History of the Violin The most beautiful sounding violins in existence today were made in Italy in the early 1700s, a period called the golden age of violin making. These instruments, especially those made by Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu, are the most desired instruments by both collectors and performers, selling for millions of dollars. Modern day violin-makers have not been able to successfully copy the techniques they used to produce the same quality sound of violins that was made during this period.
The violin produces sound by drawing a bow across one or more strings which may be held down by the fingers of the other hand to produce a full range of pitches. The violin is the smallest and highest pitched member of the bowed string instruments, which also includes the viola, the cello, and the double bass. The violins and violas are higher in pitch than cellos and basses because the length of their strings is shorter (Rapoport 23). Violins can be handmade by a luthier, or a violin-maker, made in a workshop, or made in a factory.
A violin has more than 70 parts that must be put together in just the right way to achieve the best sound. The quality of the violin depends on the quality of the materials and workmanship. Maple or spruce wood is used most often for the body of the violin. The wood must be seasoned, which is best done in fresh air over eight to ten years, before it is carved to make the violin. Precise calculations must be used to determine the correct thickness of the wood for both structural strength and beauty of tone. The patterns used to make violins are based on models built by great makers, such as Antonio Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu.
Instruments made by Stradivari are often referred to as Stradivarius and those made by Guarneri as del Gesus. From about 1700, the violin started to replace the viol, a much larger bowed string instrument played in the 1500s and 1600s. Today, the violin is probably the best known of all orchestral instruments (Paker 10). The violin was the result of a process of evolution, rather than a moment of inspiration. At the end of the fifteenth century there were only primitive instruments, good for providing dance music or accompanying voices but not for carrying their own tune (Faber 15).
Catherine de Medici was the queen consort of France from 1547 until the death of her husband, King Henry II, in 1559. Her support of the violin was crucial to its ability to flourish. Around 1555, an Italian dance band of violinists arrived at the French court. She set off on a tour that lasted two years and ordered a set of thirty-eight string instruments. All of the instruments were made in the Italian town of Cremona by Andrea Amati, whose family would dominate violin-making for the next one hundred years. Nicolo Paganini, an Italian violinist, was a celebrated virtuoso in the early 1800s.
His fame spread across Europe and he was the first traveling virtuosi to show how profitable violin playing could be (Faber 104). He played a del Gesu violin, nicknamed the Cannon. Paganini was instrumental in the popularization of many techniques and showmanship in violin-playing, which are now incorporated into regular compositions. Antonio Stradivari, the greatest violin-maker of his or any other age, was born in 1644 and began violin-making at the age of twenty-two. His earliest known violin of 1666 was stamped with the Amati name, which seems to show that he apprenticed under the Amati family of violin-makers.
Until Antonio Stradivari started making them, the violin wasn’t so bright and interesting as they are now. He made them more lively and louder sounding (Faber, front flap). In the course of his long career in the northern Italian town of Cremona, he created more than a thousand stringed instruments; approximately 600 still survive. Many of Antonio Stradivari’s greatest instruments were made around his 70th birthday, which he celebrated in 1714. One of the greatest Stradivarius violins is the Titian which he made in 1715. It was named the Titian because its clear orange-red color resembled the work of the famous Venetian painter.
The Titian has long been counted among Stradivari’s finest golden-period violins. It represents a blend of the design, techniques, styles, and accumulated experience at the time of its making. The earliest known owner was a French nobleman, the Comte D’Every. In 1922 it was acquired by celebrated violinist Efram Zimbalist who played it briefly. It is currently in the hands of soloist Cho-Liang Lin, who has performed with it since 2002. Antonio Stradivari died in 1737. There was an economic slowdown around this time that badly affected the demand for violins.
Whether it was the low demand for violins at the time or his sons’ lack of ability or ambition, the family business did not continue much longer after his death. His remaining inventory was sold to collectors, along with his violin patterns and the tools that he used. Today, attempts to copy Stradivari’s techniques seem doomed to failure. Although his violins have been the subjects of scientific studies to analyze every component, the quality of the sound they produce has not been able to be duplicated. Stradivarius violins are now about 300 years old and many that may have been great once are becoming damaged by time.
One day there may not be any left. If we don’t find a way to create violins with the same unique sound created by Stradivari, the future of the violin is at risk. Works Cited Faber, Toby. Stradivari’s Genius. New York: Random House, 2004. Print. Paker, Josephine. Music from Strings. Brookfield, Connecticut: Merlion Publishing Ltd. 1991. Print. Rapoport, Katherine. Violin for Dummies. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. 2007. Print. Zygmuntowicz, Sam. “Antonio Stradivari. (Cover story). ” Strad 120. 1426 (2009): 30-34. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 7 Mar. 2010.