From Bavarian pet slaughter to the Horny Horns: a brief history of the "Jo Doc Klotz" violin


Dr. Robin Wat-Arundel, MAHons, MPhilHons (Cantab), PhD (Eastman School of Music, Rochester NY)

In these times of ever-increasing instrumental conformity / uniformity — Rolands, Yamahas, Korgs and PowerBooks —it is all too easy to overlook the special relationship that exists between a great performer and his / her instrument. Jascha Heifetz's Guarnerius del Gesu was just as integral a part of his sound as his distinctive portamenti and instantly recognisable vibrato; pianists as diverse as Cecil Taylor and Charlemagne Palestine have sworn by the Bösendorfer, and it is fair to assume that the full majesty of their respective musics might not have been attained had not the venerable instrument been available. The above observations apply equally well to the world of so-called "popular" music — the instrument on which the legendary bebop violinist Jo 'Doc' Rosenberg played was of critical importance to his pioneering work, and as such its history should be of not inconsiderable significance to scholars of Rosenberg's oeuvre and music lovers the world over.

Dr. Dan Warburton giving a lecture-demonstration of the sound potentials of the Kloz violin to the Prime-Minister, at the Warburton Community Centre, Petermann, Western Australia. [UPI Archive Photo, 1997]

Though generally assumed to have been made by Mittenwald's Sebastian Klotz (1696 — 1768), according to the name on the label found inside the violin (whose date, as we shall see later, is not genuine), new information has recently come to light (1) to indicate that the "Jo Doc Klotz" was in fact the work of Sebastian's son Joseph's eccentric half-brother, Radu Klotz (1757 — 1819), an unsung hero in the history of instrument design and manufacture. Trained as a trombonist, Radu Klotz's first attempts at instrument creation were aimed at producing a "streichposaune", a hybrid stringed wind instrument, half trombone, half violin. (2) His idea was to construct a violin whose neck could be extended by the performer in a manner analogous to the trombone's slide, but this innovation led to the intractable problem of finding new material for the violin strings, traditional catgut proving to be not sufficiently elastic in this respect. Convinced that material originating in other animal intestines could provide the desired solution, Radu embarked on a secret but systematic slaughter of animals (domestic and otherwise) in the Mittenwald region, his vivisectional zeal quickly leading to his being branded as a Satanist by the local community. He was duly expelled from the Church (though not without giving a spirited performance as Lucifer in the Oberammergau Passion Plays of 1796, a role for which he was apparently well-suited according to documentary evidence of the period (3)), and subsequently moved to Vienna in 1800, where he dedicated the rest of his life to composition of an extremely quiet and ascetic nature ("minimal" in today's parlance) as an act of penitence to atone for his turbulent past (4).

After Radu's departure for the Austrian capital, the Klotz family to raise the money necessary to compensate local farmers for the loss of their livestock auctioned off his remaining possessions. These included several finely crafted violins which, in order to increase their saleable value, were labelled by his son Joseph (1743 — 1819) as being by Sebastian but erroneously dated (hence the "1799" inscribed upon the label in the "Jo Doc Klotz"). The Jo Doc Klotz was duly bought in 1801 by one Wilhelm Bang of Munich (1770 — 1806), a fiddler of military precision and member of the five-piece Bavarian folk ensemble Die Töten Lederhosen, a group which acquired something of a cult following in the beer halls of Munich until an acrimonious dispute between its two horn players, Wilhelm Brötzmann and Peter Breuker, as to who could consume more beer and still remain standing, led to its dissolution (in both senses of the word) in 1805. Bang, thinking the onomatopoeic nature of his surname might bring him fame and fortune in the military, subsequently moved north and enlisted in the Prussian Army. Taking his violin to the front in 1806 to raise the morale of his fellow troops, Bang was unfortunately killed in battle at Iena on October 14th, and the violin, along with other artefacts, ended up in the possession of a young French aristocrat lieutenant, Louis-Olivier Chas de Bourne (1778 — 1846), who, being totally tone-deaf, gave it to his artistically inclined young sister Eugénie as a Christmas present later that year.

Eugénie Chas de Bourne (1794 — 1879) grew up to be a leading philanthropist and mainstay of the Parisian salon circuit in the latter part of the 19th century. In addition to being a talented musician (she also played classical guitar and was one of the first acclaimed banjo virtuosos in France), Eugénie was a noted entomologist, her seminal "Les Insectes et le monde occidental" (5) still acclaimed as an essential reference text to this day. On her many travels to document France's indigenous butterfly species, she often took her beloved Klotz violin, occasionally using it to store specimens (the characteristic buzz of Jo 'Doc' Rosenberg's legendary "Rukowski" recordings (6) is perhaps due to the continued presence inside the violin of several unhatched butterfly pupae). On the 28th of January 1871, after the inhabitants of the French capital finally surrendered to the besieging Prussian forces, the Chas de Bourne's hôtel particulier in the rue du Chat qui Pète in the heart of the Latin Quarter was ransacked by marauding Prussian public health inspectors in search of the Turkish émigré Mustapha Kebab, who had apparently been serving up dogs and rats to famished locals during the siege, and making a healthy profit in the process. (7) Eugénie's banjos and guitars were unceremoniously flung into the Seine, but, on noticing the Klotz label inside the violin, a young Prussian officer, one Alfred X. von Schlippenbach (1842 — 1919), spared the instrument a watery death, taking it back with him to the family home in Wuppertal. In his declining years, seeing his beloved Kaiser Henry and his Reich in difficulties during the First World War, von Schlippenbach sold the instrument to finance his Globe Unity Party, a dubious alliance of beer-drinking Aryan thugs who attempted to import into Europe the inflammatory rhetoric of nascent American Black Independence activists. Thus it was that the Jo Doc Klotz was sold to one Jascha Rosenberg in 1917, who came across it in a pile of old clothing at Kowald's Dreigroschenmarkt in Wuppertal.

Little is known of Jascha Rosenberg (1870 — 1941) other than the oft-stated fact that he emigrated to Australia in 1918, "a somewhat depressed personality" (8). Recently-unearthed diaries (literally so — they were discovered in a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin buried in Rosenberg's garden behind the family home in Wagga Wagga) reveal that this depression was not in fact due to Jascha's floundering career as a Zeppelin sales rep, but rather to the lack of interest in his work as an experimental film maker. It seems Rosenberg left Germany for Australia accompanied by two fellow pioneers in avant-garde cinema, Werner Hedgehog (9) and Rainer Werner Dafeldecker (10), but whereas their work has recently been rediscovered and restored, no copies apparently exist of Rosenberg's films (11). Fortunately, however, his beloved Klotz violin survived — but only just: the instrument was frequently fought over by Jascha's two sons Johannes and Jo, not because either of the boys actually wanted to play it, but rather because it came in handy as an impromptu cricket bat for school matches (Jascha stubbornly refused to buy his children any cricket gear, considering such a purchase a gesture of surrender to the English whose victory in the First World War had forced him, or so he claimed, to flee his native Germany).

When Johannes began studying with Josef Kreisler in 1932 at the age of eleven, this latter provided him with an instrument "borrowed" from his brother Fritz (12), and Jo (about ten years old at the time) appropriated the Klotz. From then on, it was his constant companion throughout the tumultuous period of artistic activity that culminated in his imprisonment in HM Broken Hill, New South Wales in 1948 (13). Like Basil Hallward's celebrated portrait of Dorian Gray in Wilde's famous novel, the Jo Doc Klotz was to "bear the burden of his passions and sins, [...] seared with the lines of suffering and thought." The instrument received numerous scratches during Rosenberg's time on the road with the Joseph Holbrooke Hot Four (14), though experts have also suggested that these might have occurred during the preliminary experiments in musical memory-location that Rosenberg later formalized as "Boo Theory" (15).

Worthy of special mention here though is the word "HORN" which is clearly visible on the back of the instrument. This mysterious inscription has long fascinated Rosenberg scholars: what could it possibly mean? Some have seen it as a reference to his brother Johannes' work with the Epimenides Paradox (16), but we can finally reveal the true story. Rosenberg's fame as a bebop violinist spread round the world after his imprisonment in Broken Hill, and the story of his unjust and cruel detention inevitably came to the attention of musicians and activists in the United States who were campaigning for the release of James Brown (who, by the way, was sentenced to several years hard labour in the gulags of South Carolina in October 1988 for nothing more than burning a red light because he was late for his violin lesson). Contact was established between the Godfather of Soul and the Godfather of Bebop Violin in 1989 (17), and plans were quickly made for an album together, masterminded by former Brown associate Fred Wesley and Dr Funkenstein himself, Bill Clinton (18). When consulted as to whom he would like to have in the brass section, Rosenberg was writing the words "HORNY HORNS" (19) on a piece of HM Broken Hill prison notepaper resting on the back of his violin when he realised to his horror that his trusty Bic had engraved the first four letters of the name into the wood of his instrument. Overcome with grief at the unintentional desecration of his beloved violin, Rosenberg interpreted the unfortunate occurrence as a portent of bad luck, and withdrew from the project with Clinton. Thus was the world deprived of what would have no doubt been a truly awesome P-Funk masterpiece. The value of Rosenberg's instrument inevitably plummeted, and, unable to sell it to raise the required protection money to pay off the corrupt wardens of Broken Hill (whose intervention was, sadly, often necessary to protect Rosenberg from the unwelcome attention of several sex-starved inmates, notably Joe "Hell" Leandre, aka The Maneater), he eventually donated it to the Warburton Community Centre, located way out in the middle of nowhere in Petermann, Western Australia.

The instrument remains to this day one of the Centre's prize exhibits, along with Johannes Rosenberg's triple neck, double piston, wheeling violin and an early electronic instrument, "le râteau électronique" invented by Eugénie Chas de Bourne (see above), but has been graciously lent to Dr. Dan Warburton (apparently a distant relation of the original Warburton who founded the godforsaken place) for this appearance at the Festival at Mains d'Oeuvres, St. Ouen, France, February 2002. Interested parties are cordially invited to approach Dr. Warburton after his performance (if they are still living, that is) and will be able to inspect the instrument itself.


  • (1) Cf. "Die Minuten Der Mittenwalder Ratsversammlung", 1634 - 1896, edited by Dr P. Wachsmann, Bead Press (1984), vol. 11 (1750 - 1800) p.862 - 883.

  • (2) Other instruments originally designed by Radu Klotz include the fluteophone, trombivo and Pakistani moat-clearer, which have subsequently been constructed and mastered by those able practitioners of contemporary improvised music, Mr. M. Gustafsson, Mr. I. Perelman and Mr. B. Ritchie.

  • (3) Wachsmann, op.cit. p. 866. The local butcher, Johannes "Stuff" Schmidt (1760 - 1830), recalls how Klotz insisted on appearing onstage with a large bucket of cow entrails, with which he proceeded to daub himself during his performance. Contemporary Viennese performance artist Hermann Nitsch is known to have researched extensively the life and work of Radu Klotz, and it can therefore be supposed that his penchant for sacrificing live animals onstage has its origin in Klotz.

  • (4) Only one of these amazing works survives, the "Sonate Malfatti per viole da gamba e cembalo" (1817), in which Klotz painstakingly copied Beethoven's "Spring" sonata and erased all but the middle D flats in the violin part (of which there are very few to start with). In 1923, Italian construction worker, Giuseppe Venuti, who was extending the sewerage system of the city of Verona and accidentally broke through into the subterranean archives of the Ducal Palace, discovered the manuscript. How it made the journey from Vienna to Verona is still a source of mystery.

  • (5) Available in English translation as "Insect and Western", Leo Press, Greensboro, North Carolina (1997).

  • (6) It has also been suggested that the buzz on the recording was due to Rukowski's crappy equipment and the extraordinary conditions in which he recorded - cf. W. Whitehead, "Rosenberg and the Rukowski Recordings", The Jazzman, 12th November 1985, as reprinted in Rose and Linz's "The Pink Violin" (NMA, 1992, p.104-108).

  • (7) Eugénie fled the country, and settled in the United States, eventually founding the Butterfly Research Center that bears her name in Boulder, Colorado.

  • (8) Cf. Boris V. Weingarten's excellent article "Jo 'Doc' Rosenberg and Boo Theory", as reprinted in Rose / Linz (op.cit.) p.33.

  • (9) Described by Derek Jarman as "one of the founding fathers of gay avant-garde film", Hedgehog (1895 - 1939?) is perhaps best known for his "Queer? Wrath of God!" (1922). Other notable films include "The Enigma of Kaspar Weinberger" (1924) and "Fitzcaruso" (1932), a later remake of which in 1982 originally was to have starred Mick Jagger as the swashbuckling operatic tenor, until he had to be flown to hospital during the fateful shooting of the film, having failed to pull a steamboat across the Amazonian rainforest with his lips.

  • (10) Dafeldecker's "Ehe der Eva Braun" (1929) was to prove a seminal influence on the new wave of Australian avant-garde directors, notably John Luke Godhard and Frankie Truffles.

  • (11) The diaries refer to certain films that were apparently completed in Wagga Wagga but subsequently destroyed by their director prior to his death in a fit of temperamental perfectionism. These include "Citizen Nike" (1931), "Jules and Jimmi Rosenberg" (1934), "Behind the Green Deer" (1935) and "Farting by Numbers" (1938).

  • (12) This finally explains the hitherto incomprehensible lines scrawled on the original manuscript of Fritz Kreisler's "Caprice Viennois": "Jetzt hat mir dieses scheiss arschloch Josef meine scheiss Stradivarius gepfladert!"

  • (13) Whitehead, as reprinted in Rose and Linz, op. cit. p.105

  • (14) The complete sordid story of this band is told at length in Derek Bailey's "Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music" (Moorland Publishing, 1980). Rosenberg had numerous violent altercations with the other members of the Hot Four, Derk "Bogarde" Bailey, Gavin "LaFaro" Bryars and Tony "Ox" Lee, but these did not prevent him working with with Derk's son Derek (author of the above-mentioned volume) on "Violin Music for Restaurants" (ReR Megacorp, 1987).

  • (15) Weingarten, op. cit. In his early research into Boo Theory with aboriginal elder Jimmy Mobano, Rosenberg frequently left his violin under various rocks in the Australian desert.

  • (16) Cf. Dr. Fritz Schumann's "Rosenberg: A Reconstruction", in Rose and Linz, op.cit., p.15.

  • (17) It is clear though from the inclusion of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" (albeit under the name "Table Thirteen") in Rosenberg's "Violin Music for Restaurants" that Jo 'Doc' was familiar with James Brown's version of the song, as recorded by Brown on "It's a New Day - Let A Man Come In" album (King K1095, 1970). (18) As patriotic Americans will no doubt be aware, Clinton's horny horn is on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, along with what purports to be a transcription of one of his most celebrated solos but is in fact an extract from Johannes Rosenberg's 11th Violin Concerto.

  • (19) One can only regret that the album, which was to have been called "Papa's Got a Brand New Boomerang", never saw the light of day.

  • Dan Warburton