not designed for virtuosi;  his original motive was to raise the tonal standard of orchestral strings, and he worked with volume production in mind.   The production values of this viola are those of a sound factory instrument, with close-grained belly, modestly flamed back and ribs and well-finished scroll and internal fittings.

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The diagram at left shows the underside of the belly.
Besides the normal bass-bar, there is a lighter bar
underneath the A string and a third longitudinal strut,
shaped like the keel of a boat and with a slot cut in
it, along the centre line.

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