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The violin is a stringed instrument which is played by drawing a bow across its strings. It appeared in the north of Italy at the beginning of 16th century, from around 1520. It probably appeared in Cremona or Brescia, and is the plausible result of the evolution of the Rebeck, of the
The violin spread rapidly through Europe during the Renaissance. It was used by the common people as well as by the courtiers. For example the king of France, Charles IX ordered 24 violins from Amati in 1560.
During the 17th century in France there was a certan thinking that the violin had a sonority that was too piercing and that its principal utility was to animate the dance. And yet, the instruments from the violin family would little by little supplant the viola. This was due to their design, which was more robust and of their tuning in perfect fifths, which also allowed an increased virtuosity and an expression compared to that of previous instruments. It is however noted that the two families of instruments have, just until today, partisans and detractors.
And in fact, the first Italian virtuosos appeared at the end of 16th century, but it would take nearly a year before these same masters made their first appearance outside of Italy.
The violin is tuned in perfect fifths (E, A, D, G from the highest pitched note to the lowest, the A string being at 440 Hz.) In traditional lutherie, it is composed of approximately 70 different parts made mainly of wood such as maple and spruce. It is also possible to find other types of wood, in particular since the 19th century at the time of Napoleon III with the triumph of the "black" and the use of ebony as quasi obligatory in the stringed-instrument craft. That is why today we can find the fingerboards, pegs, chinrests and tailpieces made out of ebony.
Today in the West, one plays the violin by placing it on the left shoulder and under the chin. The left hand is on the level of the handle and presses on the chords. The right hand holds the bow. In the East, the positions of play are varied, and one can see a violin being played between the feet of the seated musician.
The evolution of the pitch of the A note as a reference (the A 440 was not fixed until 1955) obliged the luthiers to evolve their work to adapt to the different tensions of the chords (chords in gut, metal or synthetic..). This explains notably the large differences that we can see today between a baroque and a classical violin.
It is possible to find small sized instruments to allow children to learn on a real violin (from the 1/32-sized to the 4/4, the whole violin). However, the sonority of the smaller instruments is not as beautiful and rich as that of a full-sized instrument…
In the same way, the new techniques and materials have allowed the appearance of new violins: electric violins, carbon fibre violins. In general, these instruments meet a particular need for the musicians, but do not aim to replace a traditional violin. Otherwise, why change what works?
Some of the celebrated luthiers:
- The family Amati
- Gasparo da Salò (1540-1609)
- Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-1632)
- Francesco Ruggieri (c.1630-1698)
- Antonio Stradivari (c.1644-1737)
- Domenico Montagnana (1686-1750)
- Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711-1786)
- Lorenzo Storioni (1744-1816)
- Giovanni Battista Pressenda (1777-1854)
Some celebrated violinists:
- Giovanni Viotti (1755-1824)
- Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
- Louis Spohr (1784-1859)
- Joseph Joachim (1831-1907)
- Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
- Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)
- Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931).
- Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987)
- David Oïstrakh (1908-1974)
- Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)