Do you have any history on this instrument?
The model and making of this stunning violin outline instrument was directly influenced by the Giovanni Paolo Maggini double bass that was and still is housed (April 2012) at the Royal Opera, Stockholm, Sweden.
How do you know that?
Johannes Wilhelm Adam Hegner (b-1852, d-1938) was the principal double bass player of the Orchestra of the Swedish Royal Opera between 1876 and 1907. In 1903 he commissioned this double bass directly from Alfred Nilsson Brock. It is the only double bass that Brock made.
How do you know this history?
Information about Brock and this instrument is recorded in a book dedicated to the ten plus instruments of the Royal Opera.
What is the name and author of the book?
"Kungliga Operans kontrabasar och basister" (Kungliga Operan 2001, ISBN 91-86260-35-9) was written by Börje Ljungkvist - a long serving member of the opera orchestra.
Exactly how long is "long-serving"?
According to the orchestra's database (April 2012) Börje was a member from 1964 - 2002.
Ouch - 38 years. That really is what you call commitment. What does the title of the book translate to in English?
It translates to "The Royal Opera's double basses and bassists". In 1994 Börje became the curator of the Royal Opera's double basses and cellos. After initial study and documentation of the instruments he received a scholarship from the Björnska Fund and one from the affiliated trade union organization TCO (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation. In English - The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees) to further research the instruments.
Is it true that in the year the book was published it was a particularly special year for the Orchestra?
Yes - the Kungliga Hovkapellet (Orchestra of the Royal Opera) dates back to 1526 and is recognised as one of the oldest orchestras in Europe. In 2001 Börje's dedicated research culminated in "Kungliga Operans kontrabasar och basister" being published to coincide with the Orchestra's 475 year anniversary celebrations.
Is the book still available?
Only a very limited number of copies were produced - now sadly unavailable.
Where did you get your copy of the book from?
We were fortunate to be gifted the book by Luin Sitkey - a maker, repairer and dealer of instruments in Stockholm.
What language is the book written in?
It is written in Swedish.
Does the book say anything about Brock?
On pages 68 and 69 there is a listing entitled "Operans instrumentmakare genom tiderna" or in English "Opera instrument makers throughout the ages". The listing dates back to the beginning of the eighteenth century.
At the top of page 69 the entry provides the following information: "Alfred Brock (b-1876, d-1935) Luthier. He opened a shop in Stockholm in 1900. He began as a violin maker but became internationally recognized as a lute maker. In 1903 he built a double bass modelled after Maggini. The instrument is currently at the Music High School (Musikhögskolan) in Stockholm."
If the book is in Swedish who did the translation for you?
Once again our thanks go to Luin Sitkey.
Are there any more entries in the book regarding Brock?
Yes. On pages 38 and 39 there is a most intriguing listing entitled "Reparationer av Operans basar" or in English "Repairs to the Opera's basses".
What sort of format does the listing take?
The repair work undertaken on each instrument is catalogued against the name of the repairer, the month and year that the work took place and the amount that the work cost.
Does the listing say if Brock worked on the Maggini bass at all?
Yes. In August 1907 he performed some work on the instrument that cost 20 Swedish kronor. Exactly four years later - in August 1911 he did what is documented as a "Stor rep." - "Large repair." - that cost 25 Swedish kronor.
Did Brock work on any of the other instruments?
Yes. It is documented that he worked on an unsigned German bass three times, a bass by Johann Öhberg three times and a bass by Barbé just the once.
Over what sort of period of time did Brock work on the Opera's basses?
The earliest entry recorded in the book is the one done on the Maggini dated August 1907. The last entry is for some minor regluing work on the Öhberg which is dated November 1924.
Is there any more info on Brock in other reference books?
Very little. The monumental Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley (Amati Publishing 1973) literally only has a two line entry as follows; "Born 1876. Maker to the Court and Conservatorium at Stockholm, 1915. Died 1935. Lutes, viols and violins of very refined workmanship."
That is a brief entry but its a useful one. The Royal appointment in particular suggests that Brock's skills as a luthier were held in high regard. What about recent history. When did you purchase the "Hegner"?
The Contrabass Shoppe Ltd purchased the "Hegner" from some Hungarian wood and instrument traders on the 1st February 2005.
The below image is an extract from Alfred Nilsson Brock's "tilverkningsbok" (order book) reproduced with the kind permission of The Music and Theatre Library of Sweden (Musik-och teaterbiblioteket).
When you bought the "Hegner" were you aware of the instrument's provenance?
No - not at all. The instrument's form and making characteristics didn’t look like anything else that we had seen before and there were no maker's labels or inscriptions that we could see on the inside.
What were the Hungarian traders offering the instrument as?
The traders were trying to pass the instrument off as a real Giovanni Paolo Maggini (b-1580, d-1630/1).
A real Maggini must be worth a fortune. Obviously they were never going to pass it off to you or anybody as the real thing.
Correct. It was quite apparent that this instrument didn’t date from circa 1600.
So at the time how did you assess the value of the instrument?
As per usual - it was based on the quality and condition of an instrument.
That seems sensible.
If you didn’t really know what the instrument was when you bought it - how did you find out?
It was by pure coincidence that our maker and repairer friend - Luin Sitkey - already mentioned - was passing through London a few weeks after I had purchased the instrument. I already knew that Luin had in the past purchased instruments of Hungarian or Romanian origin and although I had already sent the "Hegner" to one of our outworkers - I mentioned to Luin that I had purchased such an instrument.
What did Luin have to say?
To my amazement Luin revealed that only one month earlier he had exchanged the instrument for a number of modern instruments from the exact same Hungarians that I had purchased it from.
How did Luin know that the instrument had been made by Brock?
Luin looked surprised that I needed to ask this question. He retorted - "It has Brock's original label on the inside".
When you put the two sides of the story together what did you get?
Well it was definitely the same instrument. Sadly the Hungarian traders had removed the label in the hope that they could fool somebody into thinking it was a real Maggini.
That's really sad?
Yes - what is even worse is the fact that when we tried to recover the label from the traders we learnt that in the process of removal - it had been destroyed.
What else did Luin tell you?
Luin confirmed that he had acquired the instrument directly from the "Music High School" and that when he got it - "It was in a very bad condition".
How long did Luin have the instrument before he traded it with the Hungarians?
Luin - "Probably 15 months".
Did Luin know anything more about the history of the instrument?
Luin - "In the early 1980's the bass was owned by a bass player called Thomas Östergren. Prior to him emigrating to the USA Östergren sold the instrument to the Music High School. Over a period of years it fell badly into a state of disrepair and became unplayable - so in preference to funding a lengthy restoration project they accepted a trade with me for a French instrument that was in good playing order".
February 2012. Feedback via E-mail from Swedish double bass player - Magnus Nygårds.
Hi, I was reading about the Swedish Maggini bass and found the following quote: "He even built a double bass after Maggini model signed 1903 which is nowadays at the Music High School in Stockholm". It should actually be the "Royal College of Music" not the Music High School. If you translate the Swedish word for college (högskolan) to English literally it would be high school, a common mistake. How do I know this? For one there is no school named the "Music High School" in Stockholm. And two, I am currently a student at the Royal College of Music. Hope that you have use of this information and I hope this wonderful bass finds its way back home to Sweden again some day. All the best! Magnus Nygårds.
Hmm - that's really great feedback. What is the Swedish name for the Royal College of Music?
It is called "Kungliga Musikhögskolan i Stockholm" or the "KMH" in abbreviated form. The college dates back to 1771 and is the oldest institution of higher music education in Sweden.
Is there any defence for Luin's literal translation.
Yes. Luin is a naturalised Swedish citizen. Born in Budapest he moved to Sweden in 1971.
In calling the Royal College of Music a "conservatorium" William Henley - mentioned earlier - was obviously a little confused too.
August 2006. Feedback via e-mail from Michael Karlsson - the current (April 2012) principal double bass player of the Royal Opera, Stockholm.
"The Brock bass was made for a Johannes Hegner, born in Copenhagen 1852 almost at the same time as Ludwig Hegner (b-1851, d-1923), a Danish double bass player with a certain reputation. They are not related though; I've checked with the Museum of Music in Copenhagen.
Johannes Hegner was principal bass in the Royal Opera in Stockholm between 1876 and 1907. That means that he had the same position as I have today and that he played on "my" Maggini. Obviously he wanted Brock to make something similar to the Maggini but you should know that he did not make a copy of it. I have seen the Brock bass and I would say it has strong influences but it is smaller and doesn't have the same proportions. It is very probable that Hegner thought that the Maggini was too big.
In Brock's notes the bass has number 24. When he died in 1935 he had made 893 instruments but only one bass. The bass is dated to 30/03/1903 and he sold it for 100 Swedish kronor. There is another note from a later date that the bass needed some modifications (Förändring +75=) that added another 75 kronor to the price. Almost a second bass in price!
After Hegner died in 1938 the fate of the bass is not clear, but eventually it came into the possession of Knut Gullbrandsson, also principal bass in the Opera. A great player and teacher. After that Thorvald Fredin, my teacher and former colleague bought it. I'm not sure of the players name who sold it to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. Then one of the teachers made a trade with Luin Sitkey. The rest you know."
Wow - Michael Karlsson really is a top man for sending you all that info. Did he send you any supporting documents?
Yes the e-mail was accompanied be three jpg files containing the following images:
- An excerpt from Brock's "tillverkningsbok" (order book).
- An 85th birthday tribute to Johannes Hegner.
- An announcement of Johannes Hegner's death.
That's another wow. So much great first-hand information. Why didn’t you upgrade your original review immediately?
At the time there were other projects to take care of so I thanked Michael for his interest and support and simply kept the information on file. It was only after receiving the feedback from Magnus Nygårds that my interest in the history of the instrument was reignited.
Did you get in touch with Michael Karlsson again?
Yes. I wanted some help in translating the 85th birthday tribute and the information on the announcement of death. With copyright in mind I also wanted to know where Michael had obtained the three images.
Let’s start with the birthday tribute. Where did it first appear?
The birthday tribute first appeared in Musikern 1937 nr 23. Musikern is the name of a news magazine for musicians that was and still is (April 2012) published by the Swedish musician's union "Musikerförbundet".
Please proceed with the translation post haste.
"On the 15/12 the chamber musician Johannes Hegner, Stockholm will celebrate his 85th birthday. Born in Copenhagen in 1852 he studied music with the great violinist and teacher Lars Valdemar Tofte. At the age of 17 Hegner moved to Stockholm where he was employed to play bass in Blanch's café (a restaurant) under the well known bandleader George Lundbye. After that he played in the orchestra of the restaurant Berns Salonger led by August Meissner. From Berns - Hegner went to the Royal Theatre (the Royal Opera) and was employed there from the 1st July 1876. In December 1907 he resigned from the Hovkapellet (orchestra) after many years as principal double bass.
Hegner has been a member of the union since its foundation and has reached an imposing age. He is currently the union's second oldest member. During his many years of playing in our capital he has gained numerous friends, a large number of whom are sure to be invited to celebrate with him at his home, Älvkarleövägen 18, Hjorthagen, Stockholm.
Svenska Musikerförbundet and Musikern wishes him all the best for his 85th birthday celebration! C.G."
Please proceed with a translation of the announcement of death post haste.
Our beloved husband and father
former chamber musician
Born in Copenhagen the 15th December 1852.
Departed from us the 3rd June 1938 at 6.15am.
Missed by relatives and many friends.
Augusta Hegner, Anton and Rut Hegner, Frans and Ella Hegner,
Sigrid and Herman Forssman born Hegner, Grandchildren.
The ceremony will take place on Thursday 9th June 1938 at 5pm
in the North Crematorium where flowers will be received before 4pm.
Do you know where the North Crematorium is located?
Michael Karlsson; The funeral ceremony took place in "Norra Krematoriet" a crematorium and major cemetery just to the North of Stockholm in the municipality of Solna.
What did Michael reply to your question about where he obtained the three images?
Michael Karlsson; I got them from Börje Ljungkvist.
You mentioned Börje Ljungkvist earlier. He's the author of the book about the Royal Opera's double basses and bassists. I presume you e-mailed him and asked him if he could help you in any way. So what did he say?
Börje's reply was in Swedish. A rough translation is as follows; "Hey Tony! I'm sending you some of my correspondence with Hans Riben at the Music Museum in Stockholm.
What I know about the Brock bass I have been told by Hans. If you want more information on the Brock contact Hans directly at the museum. I am certain that he will help you. He is a really nice person. Bass Greetings - Börje."
How did Börje's correspondence with Hans Riben run?
On the 16th September 2005 Börje wrote; Hi Hans! I just heard that the Brock bass was in London. Check out the link. Do you know anything about the Brock bass? Was it ordered by the Hovkapellet etc? The museum has Brock's notebook. Maybe you can find something interesting there? Bass Greetings - Börje.
And Hans Riben's reply.
"Hi Börje. This is interesting news! After a look in Brock's manufactory notebook I see that he made only one doublebass (if you don't count a miniature he gave to our museum in 1908). This only doublebass is dated the 30/03/1903 and has production number one (among the doublebasses) and 24 (in his entire production). It was ordered by J.W.A.Hegner and the price was 100 sek. There is also a pencil note that the instrument had to be modified and that increased the price with another 75 sek. I have scanned this page in the notebook and enclose it as a jpg file (Tillverkningsbok.jpg).
This means that the doublebass is an early opus in Brock's production. When he died in 1935 he had made 893 instruments, most of them lutes. In one sense the doublebass is of course unique, but on the other hand it's not at all typical for his production so the museum is not going to buy it.
Who might the buyer, J.W.A. Hegner have been? Well, you probably know already, but I did a search for some articles and found that Johannes Hegner (1852-1938) was an important person in the music world in Stockholm with over 30 years in the Hovkapellet (Orchestra of the Royal Opera). I enclose the articles (Klipp Hegner 85 år.jpg and Klipp Hegners dödsannons.jpg). Best regards! Hans."
What an amazing amount of info in the one e-mail. I presume that your next line of research was to contact Hans Riben yourself.
Yes indeed. I needed to find out who was the copyright holder or holders of the original documents and of the three jpg files. My questions to Hans were as follows;
- Does the Museum hold the original documents?
- Did you take the jpg images yourself from the originals?
- Do I need the Museum's permission or your permission to use these images in my review of the Brock on my web site?
Did you get a reply from Hans Riben?
I received a same day (13th April 2012) response as follows;
"Dear Mr Houska.
Thank you for your interest in the instrument maker Alfred Nilsson Brock. He is best known for his more than 700 lutes, but he also made a number of other instruments.
It is true that the documents stem from our museum. Since the time I sent them to Mr. Börje Ljungkvist this part of our collections have been handed over to The Music and Theatre Library of Sweden (Musik-och teaterbiblioteket), www.muslib.se The library and the museum are both parts of the organization Music Development and Heritage Sweden (Statens musikverk).
The answers to your questions are thus:
- The originals belong to The Music and Theatre Library of Sweden.
- Yes, I have taken the jpg photos of the originals.
- Please feel free to publish the images on your website, but refer to The Music and Theatre Library of Sweden as owner of the originals.
With kind regards Hans-Martin Riben Museum Director Stockholm Music and Theatre Museum Box 16326, SE-103 26 Stockholm, Sweden Visiting address Sibyllegatan 2 Websites www.musikochteatermuseet.se / www.statensmusikverk.se"
What a fantastic reply.
Yes indeed. In the one reply ownership of all three original documents had been established and permission to publish all three had been granted.
With ownership of the original documents established did you have any more questions for Hans?
Yes as follows;
- The announcement of Hegner's death - what form is it in? Is it a poster or does it come from a newspaper?
- Would you describe or translate Brock's "tillverkningsbok" as his order book or notebook or other?
- Would you object if I were to use an English translation of some of the information regarding Brock's tillverkningsbok and Hegner that you sent to Börje in an E-mail dated 16th September 2005? The three images that you took were attached to this email.
Once again Hans-Martin Riben was kind enough to reply as follows;
- It's an announcement printed in a newspaper (which one is however not known).
- Brock's "tillverkningsbok" is an order book in the form of a small notebook.
- Please use the information as you like it.
Martin Riben sure is a scholar and a gent.
Yes indeed he is. A respectful thank you Hans-Martin Riben.
Where did your research take you next?
At this point it seemed that my research was drawing to a close. Well it was - that is until Michael Karlsson dropped me another e-mail.
What did Michael have to say this time?
"By the way, did I mention that Brock is from the same family as Bengt Nilsson (b-1926, d-2009) the Swedish violin maker who wrote the books Svensk Fiolbyggarkonst (Swedish Violin Making. Pub by N. Nilsson Fiolbyggare AB in 1988. ISBN 91-7970-354-2) and Johann Öhbergs Violoncelli (Johann Öhberg's Cellos. Pub by N. Nilsson Fiolbyggare AB in 2002. ISBN 91-631-2639-7). Bengt's son Roland now runs the workshop in Malmö. He has a web site as follows; www.fioler.se"
That is another really great lead from Michael Karlsson. What does it say on the web site about the Nilsson family history?
The following is reproduced with the kind permission of Roland Nilsson the current owner and managing director of N. Nilsson Fiolbyggare AB (N. Nilsson Violinmaker Ltd);
"The founder of the company Nils Nilsson was born in Virestad in 1842. As a teenager Nils made several guitars and when in 1888 he dared to turn his hobby into a profession he had already produced a considerable number of instruments. He established his workshop on the top floor at Torpgatan in Malmö.
Three sons, Alfred, Gottfrid and Albert chose to follow in their father's footsteps. Alfred who took the name Brock, became a famous lute maker and purveyor to His Majesty the King in Stockholm. Gottfrid and Albert continued working with their father at Torpgatan. When Nils Nilsson died in 1929 aged 87 - Gottfrid had already taken over the firm. Later even Gottfrid's son Bengt started working in the firm and it was he who in turn took over the business when Gottfrid died suddenly in 1952.
In addition to the manufacture of bowed instruments - during Nils's era - lutes, guitars, citterns, mandolins, zithers, harmoniums and different historical instruments were produced. Many of these are now in museums. During the 1920's and 30's the company made many stringed instruments of the very highest quality. The popular folk music revival of the 40's provided a strong demand for the manufacture of lutes and guitars.
In 1972 the workshop moved to Eriklustvägen 62 where the business was driven forward with the production of stringed instruments. Today (April 2012) the firm is run by Bengt's son Roland Nilsson. Assistants in the workshop are Tord Svensson, Roland's son Fredrik Nilsson, Roland's daughter in law Nadine Nilsson and in the office Sylvia Tell and Roland's daughter Cecilia Nilsson."
Let me guess. Your next move was to contact Roland Nilsson and ask him if he had any more information on his great uncle - Alfred Nilsson Brock.
Yes - naturally.
Did Roland Nilsson reply?
Yes - Roland replied promptly and efficiently. Indeed he was good enough to forward me some pages from an unpublished "script" (more a pamphlet) that was written to celebrate the centenary of the company in 1988. On the threshold of the centenary the Malmö Museum had accorded Bengt Nilsson the privilege of arranging an exhibition of the work of four generations of the Nilsson family. The opportunity was used to combine the family's work with a display of Swedish violin making from its beginning until about 1865. With a representative collection of the most notable masters from the period gathered together, the temptation to write a book proved irresistible for Bengt and his dedicated work culminated in Svensk Fiolbyggarkonst being published.
Back to the script or pamphlet. What is it entitled?
The cover page is entitled - "En Äkta Nilsson" (An Original Nilsson) and has a very fine picture of Nils Nilsson seated holding a violin. On page 1 - the inside contents page - the title is defined with a subtitle as follows - "Hundra år med fiolbyggarfirman N. Nilsson i Malmö" (One hundred years of the violin making firm N. Nilsson in Malmö).
Who wrote the pamphlet?
The pamphlet was "skildrad" (depicted/narrated) by Sören Engelbrektson all apart from the final chapter which was "skildrad" by Bengt Nilsson.
Did any of the pages specifically mention Alfred Nilsson Brock?
Yes indeed. The chapter entitled "Epoken Nils Nilsson - i Malmö" (The era Nils Nilsson - in Malmö) on pages 10-13 is really informative. Here is a summary;
First to leave home: Nils Nilsson had a large family. The eldest children were born at the beginning of the 1870s. One by one it was necessary for each to move away from the family home. The oldest son Jonathan was the first to move to Stockholm. He marked the beginning of his new life by changing his last name to Swedin.
Second to leave home: From a very early age Alfred showed a very good talent for instrument making. Having already built several different instruments including violins he became apprenticed to his father and as a carpenter at the Platin Company in Malmö. In 1900 - at the age of 24 - Alfred followed his brother's example and moved to Stockholm. Like many young men of his generation he believed that a move to the capital was the key to his success.
Resettlement allowances: To help with the cost of travel and with starting up on his own - Alfred's father lent him 50 kronor and gave him the old, worn workbench that he had used since their move from Svedala. Again following his brother's example Alfred changed his surname - choosing his grandmothers maiden name which was Brock. At first Alfred rented at Mälaregatan. The accommodation consisted of a small room with a closet. In the room he put his work bench. The closet he used as a bedroom. Soon repair work started to come in from the Hovkapellet (orchestra of the Royal Opera) and after a year he was able to rent something more workshop like.
Court Instrument Maker: From the very beginning Alfred concentrated on developing the so-called Swedish lute that had in turn been developed at the end of the 18th century by Mathias Petter Kraft (b-1753, d-1807). Kraft is widely acknowledged as the most influential person in the development of the Swedish lute. In 1914 Alfred exhibited a collection of his lutes at the Baltiska Utställningen (Baltic Exhibition) which was held in Malmö from May - October 1914. Today the so called "Brock-lute" is still talked about. Over the years Alfred won great renown for his artistry and craftsmanship and in 1925 he was honoured with the title of Hovinstrumentmakare (Court Instrument Maker). Alfred Brock died in 1935.
Did you ask Roland any other questions?
Yes - I asked Roland the following questions;
- Why did Alfred change his surname from Nilsson to Brock?
- Where did Alfred live and work?
- Did Alfred marry and have children?
- Do you have any instruments by Alfred in your private museum?
They certainly are interesting questions. Did you get a reply from Roland?
Yes. Roland was good enough to provide the following answers;
- I think Alfred changed his name because Nilsson is a very common name in Sweden. He took the surname after his father's mother before she married. He also had an elder brother that had moved to Stockholm before him and changed his surname to Swedin.
- He moved to Stockholm at the age of 24. Nils, his father had 20 children and they were living in a small apartment, so I think that the overcrowding, together with a very low salary, made him move to the capital.
- Yes, he married in 1908 with Elisabeth (Lilly) Sandquist and had one daughter Rosa, born in 1910.
- Yes, we have 2 lutes, 1 guitar, 2 violins and 1 viola hanging in the museum.
Did Roland send you any other documents at all?
Yes. Roland forwarded a name and dates listing of Nils Nilsson's twenty offspring. Listed as the fourth born is the name "Per Alfred Daniel. 1876-1935."
How incredible. Did you seek a confirmation from Roland that this was the one and the same Alfred Nilsson Brock born in 1876?
Roland Nilsson - Most of the work with the family is done by my daughter Cecilia who has made a fantastic job with our family history. In answer to your questions - yes Alfred was the fourth born and yes he was christened Per Alfred Daniel Nilsson.
Was it Roland Nilsson who gave you permission to reproduce the text from the pamphlet and the images of his great uncle?
Yes it was. Thank you so much Roland.
If you take the Brock-lute as a line of research. Where does that take you?
There is much more literature than one would ever imagine written about the lute and the development of the lute. With regard the Swedish lute and specifically the Brock-lute the name of collector and musicologist Kenneth Sparr predominantly appears. On his fascinating web site tabulatura.com/SWELUTE1.htm entitled "The Improved Cittern" and described as a catalogue - Sparr mentions in a single sentence towards the end of his introduction that Brock restored instruments for the Music Museum in Stockholm.
Did you check that out with Hans-Martin Riben at the Music and Theatre Museum?
Yes indeed. Here is what he replied;
"Yes. Alfred Brock did some work for our museum. He was not formally employed but worked as repairer on a freelance basis during the first ten years of the museum's existence. At that time he was already an established lute and violin maker with a workshop of his own. The records are unfortunately not very precise on which instruments he actually repaired. It seems natural to assume that he mainly worked with stringed instruments, but I have found out that he repaired at least one mechanical instrument (a serninette) and a clavi-harp made by Johann Christian Dientz in Paris. My source is our instrument database (non-public)."
Did you check to see if there were any instruments listed on the Music & Theatre Museum's public database?
Yes. The web pages currently (May 2012) available for public viewing list with full colour pictures three instruments that were repaired or altered by Brock; 2 lutes (M1790 and M3371) and 1 Hook Harp (M65). The web pages also reveal that the museum has seven lutes (M3428, M3512, X5429, X5686, X5203, M2893 and M3503) in its collection. The lutes made by Brock can be accessed (May 2012) here. In the "Search Instrument" box type in the name Brock.
The images of Brock's lutes sure are interesting. Which one do you find the most interesting?
If you take a look at the second image in a sequence of five of the lute with the Museum's inventory number M3512 you will see what one of Brock's original labels looks like. This is particularly interesting because if you remember the original label belonging to the "Hegner" was tragically destroyed. Note how beautifully decorative the label is.
Does the label tell us anything else?
The label shows that the instrument is number 300 and dated 1913. Brock's order book shows that he made this instrument for himself.
What does it say at the foot of the label?
At the foot of the label we learn that Brock won the first prize at the Västerås Exhibition of 1908 and a gold medal at the Falköping Exhibition of 1910.
How does the text appear on the actual label?
ESTA PRIS VÄSTERÅS 1908
GULDMEDALJ FALKÖPING 1910
Did you find any more references to the Brock-lute?
Yes. In the Galpin Society Journal LX11 (April 2009) Kenneth Sparr has written a substantial thesis in three connected parts entitled "Remarks on an Unnoticed Seventeenth-Century French Lute in Sweden, the Swedish Lute (Svenskluta or Swedish Thorbo) and Conversions of Swedish Lutes." In section three Sparr describes the sort of modifications and conversions that most lutes underwent in order to make them more playable according to modern demands.
Does Alfred Brock's name come up in that part of the thesis?
Yes. Under the subtitle "Alfred Brock - Modifier and Innovator or Follower?" Sparr accords the player Sven Schholander (b-1860, d-1936) with the true revival of the lute from the 1890's onwards, discusses Brock's association with Scholander and provides an interesting account of Brock's activities, innovations, conversions and developments.
Does Sparr come up with anything that you haven’t found out yet?
Yes. Regarding Alfred's lute making Sparr writes; "... he built 799 lutes (of which about 430 were of the larger 12 string type) during the three decades that he was active, which is an average of not less than 27 a year."
Yes. Regarding Alfred's name changes Sparr writes "... and changed his surname from Nilsson to N:son Brock and then later to only Brock."
Yes. Regarding Alfred's sources of repair work Sparr writes "Brock also seems to have been commissioned for repair work for the other important collection of musical instruments in Stockholm, the private Nydahl Collection (Stiftelsen Musikkulturens Främjande) founded by Rudolf Nydahl."
Did you follow these leads up in any way?
Yes. I enquired with Roland if the surname changes were correct or if it was something that Alfred just used on his labels. Roland's reply was - I don't know for sure. N:son (N'son) is probably short for Nilsson only on the labels.
Did you follow up the lead about the repair work at the Stiftelsen Musikkulturens Främjande?
Yes. I put the question to the Stiftelsen Musikkulturens Främjande (Music Promotion Foundation of Culture) that was formed in 1920 by Captain Rudolf Nydahl (b-1882, d-1973) and received a most informative reply from Göran Grahn - the curator of the museum since 1980.
"Yes, Alfred Brock did some repair work for our collector Rudolf Nydahl. The only evidence we have are some labels and one of his instruments, a lute of his from 1916. We also have the street sign for his shop in Stockholm. We have no reports or any other documents for repair work in our collection. Since Brock died in 1935, it was still in the beginning of the collecting which took place mainly between 1920 and 1939, and 1945 to the end of the 1960's."
Wow - I have to say that's a pretty comprehensive amount of research. The "Hegner" must now be one of the most thoroughly document double basses ever.
Can you remind me of the "Hegner's" provenance?
As far as we have been able to ascertain - the provenance of the "Hegner" is as follows;
- Johannes W.A. Hegner (b-1852, d-1938). Commissioned the instrument directly from Alfred Nilsson Brock in 1903. Hegner was the principal double bass player of the Orchestra of the Swedish Royal Opera between 1876 and 1907.
- Knut Gullbrandsson (b-1892, d-1975). Gullbrandsson was the principal double bass player of the Orchestra of the Swedish Royal Opera between 1922 and 1952.
- Thorvald Fredin (b-1928, d-2006). Fredin was the principal double bass player of the Orchestra of the Swedish Royal Opera between 1958 and 1994.
- Thomas Östergren. Swedish bass player who emigrated to the USA.
- Kungliga Musikhögskolan i Stockholm (Royal College of Music, Stolkholm). Acquired the instrument in the 1980's.
- Luin Sitkey. Stockholm instrument maker, repairer and dealer. Acquired the instrument approximately October 2004.
- Family Racz, Debrecen, Hungary. Wood and instrument traders. Acquired the instrument approximately January 2005. Responsible for a catalogue of unsympathetic restoration work and the removal and destruction of the original label.
- The Contrabass Shoppe Ltd. Acquired the instrument on 1st February 2005.
Let’s move on from the history side of things. I want to know more about the actual instrument. What was your overall impression of the "Hegner" when you purchased it?
My overall impression of the "Hegner" was that it was reasonably well presented.
After you'd spent some time looking at the instrument what were your thoughts?
Closer inspection revealed that the work done on the instrument wasn't at all sympathetic.
Well you name it and it had been done badly. All the cracks and seams had been glued up with a modern acrylic type glue that had set like crystal glass and the new neck had all the wrong measurements and a most impractical low angle.
What did you have to do to correct the mess?
A huge amount of time was spent just trying to remove the acrylic glue from the cracks and seams. The actual repair invoice from our outworker itemised the programme of work as follows: "Remove back, remove back braces, repair back centre-joint, make and fit new back braces, make and graft in new back button, replace back. Remove front, half-edge and edge as necessary, fit new bass bar, repair cracks in front, repair cracks in ribs, build up C-ribs and reconstruct top block. Cheek head and fit new machines. Make and fit new neck with fingerboard and graft scroll. Clean and touch in varnish. Fit bridge, endpin and soundpost etc.
That's a lot of work. It must have cost a fair bit to do all that.
Yes - the total bill was a little under £8500. The figure includes the cost of a new neck block, all fittings and UK sales tax.
From your pictures the "Hegner" looks to be in fabulous structural condition.
Thank you. We are confident that the instrument is back to its former glory and ready to be enjoyed.
So how does the instrument sound?
We think that you'll be most impressed. Power and tonal qualities are really excellent. The whole instrument vibrates well when bowed - so just imagine a quality of sound that has the ability to make the hair on your arms tingle and stand almost upright. That's a fabulous feeling.
If the "Hegner" sounds so good why have you had it for so long?
Every player loves the big velvety sound of the Brock. In the past they have struggled ever so slightly with the upper shoulders.
Have you done anything to the make it easier to play in those areas?
Yes. In March 2012 we reset the neck in order to bring it out from the body of the instrument by another 10mm. The overstand is now 40mm. Restorer Jeroen Bruynooghe also re-profiled the neck, re-profiled the fingerboard, adjusted the bridge and took some time fitting a new soundpost.
Wow - that is quite a bit of extra work.
Yes its about five days work in total.
Are you happy with the results?
Yes very. The bass is accessible in all positions and plays like a dream.
What about the "Hegner" in terms of an investment instrument?
We have calculated that in the seven year period April 2005 - April 2012 the "Hegner" appreciated in value by 9.4% year on year.
That's a mighty impressive return.
When you consider that during this same period most traditional forms of investment have struggled to perform with any sort of return at all - the return on the "Hegner" has been nothing short of phenomenal.
I know that the original label is missing but are there any repair labels or inscriptions inside the instrument?
Yes there is a repair label on the inside back, bass side - just above the central brace. It reads "Repareret af Jorgen Nielsen, VIOLINBYGGER, København 1918". We also inserted a replacement label on the lower side of the back central brace stating "Made by Alfred Nilsson Brock, Stockholm, Sweden anno 1903."
Before you draw this extensive and well researched review to a close are there any people that you would particularly like to thank for their help?
Yes indeed. A thousand thanks to the following;
- Luin Sitkey for his invaluable help in identifying the instrument, for his help in tracing its more recent history and for gifting The Contrabass Shoppe Ltd his only copy of the book "Kungliga Operans kontrabasar och bassister" by Börje Ljungkvist.
- Michael Karlsson for his invaluable support and interest in the history of the instrument. Also for his generous assistance in translating Swedish text into English.
- Börje Ljungkvist for his dedicated research into the double basses and bassists of the Royal Opera. Also for the recommendation that I contact Hans-Martin Riben at the Stolkholm Music and Theatre Museum.
- Hans-Martin Riben for his prompt and efficient response to my enquiries, for granting me permission to use his images of original documents currently housed at The Music and Theatre Library of Sweden and for granting me permission to use a translation of text from private correspondence.
- Magnus Nygårds for his feedback regarding the Royal College of Music.
- Roland Nilsson the current (April 2012) owner and managing director of N. Nilsson Fiolbyggare AB - for providing the invaluable information on his family's history and for granting me permission to use various text and the images of his great uncle - Alfred Nilsson Brock.
- Göran Grahn - curator of the Stiftelsen Musikkulturens Främjande (Music Promotion Foundation of Culture) for his kind assistance.
Time for a final summary.
The "Hegner" is a unique and highly desirable top quality instrument. It was made in 1903 by Royal Court instrument maker Alfred Nilsson Brock for Johannes W. A. Hegner the principal bass player of the Orchestra of the Swedish Royal Opera from 1876 - 1907. In form the instrument is modelled on the Giovanni Paolo Maggini still (April 2012) in the ownership of the Royal Opera. Not only does the "Hegner" have rarity, good looks, advantageous playing stats and a sound quality to die for - it is accompanied by an exceptional amount of documentation and provenance. In the past 109 years (April 2012) of the instrument's existence it has been owned and used by no less than three eminent principal players of the Royal Opera, Sweden. If you are a player, an orchestra, a collector or an investor the "Hegner" is an instrument that is sure to make you salivate. Some of you may even start to slobber!