Zither me.

6/24/08

What is a zither? Good question and until a month ago, I had never heard of one – much less had seen one. It is a stringed instrument consisting of a wooden frame across which are stretched several (about thirty) strings. Five of these strings are used for the melody, they are above a fretted fingerboard. The rest of the strings are used for harmony and are not fretted.He is what a zither looks like:

Zither

And why would should we care about the zither? Well, it seems that George Washington was an avid zither enthusiast, as we jump forward fifty years and celebrate the arrival in this country of the already more developed zither that came to the New World with the large waves of immigration from German-speaking lands. The next question is: Could a land scam have given America its first and greatest zither builder? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Franz Schwarzer immigrated to Missouri from Austria in 1864, expecting to become a gentleman farmer on the Missouri River near the little town of Holstein. Unfortunately at the time but fortunately for the future, he and his wife were the victims of a land scam, and their promised farm and house turned out to be a piece of raw land and a shack. They soon moved across the river to Washington, Missouri, and Franz went back to his former trade of carpentry. He had had some contact with the zither and leading zither figures in Austria, and somewhere around 1866 he tried his hand at making a zither. This instrument is carefully preserved in the state museum at Jefferson City, and I have held it in my hands.

The first instrument quickly led to others, ever better in quality. In 1873 he won the gold medal at the International Exhibition in Vienna. By this time zither building had become his trade, and he had built a small factory and employed several craftsmen to meet the growing demand from this country and abroad. He developed several different models, most of them featuring the delicate mother-of-pearl inlay that was one of his trademarks.

As he flourished, so did zither playing in the United States. Without the distractions we have today, people made music at home, for their own pleasure and satisfaction and that of the people around them. From the 1870s into the 1920s, zither teachers taught and students learned. Zither clubs abounded. Never mind that the zither is the most difficult of all instruments to play; they had more patience and perseverance in those days, finding joy in the beauty of the instrument and satisfaction in gradually learning to draw beautiful sounds from it. The few American players of today look back on those times with incredulous envy.

Just for kicks, I did a search on the web to see what they have sold for on ebay. Looks like one of our very own bought they one I found:

Winning bid: US $510.00
Ended: Jan-15-06 18:57:48 PST
Shipping costs:
US $33.71
US Postal Service Parcel Post®
Service to 63090, United States
Item location: Westchester, United States
History: 17 bids
Winning bidder: slpawngun

More related information:

Visiting the Homeland of Schwarzer Zithers @ http://www.zither.us/?q=node/23

Zither MP3 Downloads: http://mp3search.01-mp3search.com/top53-zither.html

Zither youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4fuBqLfgns&feature=related

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Published in: on June 24, 2008 at 10:08 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello
    Thought you might like to see something very unusual in the Zither/autoharp family. I can’t seem to find any information on this item. Can you identify it. You can see it on ebay at Zither Antique Rare Collectable Museum Piece Item number: 160258596607
    thanks
    Eddie

  2. Are you aware of any zither instructors in west of the Mississippi? I live in Salt Lake City and would appreciate any information you might have.

    Thank you,

    Ron Knierim
    5908 Jonquil Drive
    Salt Lake City, UT 84118

    801 964-4890


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