Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Production of the Molln Jew’s harp

Applicant: Andreas Rußmann
Province: Upper Austria
Domain: Traditional Craftsmanship
Year of inclusion: 2014

The Jew’s harp (German: “Maultrommel”) is a small musical instrument consisting of a metal frame and a steel tongue or reed. The player presses the instrument between his or her teeth and plucks the flexible steel reed, which vibrates and uses its player’s head as a resonance chamber (see “Jew's Harp Playing in Austria”). The Jew’s harp is thought to be of Asian origin, although finds in castle ruins and artistic depictions in frescos and paintings make it clear that it was also common in Europe by the Middle Ages. The existence of a Jew’s harp makers’ guild in Molln is documented as early as the 17th century. While 33 master makers were active around 1800, there are now only three family businesses still in existence today. Jew’s harps’ production consists of three main steps: the creation and bending of the frame, the stamping out and installation of the spring in the frame, and the fitting of the frame and shaping of the spring. Depending on the standard of quality that a Jew’s harp is intended to meet, production is done either completely by hand or with the help of machines.