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Stringed instruments



Viol Family

This family of bowed instruments first appeared in the late fifteenth century in the Valencia region of Spain. Viols were probably carried to Italy by the famous Borgia family, two of whom became popes, and their use is recorded at the wedding ot Lucrezia Borgia in 1502. Their delicate, nasal sound soon made them popular as chamber instruments, though they lacked the percussive quality useful for dance music. Viols were eventually superseded by the louder and more expressive violin family, but Bach was still using the bass viol in his Passions and m the last Bniihlenbiiiv concerto m the early eighteenth century. Also known as

the viola da gamba. the bass viol was held body downwards between the legs like a cello. Unlike violins, smaller viols were also held body downwards, on the lap.





Baryton Family

Joseph Haydn brought the baryton to its high point in musical history when he composed 175 works for the instrument tor his patron Prince Nicolaus Joseph Esterhazy. himself an enthusiastic player. Otherwise, the instrument played a minor role m music and was little known outside Austria and southern Germany. Mozart's father Leopold admired both the baryton and its shoulder-held relative, the viola d'amore. tor their loveliness of tone. Developed from viols, they have additional strings that vibrate m sympathy with the bowed strings — a feature that points to possible Islamic origins. The great violin maker Stradivari planned to make a viola d'amore in 1716 (though if he did, it has not survived) and Bach made expressive use of the instrument in solo parts in the St John Vissiou.






Violin Family

The development of the violin family was a triumph tor instrument making. The violin offered an unprecedented range of expression, intensity, and nuance, and inspired great music and great performers. It derived from various medieval bowed instruments, descendants of central Asian models brought into tenth-century Spam and southern Italy by the Arabs. The rebec was popular at dances and later evolved into the kit. while the fiddle was widelv used by troubadours and developed into the lira da braccia (the violin's closest ancestor). Northern Italy, the cradle of violin making, remained the major centre until the eighteenth century, especially under the Amati family of Cremona. The family's hist and most distinguished member, Nicolo, also taught Antonio Stradivari, perhaps the greatest violin maker ever.







Viol, also called viola da gamba, bowed, stringed musical instrument used principally in chamber music of the 16th to the 18th century. The viol shares with the Renaissance lute the tuning of its six strings (two fourths, a major third, two fourths) and the gut frets on its neck. It was made in three sizes: treble, tenor, and bass, with the bottom string tuned, respectively, to d, G (or A), and D. To these sizes was later added the violone, a double bass viol often tuned an octave below the bass.

Viols are characterized by sloping shoulders; deep ribs; thin, flat backs; and, above all, a vertical playing position, with the bottom of the instrument resting on the knee or held between the legs—hence viola da gamba (Italian: “leg viol”). The breadth of the bridge, which was arched to give the bow separate access to each string, made forceful playing impossible, and the supine position of the bow hand, palm uppermost, encouraged a smooth playing style. The frets gave to each note the clarity of an open string—a clear, ringing, penetrating tone that was much prized.

By the second half of the 16th century the viol acquired a significant repertory of music for ensemble, for solo bass, and for the lyra viol, a small bass viol (also called viola bastarda). But as the style of instrumental composition changed during the 17th century, an expressive, vocal sound in the soprano register was emphasized, and the tenor and treble viols declined in favour of the violin, with which they were unable to compete because their deep bodies created a hollow, nasal timbre.

The bass viol, however, had by the mid-16th century developed a repertory of complex solo divisions, or ornate variations on a melody, often played on a small bass called a division viol. When that fashion died out in the late 1600s, the normal-sized solo bass viol, or viola da gamba (the name became synonymous with the bass viol as the other viols fell into disuse), was used in the instrumental forms of the Baroque period. Solo bass-viol playing continued in Germany and France into the 18th century. Elsewhere the bass viol survived chiefly because its sustained tone lent a pleasing support to the harpsichord. This combination, using the basso continuo, or thorough bass, technique, provided harmonic support for the Baroque instrumental ensemble. When composers in the newer Classical style began to write complete harmonies in the upper instrumental parts, the viol, deprived of its last useful function, dropped out of use altogether. In the 20th century viols were successfully revived for the performance of Renaissance and Baroque music.

Violin, byname fiddle, bowed, stringed musical instrument that evolved during the Renaissance from earlier bowed instruments: the medieval fiddle; its 16th-century Italian offshoot, the lira da braccio; and the rebec. The violin is probably the best known and most widely distributed musical instrument in the world.

Like its predecessors but unlike its cousin the viol, the violin has a fretless fingerboard. Its strings are hitched to tuning pegs and to a tailpiece passing over a bridge held in place by the pressure of the strings. The bridge transmits the strings’ vibrations to the violin belly, or soundboard, which is made of pine and amplifies the sound. Inside the instrument, beneath the treble foot of the bridge and wedged between the violin belly and back, which is made of maple, is the sound post, a thin stick of pine that transmits the string vibrations to the instrument’s back, contributing to the characteristic violin tone. The belly is supported from beneath by the bass bar, a narrow wood bar running lengthwise and tapering into the belly. It also contributes to the resonance of the instrument. The sidewalls, or ribs, are constructed of pine-lined maple.

The violin was early recognized for its singing tone, especially in Italy, its birthplace, where the earliest makers—Gasparo da Salò, Andrea Amati, and Giovanni Paolo Maggini—had settled its average proportions before the end of the 16th century. During its history the violin has been subject to modifications that have progressively adapted it to its evolving musical functions. In general, the earlier violins are more deeply arched in the belly and back; the more modern, following the innovations of Antonio Stradivari, are shallower, yielding a more virile tone. In the 19th century, with the advent of large auditoriums and the violin virtuoso, the violin underwent its last changes in design. The bridge was heightened, the sound post and bass bar were thickened, and the body became flatter. The neck was angled back, giving greater pressure of the strings on the bridge. The result was a stronger, more brilliant tone in place of the delicate, intimate tone of the violin of the 18th century.

The earliest violins were used for popular and dance music. During the 17th century it replaced the viol as the primary stringed instrument in chamber music. The Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi included violins in the orchestra of his opera Orfeo (first performed in 1607). In France the king’s orchestra, les 24 violons du roi, was organized in 1626. Arcangelo Corelli, a virtuoso violinist, was among the earliest composers to contribute to the new music for the violin, as did Antonio Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, and the violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Most major composers from the 18th century on wrote solo music for the violin, among them Mozart, Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg, Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alban Berg. Such virtuosos as Francesco Geminiani, Niccolò Paganini, Joseph Joachim, Fritz Kreisler, David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin, and Isaac Stern stimulated the composition of fine violin music. The violin was assimilated into the art music of the Middle East and South India and, as the fiddle, is played in the folk music of many countries. The tenor violin, known from the 16th century through the 18th century, was midway in size between the viola and cello. It was tuned F–c–g–d′. “Tenor violin” also occasionally referred to the viola.

Cello, also called violoncello, French violoncelle, German cello or violoncello, bass musical instrument of the violin group, with four strings, pitched C–G–D–A upward from two octaves below middle C. The cello, about 27.5 inches (70 cm) long (47 inches [119 cm] with the neck), has proportionally deeper ribs and a shorter neck than the violin.

The earliest cellos were developed during the 16th century and frequently were made with five strings. They served mainly to reinforce the bass line in ensembles. Only during the 17th and 18th centuries did the cello replace the bass viola da gamba as a solo instrument. During the 17th century the combination of cello and harpsichord for basso continuo parts became standard. Joseph Haydn, Mozart, and later composers gave increased prominence to the cello in instrumental ensembles. Notable works for the instrument include J.S. Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello, Beethoven’s five sonatas for cello and piano, the concertos of Antonín Dvořák and Darius Milhaud, the sonatas of Zoltán Kodály and Claude Debussy, and the Bachianas brasileiras of Heitor Villa-Lobos, for eight cellos and soprano. One of the outstanding cellists of the 20th century was Pablo Casals.

The baryton was "completely neglected" (Hsu) in the nineteenth century, but in the twentieth, with the rise of the authentic performance movement in classical music, new barytons were built and played. Initially, these instruments were heavily constructed, more in the manner of a cello than a bass viol (they were thus sometimes called "cellitons"), but (much as with the parallel history of the harpsichord revival) eventually lighter instruments were constructed that more closely followed their historical antecedents.

Probably the first person to initiate the revival of the baryton was Christian Döbereiner in Munich. In 1934 he ordered a copy of an instrument by Simon Schödler (1782) from the renowned luthier, Ferdinand Wilhelm Jaura in Munich. The first performance in modern times on that baryton took place in Munich in 1936, which featured a trio by Haydn. This instrument forms part of the Vazquez Collection of Historical String Instruments and is frequently employed in performance by the Orpheon Foundation. A complete documentation of the Jaura Baryton is available at the Orpheon Foundation web site.

Among the modern active baryton players are Jeremy Brooker, Kazimierz Gruszczyński, Balázs Kakuk (Haydn Baryton Trio of Budapest), José Manuel Hernández, John Hsu, Roland Hutchinson, José Vázquez, and Kenneth Slowik.

With the revival of the baryton, a body of recorded work has gradually emerged. Several ensembles have produced recordings of individual works, and the Esterházy Ensemble (Michael Brüssing, baryton) has issued a set of recordings that cover the entire Haydn oeuvre.

The Swiss composer Klaus Huber has written an important solo part for the instrument in his work ...à l'âme de marcher sur ses pieds de soie... (2004).


[Fr. archet; Ger. Bogen; It. arco, archetto; Sp. arco]. A device for setting in motion the strings of some types of stringed instruments. It consists of a stick that is shaped (often simply curved) to permit a string or fibers such as horsehair to be attached at both ends and held away from the stick itself. When the bow string or hair is drawn across a string of an instrument, the instrument’s string is made to sound by being repeatedly displaced slightly and released by the friction between the two. Bowed stringed instruments are widely distributed and include members of the Western violin and viol families and the ching-hu, erh-hu, gusle, kamdnjah, lira, rabab, and sarangi. 

The violin bow was given its present form in about 1785 by Francois Tourte (1747-1835). The stick curves slightly inward toward a ribbon of horsehair or, occasionally, similar synthetic material that is held away from the stick at one end by the head and at the other by the frog. The tension of the hair is adjusted by means of a screw mechanism that moves the frog along the stick. The stick, the best examples of which are made of Pernambuco wood, is octagonal in cross section at the frog and usually round and tapering slightly above the frog. The frog is of ebony, ivory, or tortoise shell, sometimes inlaid with mother-of-pearl. At the head, the hair passes through an ivory or metal plate; at the frog, it passes through a metal ferrule that spreads it evenly. According to Tourte’s specifications, the stick is about 75 cm. (29.5 in.) long and the hair about 65 cm., with the center of gravity 19 cm. above the frog. Viola and cello bows are 74 and 73 or 72 cm. long, respectively. For the double bass, the French style of bow (held with the palm down) is about 71 cm. long, the German or Simandl bow (with a higher frog and held with the palm up) about 77 cm. long.

The earliest bows, illustrated beginning in about the 10th century, were convex like the hunting bow, the stick curving away from the hair. The gradual straightening of the stick in the 16th and 17th centuries made necessary the creation of a horn-shaped frog and, subsequently, a distinct head to hold the hair away from the stick. Movable frogs for adjusting the tension of the hair by means of a screw mechanism were first introduced around 1700. In the decades preceding, this purpose was sometimes served by a metal catch on the frog that could be engaged in one or another of a set of teeth (dentated or cremallere bow). By about 1700, the stick was straight or only very slightly curved outward and had increased in length to between 60 and 70 cm. or more. Eighteenth-century bows before Tourte were in general lighter and more flexible than the modem bow, with the center of gravity closer to the player’s hand. These features contributed to a lighter style of articulation in the playing of that period than has since prevailed. As bows became increasingly concave after 1750, a more pronounced head was required.

Pablo de Sarasate : Carmen Fantasy

Jan Miense Molenaer. Probable Self-portrait with Family. circa 1635

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