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Meet the Experts: Horst Kloss, Master Luthier and Fine Musical Instruments Specialist

Expert appraisers work together at Skinner auction house to find, appraise, and research rare, beautiful, and historically important items. In the Meet the Experts blog series, we meet some of these experts and learn the stories behind their success.

How did you first become interested in musical instruments?

I was fortunate to grow up in the culturally rich environment of Mittenwald, Germany. The name of the town translates to “in the middle of the forest” and indeed, forests of spruce and maple surround the area and help support a tradition of violin-making that goes back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

On my way to school as a child, I used to walk past a row of violin makers’ shops every day. I would push my nose against the window and watch these men carving and chiseling. Every so often, a finger would beckon and call me in to watch. The process awakened my curiosity and interest.

What do you love most about making and caring for fine instruments?

I love the design aspects and the acoustics. A fine instrument is in many ways like a concert hall or a cathedral. When put into motion, every part of the instrument vibrates and fulfills its purpose.

Do you play any instruments?

When it comes to my repair and restoration work, I must have an excellent ear and an ability to play. I started with the violin and moved on to the bass and then cello. When professional players need an acoustic adjustment, they explain what the instrument is lacking. Teamwork makes all the difference – I need to be able to understand them and identify where the problem is coming from. I need to know what sound the instrument is capable of producing, and when I make an adjustment, the musician and I both need to hear it.

Fine Italian Violin, Nicolaus Gagliano, Naples, 1720, with Certificate (Lot 33, Estimate $120,000- $140,000)

What is your favorite instrument in the November Fine Musical Instruments auction?

The Nicolas Gagliano violin (Lot 33, Estimate $120,000- $140,000) is especially important to me. I cared for this instrument for over 30 years. Being in the presence of an instrument like this for such a long time helps you realize the greatness of the famous makers. I tried to walk in Gagliano’s footsteps to understand his purpose and what was going through his mind when he made this violin.

How has your approach to making instruments changed over the years?

I have come to recognize the importance of design. We use Old Masters’ instruments as models, but it is essential to understand their thought processes, and apply proportions, physical attributes, and functions appropriately.

After I have repaired, restored, or designed a new instrument, all the player should have to think about is the music. Every physical and acoustical aspect of the instrument must be in harmony, and the audience should want to hear the player again. To me, a musical instrument is created for a musician to play on – it’s meant to bring happiness, educate an audience, and enrich lives.

What experience and expertise do you bring to your position at Skinner?

I am as much in love with violins today as I was when I decided I wanted to become a violin maker. I have run the Kloss Shop in Boston since 1972, and many customers have stayed with me throughout the years. Yo-Yo Ma and almost every Boston Symphony player has come to my shop, and I have been exposed to the finest instruments which have ever been made.

I am a member of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers and have worked for many important New England Institutions, including New England Conservatory, Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Boston University, and the University of New Hampshire, where I also teach. I have also cared for the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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