From classical to dixieland jazz and even rock & roll, the violin has been a powerful addition to a variety of musical compositions for several centuries. So, where does the history of the violin begin? The violin is descended from the viol family of instruments which includes any stringed instrument that is fretted or bowed. Predecessors to the violin include the medieval fiddle or vielle, the rebec, and the lira da braccio. Explore our timeline to find out more about this much beloved instrument!
1555: The oldest documented violin to have 4 strings, similar to the modern violin, is constructed by Andrea Amati of Cremona, Italy.
1600: Cremona is the undisputed center of violin making in Europe.
1630: Nicolò Amati (grandson of Andrea Amati) is the only member of his family and the only violin maker in Cremona to survive the plague which devastated the city around this time. His violins were wider than that of other makers and had an elegantly shaped sound hole. This design is now known as the “Grand Amati”. Under Nicolò’s guidance, the Amati workshop was revered as one of the finest violin ateliers in Europe.
1690-1700: Antonio Stradivari moved away from Nicolò Amati’s style, experimenting with his own instead. During the 1690’s he worked on a “long pattern” violin which featured a long, narrow body and darker tone.
1700-1720: What many refer to as the “golden age” of Stradivari’s career as a luthier. During this time he reverted to a short, wide violin design called his “grand pattern”. Although most Stradivari violins have been modernized to fit the demands of virtuosi over time, his instruments from this period have been considered some of the most highly valued.
ca. 1720: The Bach E Major Violin Concerto was composed. At this time the violin had no chin or shoulder rest, a shorter fingerboard, and was strung entirely of gut strings. The instrument was played at a downward angle which constricted movement, prohibiting the ability to play in upper positions. The bow in use at the time was also much shorter and lighter than the present day Tourte bow. These differences made for a muted and, at times, discordant sound as compared to the clarity and brilliance of violin sounds today. Despite these differences, Bach’s solo string compositions are still some of the most challenging for students of the violin, which is quite remarkable given the less than “modern” conventions of the instrument at the time.
1775 – 1780: Francois Tourte invented the modern bow using pernambuco as opposed to the more rigid snake-wood style Baroque bows.
1820: Louis Spohr invented the chin rest which allowed for increased comfortability and the ability to play in higher positions. This led to the development of advanced playing technique and can be considered the catalyst which ushered violinists into virtuoso status.
19th Century Additions to The Violin: Steel strings are introduced for use with modern violins. Metal strings are a more durable and affordable option to Baroque gut strings, though many advanced violinists still prefer the sound produced by gut strings if they can find them. Virtuoso violinists of this time include Nicolò Paganini and Pablo de Sarasate.
20th Century: The 20th century produced several variations on the overall violin design. However, one of the most notable is the introduction of the electric violin. Electrically amplified violins have been used in one form or another since the 1920s and are often an addition to jazz or blue’s bands.
Undoubtedly, the violin has come a long way.
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