About the Violin

A Rebec

A Rebec

Notes from Sharan!

It is no surprise that Elson’s Pocket Music Dictionary calls the violin “…the most perfect musical instrument known, of brilliant tone and capable of every variety of expression.”

Of course, the violin didn’t just appear out of thin air. It had several ancestors, including the rebec. The rebec evolved from the rabab, an instrument from Persia and North Africa, which was brought to Europe along the trade routes in the 11th century. Both of these instruments had a pear-shaped body and long neck with strings held in place by an endpin at one end and pegs at the other.

But there were important differences. The rebec had 3 (or 6) strings compared to the rabab’s 2 (or 4). The rebec’s body was made of wood rather than gourd or skin (often the case with Eastern stringed instruments). Finally, it was held at the shoulder, much like the modern violin, instead of vertically on the lap.

A Rabab

A Rabab

Another precursor of the violin was the vielle, which emerged in the 1300s. The vielle came in many shapes and sizes and was the principle bowed instrument of the medieval period. It had five strings (one was a drone) and was easier to play because it had frets along the fingerboard. Frets are raised markers that help stop the string in the right places for a new pitch. That way, the player doesn’t have to be as careful about placing the fingers in exactly the right spot.

Stamp commemorating Stradivari

Stamp commemorating Stradivari

With changes in musical taste and innovations in design the instruments became more resonant, powerful and glorious. We can’t be certain who made the first violin, but the most likely candidate is Andrea Amati (b. between 1500 and 1505, d. 1576).The violin reached its perfection of form and tone with the great Italian makers of the 18th century – giants such as Antonio Stradivari (b. between 1640 and 1650, d. 1737) and Giuseppe Guarnerius (del Gesu) (b.1687, d. after 1742).

Sharan's violin

Sharan's violin

String instruments have an almost human quality in that each one is unique. I purchased my violin only a few years ago. Looking for it only took me two months, but it was not an easy process. Saying I was going to ‘go out and find the right instrument, NOW’, was about as difficult as saying ‘I am now going to find the right husband’… but it was well worth it.

Here is a picture of my violin (left).

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