History of the violin | Sunday Observer

History of the violin

12 January, 2020

The violin is known as a bowed, stringed instrument as a bow is used to vibrate the strings and get the sound from the violin. The viola, cello and the double bass are also bowed stringed instruments and belong to the same family. The violin is colloquially called a fiddle.

The fiddle was popular among troubadours in Europe in olden days.

The two stringed rabab, an Arabian fiddle was introduced to Europe in the 11th century and the three stringed rebec brought to Europe between the 11th and 13th centuries were very popular in Spain and Italy in the fifteenth century. These are thought to be the ancestors of the violin as it is known today. The French vielle was very much like the rebec. There are some other instruments too which lay claim to being ancestors of the violin like, the pear shaped lira da braccio played in Europe as far back as the ninth century and was popular during the European Renaissance.

Details about Antonio Stradiveri 1714 'soil' violin

Some say that the Mongolian Morin Khuur introduced to Europe in the middle ages may also have contributed to the creation of the violin. European craftsmen when they saw these other instruments and figured out how they were made and played used that information to create their own versions of stringed and bowed instruments. The Morin Khuur and the Chinese Ethu are thought to have evolved from the rebec and therefore, are related to the violin.

So, the violin of today was created gradually over a long period of time.

The first violins like the ones in use now were made in the 1500s, very near the start of the Renaissance.

Italian Andrea Amati is credited with having made the first violin like the modern ones and it had four strings. This was in Cremona, Italy in 1555. The violin became very popular and King Charles IX of France liked it so much that he had Andrea Amati build him 24 of these violins. The oldest, surviving violin is one of these and is called ‘Charles IX'. Amati lived in Cremona, Italy and therefore, many regard Cremona as the birthplace of the modern violin.

However, some people hold the opinion that violins were made in Brescia earlier than this.

During the following century (100 years) the violin became very popular all over Europe.

The early violins had necks that were thicker and shorter than the modern violins. Their bridges were flatter and the fingerboards shorter. Many changes were made to these violins to obtain a higher pitch and get more volume for orchestras.

Around the 1820’s the creation of the chin rest made playing violins easier.

In 1786, Francoise Tourte created the modern violin bow and standardized its length and weight.

The 1600s saw the art of violin making reaching great heights. Two families of violin makers (violin makers are known as luthiers) the Guarneri family and the Stradiveri family excelled in the art of violin making. They too lived in Cremona like the Amati family and learnt their craft from them. The violins created by them are very much in demand and can be sold at very high prices. A violin Vieuxtemps Guarneri created by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu in 1741 sold for an estimated $18million dollars in 2013.

Antonio Stradiveri

He is considered to be one of the finest violin makers in the world and violins made by him can be sold for millions of dollars today

An image showing a 1716 violin of the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivari 

Stradiveri was borin in Cremona, Italy in 1644. He was apprenticed to Andrea Amati’s grandson Niccolo and soon became a wonderful craftsman. Stradiveri was creating his own violins while still working with Amati. In 1666 he set up his own workshop.

The years 1700 to 1720 were the ‘golden period ’ of Antonio Stradiveri’s career. He developed violins and cellos in new styles with superb tonal quality. The designs of these violins became the basic design for violins and cellos produced thereafter.

Some of the most famous violins created by Stradiveri during this period are the 1704 'Betts' violin now housed in the United States Library of Congress, the 1715 ‘Alard’ considered to be the finest Stradiveri in existence and the 1716 ‘Messiah’. This last violin was never sold by Stradiveri and is in the best condition of of all his creations. Another violin called ‘The Hammer' was sold for $3.54 million dollars in May, 2006.

Stradiveri died on December 18, 1737.