History of the Violin

"The violin, so deceptively simple, can both portray and inspire every emotion imaginable, imitating the braying of a donkey or delivering a tune of heart-rendering beauty."

Toby Faber from “Stradivari’s Genius: Five Violins, One Cello, and Three Centuries of Enduring Perfection."

It is not exactly certain when or how the violin first appeared. Bow stringed instruments which appear in European carvings and drawings from 900 AD may give a glimpse of the origin of the violin. These ancient instruments fall into four categories of stringed instruments: the rebec, the medieval and Renaissance fiddle, the lira da braccio and the viol.

It is believed that the modern violin is an adaptation of the lira da braccio, which first appeared in Italy in the 15th century. The lira da braccio is considered a development of the fiddle and is shown in illustrations being played almost identically like the modern violin. In addition, the lira replaced the c holes of the rebec and vielle with the f holes we see on modern violins.

The earliest illustrations of the violin we know today appeared in Italian art around 1508. During the end of the sixteenth century, the lira and violin shared the same features yet they both developed separately along with the viol, viola and cello.

The modern violin, a four stringed instrument, is held on the shoulder and played with a bow. It is both beautiful as it is soothing to the ears. Many have compared the instrument’s form to a female silhouette. The richness of its sound is contributed to its unique soundbox, which was perfected during the days of Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari.

The violin became an important instrument in the orchestra during the 17th century as famous composers started using it to write their compositions. Around the same time during the late Renaissance, the violin reached its peak.

Over the years many luthiers have contributed to the perfection of the violin. One of the first recorded violin makers was Andrea Amati of Cremona Italy (1505-1577), the founder of the school of violin making in Cremona. To date, the oldest surviving violin was made in 1560 by Andrea Amati. His family of luthiers spanned four generations and each generation showed incredible craftsmanship.

Andrea Amati was succeeded by his two sons, Antonius and Hieronymus who continued perfecting the design and appearance of the violin. The third generation of Amati makers included Nicolo Amati (1596-1684), who demonstrated the most talented violins of his family.

Perhaps the greatest violin maker in history, Antonio Stradivari began making violins around 1666. He used traditional Amati violin-making techniques and experimented with his own designs until he perfected the form and sound of the instrument. He is most famous for not only his revolutionary design, but also for using quality materials such as premium maple wood and a unique orange-brown varnish.

Along with the talented violin-makers that came out of Cremona, the violin was also made by other talented luthiers in Brescia, Milan, Naples, Florence, Bologna and Rome.

The bow also went through years of revisions until the final form was perfected by the “Stradivari of the bow” French craftsman Francois Tourte (1747-1835). His major contributions to the bow were redesigning it to bend backwards and standardizing the length, weight and balance of the bows.