As you probably know, we have something of a soft spot for the Prague makers, and we’re very pleased to have a violin by Ferdinand Lantner, a lesser known but very accomplished maker of the late 19th century. It has a couple of minor repairs but overall it’s an excellent reference example with an outstanding tone.
Ferdinand Lantner is a maker whose work is hardly ever seen. He appears to have been a restless and troubled soul, travelling extensively as a journeyman before setting up independently, and then moving workshop in Prague no fewer than 8 times in around 30 years. His list of employers reads like a veritable Who’s Who of Austro-Hungarian makers – among others he worked for Martin Stoss along with Jan Kulik in Vienna, Samuel Nemessanyi in Budapest, Thomas Zach in Vienna, JB Dvorak in Prague and finally Ferdinand August Homolka. According to Umění houslařů (the Bible of Czech violin-making) many of JB Dvorak’s early violins were made by Lantner, and it’s quite rare to find an instrument with an original Ferdinand Lantner label.
This violin is very close in model to the viola pictured in Umění houslařů, with rather broad upper bouts, a lovely feminine scroll, flat arching and angular corners. The work is confident and accomplished if slightly hurried, the varnish reminiscent of FA Homolka – overall a very fine looking instrument.
The condition is generally very good though there are neatly repaired cracks above and below the bass f-hole and a small crack below the treble f-hole. Since there are no other issues it’s safe to assume that this work was carried out by Ferdinand Lantner’s son Bohuslav, whose repair label we see in the violin. There are no cracks or damages to the back, ribs or scroll, and the original varnish is well preserved.
It’s no surprise to me to find that this is a terrific sounding violin. The makers of the Prague/Vienna school offer extraordinary value for money when compared to Italian production of the same period, and they almost always outshine English or French instruments in tone and playability.
This violin has a unique voice, at once bright and woody – I would describe it as reedy, but in this case also powerful and projecting. It’s a very willing instrument, super-responsive, with great dynamics and a wide range of tonal colours. The sound is harmonically complex, with a lot of overtones and great sustain – magical in the upper register but also gutsy and full on the G.
It has the best kind of brightness, smooth and enveloping without any hint of harshness – it would be an ideal instrument for a quartet leader. It’s brimming with personality, assertive yet refined, with a slightly shocking “in your face” brilliance that’s highly addictive.