In our first entry tracing the history and development of the violin, we covered the violin’s emergence during the European Renaissance sometime in the late 1400s or early 1500s. While its exact origins are slightly obscured, by the middle of the 16th Century, the violin took roughly the same shape that it has now. In today’s blog entry, we will cover the refinement of the instrument and its proliferation through Europe and the rest of the world. One of the best ways to appreciate the history of the violin is to listen to violin music that not only looks back to the past, but also forges a new path. Mairead Nesbitt’s new album, “Hibernia,” is a stunning mix of classical violin music and Celtic folk music that creates a grand, epic, and emotionally moving experience for anyone who listens to it. You can purchase her new album from Amazon or on iTunes today.
Violins of the 1600s and Beyond
As the desire for more violins grew, luthiers began to take the existing designs and refine them. Some of the most important luthiers to ever design and build violins were working in the 1600s and their tweaks to the instrument have been a part of the violin’s DNA ever since.
Perhaps the most well-known violin-maker of all time is Antonio Stradivari, an Italian luthier who also built many other kinds of stringed instruments. His designs, including the larger violins known as “Long Strads,” paved the way for many modern violins that followed and are world-renowned for their beauty and impressively rich sound. During his lifetime, Stradivari built roughly 1,100 instruments including more than 600 violins, many of which survive to this day. If you’ve ever heard Alexandre Da Costa play, chances are he was playing the Dubois violin built by Stradivari in 1667. The longevity of these instruments is a testament to the high quality of the work completed by Stradivari.
A number of standardized changes occurred during the 1700s and into the 1800s in order to make the violin an instrument that had a wider range and to increase its overall volume. The necks were lengthened to allow violinists to play notes that are even higher than the early violins, and the necks were also tilted at a steeper angle to make them louder as orchestras grew larger. During this time, luthiers also started to connect the neck to the body of the violin with a mortise system instead of bolting it on.
The Spread of the Violin
Following the widespread adoption of the violin by everyone from orchestra musicians to street performers in Italy, the violin began to take off in other parts of Europe. While it was probably relegated to orchestras and courts in other European nations at first, it eventually spread to the hands of folk musicians who adapted it to fit their own musical tastes. This spread is what allowed the violin to remain vital and important even as fewer and fewer people attended orchestra performances as the centuries progressed.
The range of the violin and the possibility for a violinist’s fingers to become almost unbelievably acrobatic while playing has placed the violin amongst the forefront of expressive musical instruments. It can be responsible for carrying a melody or hiding gently in the background of a composition and adding some much needed tension or texture.
In our next entry on the history of the violin, we will cover the different musical forms that the violin became an inextricable part of. In the meantime, pick up Mairead Nesbitt’s new album, Hibernia, from iTunes or Amazon to experience an unbelievable mix of violin styles that will send your heart soaring.