violist (?), composer (?), limericist (?)

Disclaimer: Do not be deceived by the verisimilitude of anything you read here.
The veracity of most (if not all) of what follows is incontrovertibly unverifiable.

Ludwig Wolfgang von Kimber was born, we are told, just in time for lunch
on New Year’s Day in 1737, and persisted stubbornly until the early hours
of 1898. After spending his childhood years (1737-1805) in upper Lower
Swabia near the banks of the scenic Forggensee (Lake Forggen) not far north
of Füssen, he migrated (some say fled) to lower Upper Swabia, where he
lived, and may occasionally have worked, until his untimely death only a
few hours short of fully reaching the age of 161. Just what he was doing
all those years we do not know with even the slightest certainty, for the
few extant contemporary accounts of his remarkably long (if not remarkable)
life are suspect at best.

Apparently Ludwig had some musical training and by around 1840 had
begun to establish himself as a reasonably incompetent fiddler. Shortly
thereafter he took up the viola. Whether or not he actually played it we
are unsure, but there is iconographic evidence that he did sometimes hold
a viola. In one contemporary sketch he can be seen holding the instrument
in one hand (the wrong hand) and writing down music(?) with the other
hand, while gripping the bow fiercely between his teeth. From this scant
evidence, some scholars are convinced that Ludwig was a composer as well
(or as badly) as a violist.

Other scholars dispute this conviction, noting that not a note of music from
his pen has ever been found, citing instead evidence of his activity as a
writer of limericks, although until recently only one example was known
to have survived:

 Ein Geiger, der trat in die Strasse,
 Fiel plötzlich auf eine Terrasse.
 “Ob ich noch spielen kann,
 Das weiss doch gar kein Mann,”
 Sagt der Geiger, der liegt in der Gasse.

A masterpiece it certainly is not. Roughly translated, it goes:

 A fiddler who stepped into the street
 Fell suddenly onto a terrace.
 “Whether I can still play,
 Surely no man knows,”
 Says the fiddler, who lies in the alley.

This bit of perverse verse may be autobiographical, and if so, it serves as
our only glimpse of the man as seen through his own eyes—a man who
was perhaps a bit clumsy, of questionable social status and sobriety, and
not particularly forthcoming about his abilities as a player.

Another limerick, or perhaps another verse of the same limerick, has just
been uncovered, remarkably preserved near the bottom of a centuries-old
compost heap:

 Ich besitz’ eine sehr kleine Bratsche.
 Ich spiele sie tief in der Tasche.
 Dort könnt ihr sie nicht hör’n,
 Auch kann sie euch nicht stör’n
 Mit des Bogens erschrecklichem Kratze.

Possibly an admission of Ludwig’s ineptness as a violist, this verse
translates as:

 I own a very small viola.
 I play it deep down in my pocket.
 There you cannot hear it,
 Nor can it annoy you
 With the terrible scratch of its bow.

(Note: The viola itself has never been found.)

While acknowledging that Ludwig has taken small liberties with the rhyme,
we begin to have reason to suspect that he may have ranked among the
foremost 18th/19th-century limericists of lower Upper Swabia.

Some have also suggested that Ludwig may have been the author of the
text of a well-known German folksong (although he apparently set this
text to a pre-existing melody, lending support to the assertion that he
himself did not compose music).

 Ich bin ein Musikanter,
 Ich komm’ aus Schwabenland.
 Ich kann spielen
 Auf mein’ Viola.
 Vio- Vio- Viola,
 Vio- o- la.

 I am a musician,
 I come from Swabia.
 I can play
 On my viola.
 Vio- vio- viola,
 Vio- o- la.

If Ludwig wrote this little verse about himself, he may at times actually have
believed that he had some measure of ability as a violist.

Further information on the life and works of Ludwig Wolfgang von Kimber
will be reported here as anything at all worth mentioning (or not) comes to

Meanwhile please check out these links to invaluable contributions to ongoing
research conducted by imaginative and creative independent scholars!

Could there be still more to come? One can only hope (not!).

The first movement of a Quartettino for oboe and strings, attributed to Swabia’s
master limericist, has been unearthed further down in the aforementioned compost
heap. Miraculously preserved all these years, it can now be heard in performance
by the renowned MacFinale Ensemble playing period midi instruments! Sounds
of this Quartettino movement of von Kimber are just a tiny mouseclick away!
And for the scholarly among you, here are some fascinating and incredible
notes on this historic discovery!

More exciting news! The remaining three movements of the Quartettino have
been found still deeper in the compost! Excerpts of these can now be heard,
quite likely for the first time ever!

If you have survived all this, we cordially invite you to

RETURN to Michael Kimber’s Viola Homepage.

This page updated December 22, 2020.