Jean-Frédéric Schmitt – le maître des cordes

By Yves Campagna,
Jean-François Raynaud

‘There is the violin, the musician and the violin maker’ declares Jean Frédéric Schmitt, who restores and tunes violins and cellos. A cheerful sexagenarian, who is a renowned and much sought after craftsman, Schmitt has cultivated the key virtue of his musical domain: listening. Some of the most well known violists and violinists consult him as a patient would call on a doctor: hoping for advice and a correct diagnosis, a small and precious phrase that confirms a worry, comforts and reassures as he cures the weakness in the instrument’s responsiveness and, most importantly, refreshes the richness of the tonal palette and resonance of the problematic instrument.

Jean Frédéric Schmitt maintains an angelic patience when it comes to ‘tuning’ a violin, which means restoring the instrument’s full spectrum of musical colours (and often with tools such as a simple hammer!).

Repairer and restorer of ancient musical instruments, including illustrious names such as Amati, Stradivarius, Montagnana and Da Salo, he possesses an infallible ear that can immediately pinpoint the source of a flaw or disequilibrium within the harmonics of an instrument. The master luthier attends the recording of a concert given by a Chinese musician and is enthused by his virtuosic command of the erhu: an ancestor of modern bowed string instruments that has been played in China since the 3rd century A.D. While in awe of this Chinese musician, he is aware of the young age of western music.

A superb documentary about stringed instruments and a man dedicated to continuing to make them live and vibrate while respecting their long history.