Notes on Jakob Stainer’s year of birth

This article is no longer valid in its statement and is currently being revised.

Jakob Stainer’s year of birth can only be approximated. According to Senn, the parish records in Absam, the supposed birthplace of Stainer, were only kept regularly from 1636 on. Up to that date, there were only irregular entries of baptisms, marriages and deaths.

Literary sources have proposed various possibilities within the period between 1617 and 1621. Here is a brief investigation into this topic of possible years of birth. Let me start by listing those relatives of Jakob Stainer whose biographical data are at least partly documented:

  • Hans Stainer, Jakob’s father, * unknown, † 5 May 1652
  • Barbara Ponperger, Jakob’s mother, Hans Stainer’s first wife, * unknown, † between late 1618 and mid-1620
  • Martin, brother of Jakob from their father’s first marriage. Baptized on 25 October1618. He probably died early, maybe already as an infant as he is neither mentioned in the case of inheritance of 1623 nor in the pedigree of 1653.
  • Paul, Jakob’s half-brother from their father’s second marriage with Christina Schwitzer, * 16 June1621, † 26 October 1664
  • Magdalena, Jakob’s half-sister from their father’s second marriage with Christina Schwitzer, * unknown, † 1688. On 30 October 1638, she gave birth to a child out of wedlock. She was married on 25 August 1641.

1617 is proposed as the probable year of birth by Prof. Dr. Walter Senn (among others). Senn, this outstanding and tireless music and local historian of the Tyrol, worked on Stainer like no one else. In 1947 he habilitated with the thesis »Jakob Stainer, der Geigenmacher zu Absam – Die Lebensgeschichte nach urkundlichen Quellen« (Jakob Stainer, the violin maker in Absam – His biography according to historical records). Together with co-author Karl Roy, a master violin maker and long-time head of the violin making school in Mittenwald (Germany), he published »Jakob Stainer – Leben und Werk des Tiroler Meisters«  (Jakob Stainer – Life and Work of the Tyrolean Master) [ Senn, Roy 1986 ], which is still the work of reference about Stainer.

The year 1617 was proposed by Senn based on these considerations:

Jakob Stainer is first mentioned March 16, 1623. The Verfachbuch (Tyrolean term for the book of case records) of Thaur (the competent law court for Absam) mentions a small inheritance to Jakob Stainer. He is expressly referred to as the »boy« Jakob Stainer. This legacy leaves no doubt at all that Jakob Stainer was a son of Barbara Ponberger, his father’s first wife. Jakob was entitled to the legacy because his mother had already died by that time.

The last record mentioning Jakob’s mother Barbara Ponberger dates from 25 October 1618. That was the day when Jakob’s brother Martin was baptised. Martin probably died at a young age.

On 16 June1621, Jakob’s half-brother Paul was born (i.e. conceived in October 1620). According to the parish register his mother was Christina Schwitzer, second wife of Jakob’s father.

Senn concluded from these dates a timeframe of Barbara Ponberger’s death between October 1618 and mid-1620.

We do not know the date of birth of Magdalena, Jakob’s step-sister from the second marriage. Senn assumed she was born before her brother Paul, which lead to his assessment that Barbara Ponberger already died between late 1618 and early 1619. He inferred this from the fact that Magdalena gave birth to an illegitimate child of the miner Georg Aicher on 30 October 1638. Had she been born after her brother Paul, she would have given birth at the age of 16 or even younger. Senn found this very unlikely and therefore he estimated the the young mother to be »rather« 18 years of age.

Note: Probably the meticulous scientist Senn at this point fell victim to moral concepts placing sexuality at a young age under a taboo.

In Jakob Stainer’s pedigree certificate, issued in 1653 by the law court in Thaur, Magdalena was placed as the last one of Hans Stainer’s children. This rather prompts the assumption that Magdalena was born after her brother Paul.

All data [ Senn, Roy 1986, p 16ff. ]

1618 – has occasionally and more recently been proposed as Jakob’s year of birth (e.g. in 2013 in the German Wikipedia). This is probably due to a misleading quotation from the essay »Jakob Stainer – Gedanken zu einer lückenhaften Lebensgeschichte« (Jakob Stainer – Reflections on a fragmentary biography) [ Hopfner 2003, pp. 33 ]. Hopfner listed the historical records concerning Stainer’s trial for heresy in 1668/1669 – records not yet available to Senn in their full extent. In a letter to the consistory of Brixen dating 16 September 1668, Stainer makes excuses with regard to the accusations of heresy and mentions that he is now almost 50 years old.

Note: Stainer was an educated man and numerate as well. Hopfner therefore concluded from this passage that a year of birth before 1618 could be ruled out. Hopfner did not want to nail down the year 1618, he just wanted to rule out the year 1617.

1619 – is given as year of birth in Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikonin an article by Christoph Brandhuber about Stainer’s life. The author does not discuss the item any further. The comprehensive essay can be downloaded from as a pdf file (see link below).

1621 was often stated in earlier research work – even with the exact day 14 July 1621. Among others it is to be found in Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski »Die Violine und ihre Meister« (The Violin and its Masters) [ Wasielewski 1927 ] and Franz Farga »Geigen und Geiger« (Violins and Violinists) [ Farga 1940 ]. Farga by the way wrongly stated as parents Martin Stainer and Sabina Grafinger.

Note: It can be assumed that this date had cropped up long ago due to incomplete records and hearsay and was uncritically handed down by generations of researchers.

Senn already pointed out that when the pedigree certificate of 1653 had come to light, Jakob Stainer’s parents could unequivocally be identified and 1621 as a year of birth became obsolete. It is worth noting that this certificate of 1653 had been made available to the public as early as 1930. It was fully reprinted on page 201 of the magazine »Tiroler Heimat« within an article by Karl Klaar »Die Eltern des Geigenmachers Jakob Stainer« (The parents of the luthier Jakob Stainer). Up until Senn, there were no corrections.


If you want to create a calendar for possible dates of birth, you have to take into account the nine months of pregnancy and in addition to that several weeks of physical rest for a woman in childbed before sexual intercourse was taken up again. Breastfeeding was the norm and it generally has the effect of a contraceptive device – at least during the first six months. So, several months of non-conception would be the rule after giving birth. But, of course, nature may play its pranks in this respect, as we know.

Jakob’s half-brother Paul was probably fathered in October 1620. This means Hans Stainer by that time (or earlier) was Christina Schwitzer’s lover or husband. Barbara Ponberger, Jakob’s mother, had died.

After the birth of his brother Martin, the earliest possible date of conception of Jakob could be December 1618. So, Jakob’s birth could have taken place between September 1619 and the summer of 1620.

A quick remarriage of his father after the death of his first wife cannot be looked upon as an act of impiety. Not everybody could afford times of mourning. For ordinary folks like the Stainers, the death of a wife created an untenable situation: the father of the family had to go into the salt mines for work, the little one, the household, and not least the sex drive had to be taken care of. So, remarrying as quickly as possible would be the normal thing to do.

Taking into consideration Jakob Stainer’s mentioning his being almost fifty years old in the letter dating 16 September 1668, the assumption of a date of birth around the end of 1619 seems to make sense. The chain of evidence, however, fully depends on Jakob Stainer’s correct memory. Can we assume his precise recollection or did he have some kind of certificate unknown to us?

Nevertheless, the year 1619 seems to me the most plausible of all possibilities, We can’t be certain, though. Perhaps one day some document will turn up solving this riddle. The author will gladly pick up all the news there is!

Heinz Peller
Artikel erstellt am: 03.03.2014