Violin, a stringed musical instrument, played with a bow, which in its earlier forms is of great and uncertain antiquity, but which assumed its present form about the beginning of the 16th century. Its British name crwth became crowd; its Anglo-Saxon name fythel, fiddle. A small violin was also called a kit. It has four strings tuned in fifths, E, A, D, G, the lowest giving what is known as the middle G, that which is written on the fourth space of the bass clef. This string is wound with wire; the others are of gut unwound. The body of the instrument consists of a sounding board, or belly, which is always of straight-grained deal, and a back of corresponding shape, which is usually of maple, but sometimes of sycamore, or, in very old instruments, of pear wood. From the middle of the upper part stretches the neck, which ends in a small box ornamented with a scroll, or rarely with a carved head of man or beast. Upon the neck is the finger board, of ebony, which until the middle of the last century was much shorter than it is at present. The necks of all old instruments were also short, and have to be lengthened for modern use.
The strings are fastened at the lower end to a movable tail piece, generally of ebony, and stretched across a bridge of beech wood, the feet of which rest upon the belly. The tension of the strings is regulated by four pegs which run at right angles through the box at the end of the neck. The wood of the belly and of the back, and also of the sides which separate and sustain the two former, is very thin, being in the violin proper not more than an eighth of an inch in the thickest part, which is in the middle under the bridge. To enable this fragile structure to sustain the great pressure produced by the tension of the strings, which in the violin proper was of old about 65 lbs. and is now about 90 lbs., the belly and the back are arched from end to end and from side to side. This arching is produced, not by bending the wood, but by cutting it out with gouges and tiny planes; and in the height and the proportions of this arch consists chiefly the style of the various schools of violin making, the other traits being the outline and the form of the scroll. In a well designed, well made instrument, all these lines are harmonious, and make the instrument as a whole a very beautiful work of art.
A very important adjunct to the exterior of the violin is the varnish, which in good instruments is of exquisite fineness and color. Varnish is also a very marked trait of school and style in violin making. The tension of the strings is supported not only by the arching of the belly and the back, but by the bass bar and the sound post. The former is a thin piece of wood glued lengthwise to the belly and stretching nearly from one end of the instrument to the other, under and in the direction of the bass or lowest string. It is vertically much deeper through the middle than at either end, where in fact it tapers away until it seems to vanish into the belly. The sound post is a small cylindrical piece of wood, about an eighth of an inch in diameter, which stands firmly pressed between the back and the belly just behind the foot of the bridge under the E string. The tone of the instrument depends in a great measure upon the proportions and adjustment of the bass bar and the sound post, and upon the quality of the wood of which they are made. The movement of the sound post even 1/32 of an inch will make a difference in the quality and volume of tone; so that in French it is called l'âme du violon.
In the belly of the instrument are two sound holes, made (for ornamental purposes) in the shape of an Italic f, turned toward each other. They are in the waist of the instrument, on either side of the bridge. Their form and size is another marked trait of the styles of different violin makers. When what may be called the rudimentary violin first made its appearance, it was in the shape of half a pear, cut from stem to blossom end, a form still seen in the mandolin. This form was very inconvenient for the use of the bow, which could not be applied to either of the outer strings without touching the sides of the instrument, which wa3 widest near the middle. To do away with this difficulty, the sides were cut out in two curves corresponding inversely, ) (, which, by making the instrument narrowest where before it was widest, allowed the free passage of the bow, and thus gave the violin nearly its present form. At what time it assumed this form we do not exactly know; but in a stained glass window in Peterborough cathedral, which is of the 12th century, is a figure playing upon a violin which has bowing curves and is much like the modern instrument, having even sound holes of the f form, but four in number, and not by the side of the bridge but at either end, two and two.
The violin, however, did not come at that time into use as an instrument of high quality. For centuries it was used only by the lower order of minstrels and jongleurs. - The instrument which first took the place now occupied by the violin was the viol. This had 5, 7, 9, and even 12 or 15 strings, but its distinctive trait was that the finger board, instead of being smooth, had frets like that of a guitar. There were treble, tenor, and bass viols, the last being called, from its being held between the legs, viol da gamba. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was not uncommon for a gentleman to have a chest of viols in his parlor. Accurate playing and a cantabile style were of course both impossible upon an instrument the notes of which were fixed by frets; but the viol long maintained its superior position, and it was not until about the middle of the 17th century that the violin asserted its absolute supremacy; and the viol, especially the viol da gamba, did not pass out of use till about 1725. - In this article the names of celebrated makers are given as they appear on their labels, though often differing from the common forms.
The earliest maker of the modern violin whose instruments are well authenticated is Gaspard di Salo, who worked between about 1560 and 1612. To one other maker before him, Gaspard Duiffoprugcar, many existing instruments are attributed; but it is, to say the least, doubtful whether these instruments are authentic, and whether he made anything else than viols and lutes. The Italian school of violin making had its rise in Brescia, and, as far as we know, was founded by Gaspard di Salo. The Brescia school had very marked traits, of which a low arching of the back and belly, straight and very open/holes, a much involuted scroll, and a double purfling around the edges are the most striking. The chief maker of this school is Giovanni Paolo Maggini (about 1590 -1640), whose instruments still hold a place in the first rank. But ere long the Brescia makers were eclipsed by those of Cremona, which little town has been made famous by a succession of great makers, of whom the Amati family were the leaders and for generations the best. (See Amati.) The work of the first of the Amatis, Andrea, shows the influence of Gaspard di Salo. He adopted Gaspard's straight open f hole, but cut it with a more timid hand.
He made his instruments of a high model, that is, with the arch of the belly and the back much raised, probably expecting thereby to gain in tone as well as in strength of make; but on the contrary he lost in power, although his instruments are very sweet in tone. This high modelling became characteristic of the Amatis, and of their pupils for some generations. Andrea's sons Antonius and Hieronymus made great advances in their art. They changed their father's model for the better, modified the outline and the form of the f holes, lowered the arch somewhat, and finished their work more highly. Upon their instruments the famous Cremona varnish first appears in all its beauty - at once soft, rich, and brilliant in color, and as clear as crystal. The making of this varnish, of which the medium was oil, appears to have been no secret; but the art has been lost for about a century, although great pains and much money have been expended in the endeavor to recover it. It is sometimes red, sometimes brown, and sometimes yellow; but in its best and most beautiful form it is of a clear dark amber color, and indeed makes the violin appear as if it were coated with a thick film of that precious fossil gum.
Nicholas, son of Hieronymus, is one of the three great Cremonese makers, the other two being Guarnerius and Stradivarius. Nicholas still further modified the Amati pattern by lowering the arch. He lengthened the f holes and added grace to their curve. He was very choice in the selection of his wood and in his varnish, under which the backs of some of his instruments (cut so as to show both grains of the wood) flash like the sides of a richly colored fish, while the bellies have a soft silken surface. He made two patterns: one in his earlier years, which was rather small, and in his mature and later period a large one, the instruments which he then made being known as the "grand Amatis." Andrea Guarnerius (Guarneri) was the next of the great Cremonese makers. He was a pupil of Nicholas Amati, whose pattern he followed, but reduced yet again the height of the modelling. His workmanship is not equal to that of Nicholas Amati, but his instruments are in high repute, and his violoncellos are particularly fine. He was followed by his son Joseph, who was a great maker and formed a stvle of his own. He modified the bowing curves, narrowing the instrument at the upper part of the waist, but giving it a large outward sweep below.
He adopted the pointed form of Gaspard di Salo's f hole, but not its width, thus introducing what is known as the Guarnerius f hole, one of the most characteristic forms that appear in the history of violin making. Other members of the Guarneri family were violin makers; but the greatest of the name was Joseph Antony, who did not use his second christened name, and who is called Joseph del Gesu, to distinguish him from the other Joseph, and because of a cipher consisting of a cross and the monogram I. H. S. which he printed on his labels. Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu,, a nephew of Andrea, was born with a genius for violin making. The dates of the birth and death of these great makers are rarely known; for in their day they were mere hard-working artisans, who sold for a few florins instruments which now command hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. But we know that Joseph del Gesu was born June 8, 1683. His originality is shown by the fact that he was in no respect an imitator of Antonius Stradivarius, who had during his lifetime the reputation of being the greatest of violin makers, and who was 40 years older than Joseph del Gesu. The outline, the modelling, the f holes, and the scroll of Guarnerius all differ from those of Stradivarius, and are full of character.
His workmanship was rarely very fine, rather bold than highly finished; but his instruments have a tone which for breadth, richness, and a peculiarly penetrating human quality, has never been surpassed, if indeed it has been equalled. He did not work by rule apparently, for his instruments differ somewhat in outline and even in the thickness and proportion of the wood; but they all show his unmistakable style.. They all have a noticeable breadth in the waist, owing to the comparative shallowness of the bowing curves; and their tone is probably due in a great measure to this peculiarity. A fine specimen of his work in perfect preservation is worth from $2,000 to $2,500. We now turn back to Antonius Stradivarius, who, although he was not the superior or perhaps the equal of Joseph Guarneri del Gesu in natural gifts, we may almost say genius, stands confessed as the greatest of all violin makers. He was born in 1644, and became a pupil of Nicholas Amati, whose pattern he at first adopted without change, so that it is difficult to distinguish his earlier violins from those of his master. "What he did indeed was to carry the principles of Nicholas Amati to perfection. He worked almost scientifically and by rule.
He had three periods: the first was imitative; in the second he narrowed the waist of his instruments, producing in this way what is known as his "long" pattern, which is long only because of its -proportions; and in the last he perfected his style. He reduced the swell of the arching to the lowest possible point, carrying it gently to the very edge of the instrument. He also straightened somewhat the upper curve of the outline, thereby increasing the vibrating surface. He adopted what appears to be the best proportion of thickness in the wood, his bellies and backs diminishing gradually from the middle line to the edges; the result being a remarkable firmness, evenness, and equality of tone on all the strings and in all the positions. He brought the f hole to the perfection of proportion and grace of outline, and the same may be said of his scroll, which has no peculiar character like the Amati, the Guarnerius, and the Stainer f holes, its proportions being so perfect that it cannot be caricatured. His workmanship was absolute perfection, and his varnish soft, rich, brilliant, and generally of a dark amber color, but sometimes red or reddish brown. The wood that he used was selected with the utmost care both for vibratory power and beauty of grain.
In brief, he left nothing to be desired, except perhaps a little more expression of individuality. (See Steadivaei.) A fine Stradivarius violin commands from $1,500 to $3,000, and in the case of celebrated instruments even more. Violoncellos are considerably less in price, owing only to the smaller demand for them. A very celebrated violin maker was Jacob Stainer of Absom in Tyrol, born about 1620. He has been said to have studied his art with the Amatis, and has therefore been reckoned among the Italian school; but there is no evidence whatever that he worked with either of the Amatis, and his violins do not show any of the elements of their style. His model was very high, the arching very sudden at the sides and ends, the middle line of the belly being almost straight for two thirds of the length of the instrument. His f holes and scroll are peculiar, and are inferior in grace to those of the Cremonese makers, of whose models they show no influence. His instruments have a pure, sweet tone, but are inferior in power to those of the best Cremona make.
They are gradually losing the high estimation in which they were once held; but fine specimens are worth from $500 to $1,000. - The name " violin," used generically, includes all the instruments of the violin family, of which, however, all have passed out of use except the violin proper, the viola or tenor violin, and the violoncello. The same principles apply to the modelling and to the manufacture of all these instruments, and the great makers produced specimens of all, the violins being greatly in excess. The violoncello, however, is not an enlargement of the violin, nor a modification of the bass viol which it has displaced, but a reduction of the violone, a large bass instrument, like the double bass or contra-basso, if indeed not identical with that instrument. This fact is recorded in the name, which is the Italian diminutive of molone. (See Viola, and Violoncello.) The principal makers of the violin, those whose reputations are sufficiently high to make their instruments sought for their names' sake, are, in addition to those already mentioned: Italian - Cremona: Giofreda Cappa, 1590-1640; Lorenzo Guadagnini, 1695-1735; Johannes Baptista Guadagnini, 1710-'50; Francesco Ruggieri, detto il per, 1668-1728; Johannes Baptista Rugerius, 1725; Carlo Bergonzi, 1718-'55; Thomas Balestrieri, 1750; Carlo Giuseppe Testore, 1690-1720; Lorenzo Storioni, 1762-'98, the last of the great school of Cremona. Naples: Alessandro Gagliano, 1695-1730. Venice: Franciscus Gobetti, 1690-1715; Domenicus Montagnana, 1700-'40; Sanctus Seraphino, 17l0-'48. Milan: Paolo Grancino, 1665-'92 (a family of this name were makers of repute for some generations at Milan); Carolus Ferdinandus Landolphi, 1750. Rome: David Techier, 16801743. Florence: Giovanni Baptista Gabrielli, 1750. Monaco: Paolo Aletzie or Allechi, who was celebrated for his bass instruments.
German - Jacobs, 1690-1740, who made imitations of Nicholas Amati so excellent that they are often mistaken for originals; a family named Kloz in Tyrol, of whom the greatest was Egidius; Joachim Tielke, about the end of the 17th century. French - Nicolas Lupot, 1785-1817; Pique, about 1790, a very successful imitator of Stradivarius; Vuillaume, 1790-1875. English - Barak Norman, 16881740, the first English maker of violoncellos; William Forster, about 1760 to 1808, celebrated for his violoncellos; Richard Duke, about 1765; Benjamin Banks, died 1795; Edward Betts, a pupil of Duke. The dates given with these names are generally those of the years during which the makers worked, the dates of their birth and death being rarely known. Imitations of the works of the great violin makers are produced in great quantities at Mirecourt in France and at Mittenwalder in Tyrol. Some of the more carefully made of these, being artificially disguised with the marks of age, will deceive any but a practised eye. A ticket with the name of a great maker is absolutely worthless as a testimonial of authenticity. These tickets are imitated, as well as the instruments, dark paper and antique type being used. Genuine tickets from disabled instruments are also affixed to other violins, new or old.
An old violin is not necessarily a good one; but age and careful use add largely to the excellence of an instrument well designed and well made. - The origin of the bow is even more obscure than that of the violin, as might reasonably be expected; but there is pretence, with some little ground, that it came first into use in England. In its earliest form it was nothing more than a segment of a hoop of elastic wood, with a rude handle, and with a few hairs stretched from heel to point. This form and structure it retained with little essential improvement for centuries. So late as the beginning of the 18th century it was short, curved, and heavy, and without any means of adjustment. About 1730-40 Tartini doubled its length, lightened it, and gave it a movable nut at the hand end. By this improvement he made the modern style of playing* possible. But still the bow was curved, and its elasticity was comparatively little. David Tourte of Paris, a bow maker and the son of a bow maker, who at first made bows after the Tartini pattern, conceived the idea of making this implement of very tough, elastic wood, with a curve downward toward the hair, so that when the hair was drawn tight the bow became straight. He also added the screw and button.
This is the modern violin bow, which according to the judgment of all violin players leaves nothing to be desired. As sometimes happens, the inventor carried his invention at once to perfection. Tourte's bows are the best that are known, and so important is it to a violin player to have the best bow he can obtain, that good Tourte bows command from $75 to $150, entirely irrespective of the manner in which they are mounted; and even at those prices are very rarely to be bought. Tourte died at a great age in 1835. Other bow makers of high repute are Dodd, Panormo, Bausch, and Vuillaume. - Other instruments of the violin family than those already named are, or were, the rebec, the ribible, the gigue or geig, the chelys (a kind of bass viol), the lyra da gamba, the viol bastards, the posche (which was a small pocket instrument), the barbiton minor and barbiton major, the viol d'amour (which had six strings of gut with strings of wire beneath tuned in unison and vibrating with the other), the quinte, the barytone, the viola de bardone (said to have had 44 strings), the leero viol, and the linter-colo or sordino.
All these instruments have long been obsolete, and are known only as existing in the cabinets of the curious or by mere name. - The first really great violin player of whom we hear, and without a doubt the first that appeared, was Arcangelo Oorelli, in the latter half of the 17th century. He was also the first composer of merit for his instrument whose works have come down to us. Contemporary with him was Schnittelbach of Lübeck, who left a great reputation. From their time there has been a succession of great artists, of whom the most famous are Thomas Baltazar, Nicolas Matteis; Tartini (born 1692), already mentioned, whose lengthening of the bow introduced an entirely new style; Rotta, Diana (a Cremonese), Viotti, Geminiani, Dubourg, Giardini; Paganini (born 1784, died 1840), an artist of original genius and prodigious powers of execution, but of questionable taste, who is the father of the modern virtuoso style; De Bériot, Ernst, F. David; Louis Spohr (born 1784, died 1859), whose style was pure and classical, and who was also a composer of eminence; Molique, Ole Bull, Sivori, Vieuxtemps, Sainton, Wieniawski, and Joachim. Of these the last six are living.
The first great violoncello player that we hear of was Torqueray, born in 1700. He has been succeeded by Franceschelli, Buononcini, Bertrand, the two Jansons, Luigi Boccherini (born 1740, died 1806), who was also a composer of enduring reputation, Romberg, Dotzauer, Servais, Max Bohrer, Linley, Knoop, Piatti, De Swert, and Frederick Bergner; the last named has long resided in the United States. The contrabasso, or double bass, is used almost entirely to give weight and volume to the bass part in orchestral compositions; but two great solo performers upon it are known to fame, Dragonetti and Bottesini, who played violoncello and even violin music upon their unwieldy instruments, and the latter of whom gained his first distinction in America. (See Bottesini, and Dragonetti).