A wonderful string instrument. A violin, like its siblings in the family (including viola, cello and double bass), has four strings of decreasing thickness as one proceeds looks from left to right. The lowest note possible on a violin is the G below center C, you can reach up to 4 octaves above that note, if you're good.

The strings are usually metallic. If you're a lucky bastard, then you can have cat gut strings, but they cost a fortune. The bow is made from horse-hair or synthetic fibers. Rosin is used to create friction between the string and the bow in order to cause a vibration.

The violin is extremely expressive due to its extreme flexibility in creating a combination of expression and tone. Beginners often focus on the fingering (left hand) aspect of playing the violin, to get the notes right, as a player progresses in skill, the importance of the bow increases. The speed of the bow, the amount of force used to press it against the string, all affect the sound of the violin. You can slam the bow down to create a loud, jerky, staccato like effect (bouncing the bow), or you can slowly let it glide to produce a smooth, mellow sound.

Vibrato, used by the left hand, is used to produce a rich, wavy sound. It consists of using your wrist to vibrate the note with a shaking motion. The result is almost like a vibration in a vibration. As if there were other notes inside.

I can't really describe how wonderful the violin is as an instrument. When I started, I had the Chinese factory made ones that cost $50. In my tenth year, I shelled out $3000 to buy a hand-made, Austrian violin, 80 years old, excellent condition. The difference in the sound was immediate. My old violin had a tinny, hollow sound that got worse as the pitch of the note increased. My new one produced a rich tone, from the lowest G to the highest notes I played. It cost me a ton of money, but it was worth every penny.

It is now sitting on top of my cabinet. Fifteen years of effort. I still play to keep my skills intact. I sometimes regret giving up the piano (after playing it for years) to pursue the violin. Oh well. What's done is done.

The Violin: Centuries of Metamorphosis

Pre 8th Century

The history of ancient musical instruments is strewn with difficulty due to identical devices given varying names. One such early stringed instrument played with bow was the circa 8th century Rebec, and is purportedly of an Asian derivation. Through following years, shapes changed and additional strings were added: evolving eventually into the Lyre and finally into the Viol, the violin's true ancestor.

10th to 12th Century

One of these developments was the Tromba Marina Italian or Trumshcheit German/ (literally "Marine Trumpet"). Then there was the Hurdy Gurdy, also called Vielle, or Radleier{"wheel lyre), or Bettlerleier ("mendicants' lyre"); this Organistrum, or Chiffonie was popular with its bagpipe-like droning sound in this period. The fidula (fiddle or fidel, Old English = fithele) an equivalent to "viol", can be traced back to the 8th century, ; and was called Gigue, Giga and Geige by the French, Italians, and Germans, respectively. The German term is still used.

The 15th Century

The viol developed into two forms, one like the guitar played by the arm, another by the legs more like today's cello. These six stringed fretted crescent-holed implements had variations separated thus: soprano (the dicant viol or violetta), the alto, tenor, and bass viol (gamba). Contrabass has this similar form. The modern violin has dropped two strings to four and is fretless.

However disputes can arise crediting the country responsible for the first violin as we are familiar with today; Italy, France and Germany all vie for this honor. Ironically, in many of the 16th century Italian scores you can find the piccolo violino alla francese {emphasis mine} (little French viol). One of the oldest known existing museum pieces is one bearing the year 1449 and its Breton luthier' s name, Jean Kerlin (also know as Kerlino of Brescia, Italy from the 15th century). The term for lute maker (the 14th and 15th's century's favorite string instrument) is applicable for violin crafter as well. The demand for a higher tonal and virtousity range emerged out of the burgeoning Renaissance: paving the way for future geniuses like Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart.

The 16th Century

There was also the lute building Duiffoprugcar or Tieffenbrucker (Tyrolian ) family of Bologna, Padua and Venice. From this family came the violin maker, Casper Duiffoprugcar ( b. 1469) who lived in Bolgna (until 1515), Paris and Lyons is known for developing high shoulders, a more indented waist, and the more definite f holes on his modern predecessors dated 1510, 1511, 1515, and 1517. The founder of the Brescian School, Gasparo di Salo from a little village by lake Garda, was known for his sometimes high or maybe flat models, but were full sonorously toned pieces.

The 17th - 18th Century and Violin Making's Zenith

Early Italian Craftsmen

The Brescian School

Gasparo's finest student of prized violins of beautiful sepia varnished finishes and double purfling was Giovanni Paoli Maggini (1590-1640).

The Cremona School of the Amatis

Cremona was a rival to Bologna in cultural excellence, and here is where Andrea Amati (1520-1611?) founded his famous school. Charles IX liked these small-patterned high-backed amber colored masterpieces at Versailles. The Amati style was continued by Antonio and Geronimo Amati, albeit larger models by Andrea's latter son, until the 1630's. Grandson Nicolo Amati, however was the third of the violin maker's troika consisting of also the "thoroughbreds" Guarnerius and Stradivarius, discussed later. 1625 was the experimental year where the larger sized connoisseur vaunted "Grand Amati " was launched. Their tender honey-ripe (the color of the finish, too) but pure sound, however, is only applicable for antique chamber music (e.g. Musica Antiqua).

Cremona's Joseph Guarneri

An answer to the need for a dynamic sound as well as mellow came from Joseph {Giuseppe} Guarnerius del Gesu, mistakenly called a pupil of Stradivarius. Guarneri was also a composer from a violin maker's household. He experimented on the Amati models so widely, that it is hit or miss in obtaining more less collectible results left today. He had a cousin and son named Joseph, an uncle Andreas and another son, known as Peter of Venice working in the Cremona workshops.

Antonius Stradivarius

The fame of Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) is almost redundant to discuss. The synthesis of di Salo's strong bright tone and Amati's pure sweetness (Nicolo apprencticed him) were finally developed out of his master's copies. Modern science has only scratched (ouch! they are nearly priceless!) his mysterious veneers that give the fabled tone, and one can notice the flattened arch, greater proportion, and reshapened sound orifices. He went from yellow to red hues, and readjusted bridges. And the resonance and fortissimo are incomparable legends. His two sons were just able to finish some of their deceased father's work before they succumbed 5 years later. Pupils and accomplished producers: Carlo Bergonzi, Lorenzo Guadagnini, Johannes Baptista Guadagnini, and Alessandro Gagliano (active in the 1740's).

The Germans, French and English Contributors

Absam, Tyrol, Germany was home to a possible Cremona understudy, Jakob Stainer (1621-1683). His work is far different from the Amati's: in repositioned openings, shortened, broadened, and fat bellied amber to brown body; and quick, syrupy response, which emenates with feeble intensity. Aegidius Klotz (1653-1743) continued Stainer's work so closely that many of his works were sold as items attributed to those made by his mentor.

The French had two makers of some notoriety: Nicholas Lupot (1758-1824) follower of Stradivarius, and J. B. Vuillaume. Francois Tourte (1747-1835) is better known as one who changed the bow (which itself evolved from string to hair) to its longer, more curved shape of today, which the excellent musician, Viotti gave its muster approval when demonstrating executed nuances of expression.

Other Varieties

The Viola

The viola is the tenor violin, still used, and it was an influence on the great trio of maker's progress on the violin.

The Violoncello

The violoncello is the bass violin also factored in the violin's development. The (Contra-bass or bass-viol did not succeed going forward in the violin template, but remained in the viol style).

Classical Affectionados' Eternal Gratitude

From Wagner to Beethoven, from Vivaldi to Strauss we would have been missing so much without the tremendous and ardous epic that finished three hundred years ago, but classical music depending on the current derivation is still continuing played by greats like Itzhak Perlman today.

source: History of Music, W.J. Baltzell; 1905/

Vi`o*lin" (?), n. [It. violino, dim. of viola. See Viol.] Mus.

A small instrument with four strings, played with a bow; a fiddle.

⇒ The violin is distinguished for the brilliancy and gayety, as well as the power and variety, of its tones, and in the orchestra it is the leading and most important instrument.


© Webster 1913.

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