#DDBwerkbank: Willi fiddles or an unexpected serenade on a 170th birthday

By Julia Fernow (Research Assistant)

A boy enters the stage with verve, bows and begins to play his violin. Unfortunately, nothing can be heard, because it is a silent film from 1906. The young virtuoso's name is Willi and it is thanks to Willi's father, the pharmacist and passionate amateur filmmaker Julius Neubronner, that this rather calm little scene can still be admired today. On 8 February 2022, Julius Neubronner would have turned 170 years old.

"Willi fiddles" by Julius Neubronner(1906), DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

In this article you will find out how the film “Willi geigt” would sound when set to music, the potential of chance is in the DDB and what role a Willi from our time plays in it. And to begin with, a few words about the brilliant birthday boy:

Julius Neubronner - inventive genius and amateur filmmaker

There are the most amazing things to tell about Julius Neubronner (1852-1932): He invented drone recording avant la lettre by equipping his well-kept carrier pigeons with a camera and sending them on a reconnaissance tour. Thanks to the pigeons, he also maintained a special service in his pharmacy in the Taunus: prescriptions could be delivered by carrier pigeon, so that the medication was ready and stirred for collection when the messenger arrived.

Neubronner, Julius (1852-1932) / Portrait with hat, holding an apparatus in his right hand, a carrier pigeon in his left hand / Elbow looking down to the left, probably in private ownership, Hessisches Staatsarchiv Darmstadt (Hessian State Archive Darmstadt), legal status unknown

Today, however, the experimental Julius Neubronner is better known for his amateur films from the early days of film. With his camera, acquired in 1903, he filmed everyday moments of his surroundings. Among them, above all, his family, with whom he also rehearsed artistic interludes that were performed on the stage installed in his own garden - like the violin playing of his son Willi in the film sequence shown. As a filmmaker, Neubronner was not looking for the grand narrative, but for real, immediate life - whether banal or special. He captured soapbox racing, ice skating or his sons' courtships. You can find more exciting stories about the inventor and tinkerer in the article "New Collections: Julius Neubronner and the early amateur film".

Sounds reawakened

From Kronberg in the Taunus region of the 1910s, we move to the present: in Hamburg, art historian Louisa sits at her laptop and browses through the German Digital Library. Actually looking for architectural photographs, she clicks inspired from object to object and discovers the short film "Willi geigt" on associative detours. How funny and sweet, she thinks as she watches the short film, over 100 years ago a boy named Willi played the violin, as did her younger brother, also a Willi. She immediately forwards the fabulous find to him.

In Berlin, Willi opens the link to "Willi geigt" on his smartphone and follows the silent glide of the violin bow across the strings. Just looking at it, the melodies played resound in his head and a "flitzpeep idea", as he later calls it, won't let him go. Willi knows the piece that the young Neubronner played well over 100 years ago, he still has it in his fingers: "Kavatine" by Joachim Raff (1822-1882). The notes are quickly at hand, the violin anyway. Although Willi from Berlin learned “Kavatine” with a different fingering than Willi Neubronner, on the 5th attempt he succeeded in playing the piece almost synchronously with the 1906 performance. A work of less than half an hour, as he reports, and an unexpected joy for Julius Neubronner's 170th birthday! Just do it and try it out, that was also typical for the birthday boy.

We thank Louisa and Willi for the wonderful revival of this piece! And now clear the stage for Willi and Willi:

For the music-loving readers, it should be noted: Willi Neubronner did not play “Kavatine” to the end.

You can find all of Julius Neubronner’s films in the German Digital Library here.