The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument

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Overview

The life, times, and travels of a remarkable instrument and the people who have made, sold, played, and cherished it.
A 16-ounce package of polished wood, strings, and air, the violin is perhaps the most affordable, portable, and adaptable instrument ever created. As congenial to reels, ragas, Delta blues, and indie rock as it is to solo Bach and late Beethoven, it has been played standing or sitting, alone or in groups, in bars, churches, concert halls, lumber camps, even ...
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The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument

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Overview

The life, times, and travels of a remarkable instrument and the people who have made, sold, played, and cherished it.
A 16-ounce package of polished wood, strings, and air, the violin is perhaps the most affordable, portable, and adaptable instrument ever created. As congenial to reels, ragas, Delta blues, and indie rock as it is to solo Bach and late Beethoven, it has been played standing or sitting, alone or in groups, in bars, churches, concert halls, lumber camps, even concentration camps, by pros and amateurs, adults and children, men and women, at virtually any latitude on any continent.
Despite dogged attempts by musicologists worldwide to find its source, the violin’s origins remain maddeningly elusive. The instrument surfaced from nowhere in particular, in a world that Columbus had only recently left behind and Shakespeare had yet to put on paper. By the end of the violin’s first century, people were just discovering its possibilities. But it was already the instrument of choice for some of the greatest music ever composed by the end of its second. By the dawn of its fifth, it was established on five continents as an icon of globalization, modernization, and social mobility, an A-list trophy, and a potential capital gain.In The Violin, David Schoenbaum has combined the stories of its makers, dealers, and players into a global history of the past five centuries. From the earliest days, when violin makers acquired their craft from box makers, to Stradivari and the Golden Age of Cremona; Vuillaume and the Hills, who turned it into a global collectible; and incomparable performers from Paganini and Joachim to Heifetz and Oistrakh, Schoenbaum lays out the business, politics, and art of the world’s most versatile instrument.
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…a terrific read—one of those rare epical surveys that can be read in a single long stretch or picked up and savored, chapter by chapter…Schoenbaum deftly melds history, criticism, legend and occasional snatches of good gossip into a book that will be necessary reading for anybody who plays (or tries to play) the violin, and it ought to appeal to anybody simply in search of some engrossing and exhaustive nonfiction.
—Tim Page
Publishers Weekly
A fragile music-box conquers the world in this entertaining if overstuffed history. Historian Schoenbaum (Hitler’s Social Revolution) focuses on the violin’s socioeconomics: its manufacture in every setting from Stradivari’s workshop to modern Chinese factories; its investment value to high-end connoisseurs; its accretion of prestige and recompense as violinists advanced in status from humble feudal artisans to conservatory-trained professionals and concert hall geniuses; its adoption as a vector of assimilation, knitting the continents together in a musical ecumene and giving minority violinists entrée into the cultural mainstream. There’s not much music in the book; the author never tries to explain exactly why the violin’s sound captivated the world’s ears, and instead emphasizes the evolving practicalities and logistics that underpinned its spread. He does layer on colorful anecdotes about the people making, trading, and playing violins, regaling readers with the fakery of shady collectors and dealers who labeled latter-day violins as Cremonese masterpieces, the histrionics and womanizing of virtuosos, and the motivational cruelties of teachers. Schoenbaum narrates the picaresque in a lively, lucid prose, but the themes sometimes get lost in a surfeit of notes. Still, there’s so much engaging lore that the violin’s legions of fans will find it an absorbing browse. Photos. (Dec.)
Washington Post
[A] terrific read—one of those rare epical surveys that can be read in a single long stretch or picked up and savored, chapter by chapter. ...Schoenbaum deftly melds history, criticism, legend and occasional snatches of good gossip into a book that will be necessary reading for anybody who plays the violin, and it ought to appeal to anybody simply in search of some engrossing and exhaustive nonfiction.— Tim Page
Tim Page - Washington Post
“[A] terrific read—one of those rare epical surveys that can be read in a single long stretch or picked up and savored, chapter by chapter. ...Schoenbaum deftly melds history, criticism, legend and occasional snatches of good gossip into a book that will be necessary reading for anybody who plays the violin, and it ought to appeal to anybody simply in search of some engrossing and exhaustive nonfiction.”
Eugene Drucker
“David Schoenbaum’s witty, exhaustively researched, and fascinating history of the violin, born of the same passion that has inspired luthiers, collectors, players, and composers for centuries, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the societal implications of craftsmanship, artistry, and great music.”
Jason Price
“An incomparable compendium of everything you could ever and should ever want to know about the world’s best-loved musical instrument.”
Joseph Curtin
“Schoenbaum’s splendidly detailed social history follows a giddy parade of humans as they buy, sell, play, collect, build, copy, steal, reinvent, love, and try to understand the most coveted of all musical instruments.”
Library Journal
Schoenbaum (history, Univ. of Iowa; Hitler’s Social Revolution: Class and Status in Nazi Germany, 1933–1939) tells a series of engaging interconnected “histories” of the violin. Most books on violin history concentrate on playing or violin-making, but Schoenbaum covers all the bases, as indicated in the four major sections: “Making,” “Selling,” “Playing,” “Imagining.” While more traditional histories, such as David D. Boyden’s The History of Violin Playing from Its Origins to 1761 or Boris Schwarz’s Great Masters of the Violin, have more data about particular players or specific historical developments, Schoenbaum’s strategy casts a wider net and includes information not usually included in accounts of playing or making: the economics of the orchestra (as opposed to only a roll call of great soloists); the sometimes shady undercurrent in the high-end violin trade; and a consideration of race, gender, and class among virtuoso violin players. Perhaps the most innovative section is “Imagining,” which considers the ways in which the violin has stimulated the imagination of artists, writers, and moviemakers.

Verdict As a history of a 500-year-old phenomenon in all its social ramifications, this book is unequaled; recommended for all libraries.—Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that no instrument matched the violin for universality and expressiveness, and given its use in everything from chamber music to klezmer to indie rock, he could well be right. A detailed history from a committed amateur violinist.
Kirkus Reviews
Schoenbaum (The United States and the State of Israel, 1993, etc.) writes fondly and expansively about the instrument he plays for pleasure. Another subtitle for this massive exposition might well be: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Violin--and More. In four sections, the author covers the creation and evolution of the instrument, its marketing and manufacture (from the 16th century), the biographies and skills of many notable players and, finally, how the violin has appeared in art, literature and films. The scope of Schoenbaum's research is astonishing. He's seemingly listened to every recording, read every biography and history of every major (and many minor) player and symphony orchestra and chamber group, read every novel with a significant violin presence and seen every TV show and film featuring a violin. He focuses principally on classical players; although he mentions Charlie Daniels, he does not write much about country music, jazz or other popular musical genres--though he does not neglect them entirely, either. He performs an important service to general readers by discussing makers other than Antonio Stradivari, and he enlivens his prose with occasional puns, colorful similes ("other quartets renewed themselves like deciduous trees"), sharp details (Dorothy DeLay had an "elegantly manicured right hand" and unexpected descriptions (he compares the salaries of members of the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Symphony). The literary summaries are somewhat excessive, and the many names and details may overwhelm some nonmusical readers. A long and richly textured love letter to an instrument, a tradition and an art.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393084405
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/10/2012
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 342,102
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David Schoenbaum, a professional historian and lifelong amateur violinist, has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, and many other publications. His previous books include Hitler’s Social Revolution and The United States and the State of Israel.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2014

    I PLAY THE VIOLIN

    Its awsome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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