It all Started With a Viola


Dorothea and Georg Fankhauser have been passionately supporting young musicians for years. The couple supports the specific needs of individuals.


Georg Fankhauser

Thirty years ago, Dorothea and Georg Fankhauser from Basel, bought a castle in Burgundy, making their dream of a dual purpose private estate for artists in residents come true. The couple frequently invites artists, musicians, painters and others, who may enjoy the castle and surroundings while working at this beautiful place for some time. On multiple occasions every year, the owners offer room for seminars, rehearsals and concerts. As avid amateur musicians, the couple has been in touch with the professional music world for a while. That’s how they became aware of the needs of young, talented, but penniless students: Quite often, the difference between artistic potential and the capability of the artist's instrument are huge. This insight led to the creation of «Pirolo», a foundation with the purpose to acquire high quality string instruments and bows, and lend these to young artists for free. The focus lies on excellent string instruments and bows. Since the foundation's main office is located in Basel, the couple focuses mainly on graduates of the Musikhochschule Basel.

Two Masterfully Crafted Violas

Georg Fankhauser with Cello

The couple wants «to support our passion, music, in a way useful to others. We both had successful careers and want to give back to talented musicians, who benefit from our support», says Georg Fankhauser. It all started with a viola: In early summer 2007, the founders acquired a master viola by Giovanni Testore, built in 1760. The instrument’s first beneficiary became Albanian violist Altin Tafilaj, who graduated with his concert diploma at the Musikhochschule Basel. As of today, Pirolo owns about sixteen string instruments. Thereof fourteen are currently lent out. The Testore viola is currently played by a student in Bern. Another master instrument, however, is currently free: a German viola, built in 1868 by Martin Richter. Two viola bows by Peccatte and Thomassin also belong to the instrument fundus.
Just because most of the instruments and bows are currently lent out, doesn't mean one has to wait for an instrument for years. If professor's provide recommendations for a student, the Fankhauser couple asks the applicant to find a suitable instrument, buy it, lend it, or offer an interest free loan, so that the student may acquire his/her instrument of choice.


Musical Development Work in Kosovo

The Kosovo is, next to the cultural castle in Burgundy and the Pirolo foundation in Basel, the third part of his musical-cultural «Bermuda Triangle», says Georg Fankhauser. Shortly after founding «pirolo», and thanks to ongoing humanitarian activity, Dorothea Fankhauser established contact with the music school in Gjakova, close to the Albanian border. The school and its members were passionate about music making, but did not have the necessary instruments. That’s why Dorothea and Georg Fankhauser created a second cause to acquire instruments. However, in this case, help exceeds the material purpose. The benefactors travel to the place an average of 5 times a year, guiding music school projects, such as musical performances and school concerts. Here again, the triangle to the cultural castle completes: Choir, orchestra and teachers from Gjakova have repeatedly been invited to projects in Burgundy, and Pirolo-beneficiaries have traveled to Gjakova, mentor teaching staff, students, the school orchestra and ensembles. Two years ago, the foundation supported an exchange between the Gjakova music school and the Binningen-Bottmingen music school in Baselland. Choir and orchestra, consisting of 44 children and young adults, as well as 5 accompanying adults, were invited to Basel, to rehearse and perform a music program together with the Swiss children.


Interesting Links

This blog article is written by Niklaus Rüegg, graduate of the Zurich International Opera Studio, graduate of the Basel Opera Academy, twice winner of the Migros Gifted Scholarship, numerous engagements in opera, operetta, musicals and concerts in Switzerland and abroad.
Rüegg has also been working as a music journalist for ten years and is responsible for the association pages of the VMS (Verband Musikschulen Schweiz) in the Schweizer Musikzeitung. As a young man, Niklaus Rüegg had played the violin and viola.

Photos: Niklaus Rüegg and Foundation Pirolo

Sheet music for Viola for download



This might also be of interest

Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the most prominent composers of the Baroque era. He introduced innovative thinking into the world of music and changed the music of the early 18th century significantly.
» to the blog


Viola news letter

NewsletterDo you don't want to miss any news regarding viola anymore? Our monthly viola news letter will keep you informed.
» Subscribe to our viola letter for free


Visit and like us on Facebook.
» Music4Viola on Facebook