A good Austrian viola from the circle of, and probably by a member of the Keffer family, Salzkammergut circa 1790.

Instruments from the Salzkammergut region of modern-day Austria are of particular interest, especially violas which always seem to be of excellent quality. There were various makers producing regional work in this area with a relatively high proportion of contralto and tenore-sized violas made into the early 1800s long after they had ceased to be in regular production anywhere else in the world and perhaps indicative of regional musical practices in churches along the Salzburg valley.

There were at least fifteen violin makers named Keffer working in the adjoining villages of Ischl and Goisern over four generations, in addition to other makers from the Peer and Gandl families working in the same community in number over several generations and their work is very seldom labelled, some clearly never had a label in, and others have been “improved” to Italian, so determining precisely which of the Salzkammergut makers produced this instrument is an impossible task.

The Salzkammergut makers  invariably use plain locally sourced wood and a varnish with very little pigment in it, evidently working in quite a hurried manner which draws very close (and dangerous) comparisons to instruments by the Testore family, and for many years before the instrument came to us,  this instrument was identified as the work of Carlo Antonio Testore. Nevertheless, the characteristic high-foreheaded scroll is  a ‘Germanic’ feature and the sound hole nicks set high in the f-holes provide another immediate reference to this school of making, thereafter there are various identifying features that rule out Milanese making and after that there are many familiar characteristics that put the instrument to the Salzkammergut region.

The instrument has had a distinguished musical career, as a Testore until we examined it, and lives up to it’s reputation in overall terms of sound quality and excellence.

Condition notes: I have never encountered a Salzkammergut region instrument that doesn’t have serious woodworm issues to the point that the presence of repaired worm holes almost becomes a definitive factor in determining authenticity. The viola suffered significant damage in which was extensively restored by J&A Beare Limited more than fifty years ago. There are some filled worm holes in the front but the centre of the belly has been entirely renewed for 2cm either side of the centre joint along it’s length, and there are several exit holes in the back around the top-block area. The viola is priced according to it’s restored condition.