ITALY – 18th century
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1751), Venice, Mantua, Vienna. Violinist, composer, & teacher.
Cadenza composed by Vivaldi, one of the few that survive in manuscript:
Francesco Saverio Geminiani (1687-1762), Lucca, Naples, & London. Violinist, composer, & music theorist.
Cello sonatas recorded 45 years ago:
Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764), Bergamo, Rome, & Amsterdam. Violinist & composer.
Origins of the Violin Family
Since the 13th century, and before, there had been a great variety of bowed string instruments of various shapes, sizes, and number of strings used in Europe. In northern Italy, in the latter part of the 16th century, the basic form of the violin family of instruments was established. The instrument we recognize as a ‘violin’ originates in N Italy c.1540, and the ‘viola/lira da braccio’ a little earlier. The bass violin followed shortly after (the smaller ‘violoncello’ was first made c.1700). The double bass has always been a hybrid of a viol (a contemporary cousin of the violin, typically with 6 strings and played between the legs) and a violin shaped instrument with 3,4,5,or 6 strings depending on the country of origin, and the type of music it played. In 1556, the French musician, Philibert Jambe de Fer, was the first to describe the instrument we know as the ‘violin’. The basic shape of the violin has changed very little since that time.
Iconography of Precursors of the Violin Family: 13th century – c.1600
Vielle Player, Codex, Cantigas e Santa Maria, c.1250.
Lion Playing a Vielle, Breviary, Renaud de Bar, France,1300
Madonna of the Orange Trees, (detail), Gaudenzio Ferrari, 1530.
Angels Playing Bass Violin, Lira da Braccio, & Violin, Gaudenzino Ferrari,1536.
The Wedding at Cana, (detail), Paolo Veronese, Venice,1563.
Two tenor viola da gamba players (played in the lap rather than between the knees), a bass viol player, and a violinist. The painting has over 100 figures and is 32 feet wide.
Iconography of the Violin Family: c.1600 – 1665
During much of the baroque period, and before, the only strings available were made of sheep gut. In 1665 silver wire covered gut strings were invented in Bologna, Italy – initially for the bottom string of bass violins, but did not come into more general use until the late 17th/early18th century. All metal strings did not come into use until 1920’s, and their use was not widespread until 1950/60’s.
Young Woman Playing a Violin, Orazio Gentilischi, Rome,1612.
Still Life with Ball & Violin, Pieter Claesz, Flemish/Dutch,1628.
The violin in the late 16th century would have looked very similar to the violin depicted in this painting. It has all gut strings, a short straight neck, and maple fingerboard and tailpiece.
Strumenti musicali, Evaristo Baschenis, Bergamo, Italy, 1665.
Baroque Violin Bow
Before the introduction of the tropical hardwood *Snakewood from colonial S. America in the 17th century, various European hardwoods had been used to make bows, e.g. maple, cherry, acacia, pearwood, boxwood. Until the early 18th century the baroque violin bow typically had a **clip-in frog. The more recognizable screw frog then gradually came into use.
*Snakewood – Piratinera Guianensis – (translation from Latin: Guiana sea-pirate wood) weighs 76 pounds a cubic foot, and has a specific gravity of 1.20 – so it sinks in water.
** clip-in frog: