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An Encyclopedia of the Violin

An Encyclopedia of the Violin

by Alberto Bachmann

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This encyclopedia is the diverse lexicographic work available in the English language and provides a treasure trove of information on the violin—its technique, its history, and its place in music. Beginning with the 1880's, the work traces the evolution of violin technique, examines its construction and manufacture, lists makers in America and Europe,


This encyclopedia is the diverse lexicographic work available in the English language and provides a treasure trove of information on the violin—its technique, its history, and its place in music. Beginning with the 1880's, the work traces the evolution of violin technique, examines its construction and manufacture, lists makers in America and Europe, offers a biographical section on chamber music ensembles with rare photographs, and presents a glossary of music and musical terms. This Da Capo paperback features a new preface by noted concert violinist, Stuart Canin. This standard handbook for professional musicians and students will interest all those with a love for music.

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Da Capo Press
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Music Series
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5.40(w) x 8.48(h) x 1.50(d)

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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-31824-0



The origin of all stringed instruments is lost in the mists of time, and despite the most patient and laborious research on the part of famous savants, no positive information has as yet been furnished regarding this point. Knowledge of the subject is more or less conjectural, and all that has been definitely established is the existence of the predecessors of the violin—the English crewth, the rebec, the viol da Gamba, the Arabian rebab, the vielle played with the bow, the organistrum, and the vielle or chyphonie (Plates 2 and 3). Nor have I been able to discover, in spite of all my investigations, an exact definition of these two last-mentioned instruments. In his admirable work on stringed instruments, Antoine Vidal expresses himself as follows with regard to the origin of the violin and its development to the present form:

"I shall say nothing anent the vielle (Plate 3), played with a bow, of the Middle Ages, nor of the viols of the Renaissance, a family whose numerous and diversified members almost exclusively supplied the instrumental music heard up to the middle of the seventeenth century; special works have been devoted to these purely historical subjects, to which the more restricted scope of my own book compels me to refer the reader.

"Nevertheless, there is one instrument played with the bow which is no longer known in our day, and which is often designated as the three-stringed violin. I feel that I should give some account of this instrument, in order to establish its nature and restore its true character. It is the rebec, shaped like an elongated pear, often met with in old medieval sculpture, and in the miniatures which embellish the manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

"The rebec (Plate 3) is an instrument which has in common with the violin no more than its bow and its three strings tuned in fifths: G, D and A. In other respects, such as form and character, the two are altogether different, the rebec having no ribs, a convex back, and an absolutely flat sound board. Its origin is very ancient, and it probably came from the Orient. The rebab (Plate 2) introduced by the Moors of Spain after the conquest, toward the beginning of the eighth century, is nothing more than a rebec. The word rebec is not met with in France until about the thirteenth century, when it is alluded to in Aymeric de Peyrat's lines:

Quidam rebecam arcuabant
Muliebrem vocem confrigentes

It is probable that the instrument was in use long before that period, however, though I can advance no historical proof to that effect."

Up to the fifteenth century it was described, in particular, by the words rebelle, rubèbe, and it is only beginning with this epoch that the name rebec was definitely adopted to the exclusion of all others. In 1483, we find the instrument thus designated in the accounts of King Charles VIII of France. In connection with a voyage made by the king in September of that year, there was given, following his order, "35 sols to a poor witless man who played the rebec."

In the year 1490, we find in the accounts of King Charles VIII the following entry: "Paid to Raymond Monnet, a rebec-player"; and, listed from 1523 to 1535, the name "Lancelot Levasseur, rebec-player in ordinary to the King"; and, in the year 1559, that of "Jehan Cavalier, rebec-player to the King." In England the rebec was one of the instruments of the royal band, "the state band of Henry VIII (1526) consisting of fifteen trumpets, three lutes, three rebecs, three taborets, a harp, two viols, four drums, a fife and ten sackbuts."

The rebec was an instrument with a hard, nasal tone, and was used to play for dancing. Bride and groom proceeded to church to the sound of rebec and tambourin.

It was so well known that it even supplied a malicious popular allusion, "Dry as a rebec." In "Florinde," a comedy which was very successful in its day—it may be found in the Adrien de Montluc's Comédie des proverbes—there is a description of the swashbuckling Captain Fierrabras, whom Florinde's father has chosen to be her husband, against her wish. She says, "As to his face, it is but so-so ; and above all he is as delicate and blond as a twice-washed prune; and as to his purse, it is none too well garnished; in that respect he is as dry as a rebec."

On March 27, 1628, an ordinance was issued by the Civil Lieutenant of Paris forbidding all musicians to play in taverns (cabarets) and places of ill repute, all high, low or other kinds of violins, but only the rebec.

It is only just to remark, however, that the unfortunate rebec was not always treated with such contempt. For a long time, in fact, it figured among the instruments whose use was permitted at the royal court. Its importance began to decline with the first years of the seventeenth century. This decline was an irrevocable one, since, a century later, in 1742, when Guignon was named "King of the Violins," after a sufficiently long interregnum had left this office—which he was the last to fill—vacant, one of his first acts of authority was to issue the following order:

"Since it would be at once impossible and opposed to the projects of the community, as well as to that perfection in the arts for which it is striving, to include among those making the effort a certain number of persons lacking capacity, whose talents are restricted to the amusement of the people in the streets and the public-houses, these last are to be allowed to play only a kind of instrument with three strings, which goes under the name of the rebec; but they are not to make use, under any pretext whatever, of the violin with four strings."

Thus the rebec went out of existence, although, as has been shown, it was still in use in France during the seventeenth century. Since then it has disappeared so completely that I have been unable to find a single specimen of the instrument either in public or private collections. The instrumental Museum of the Paris Conservatoire, however, possesses an exact copy made by J. B. Vuillaume, an example of great interest for students of the history of instrumental art.

According to Vidal, there is very little information to be had with regard to the manufacture of the instruments in use in the old days, and yet, in the third book of the Bibliotheque de l'École des Chartes he has discovered the name of a certain Henry, called "Henry of the Vielles," since he was one of the best-known vielle makers of his epoch.

Caspar S. Duiffopruggar (Plate 4), named Tieffenbrucker, a Bavarian who became a nationalized Frenchman, was long reputed to be the first maker of violins, but Vidal declares that all the so-called Duiffopruggar violins are spurious, having been made by Vuillaume, who, in 1827, conceived the idea of making violins after the pattern of a viola d'amour built by the former. That Duiffopruggar came to France with King Francis I, who, after the battle of Marignano, had proceeded to Bologna to confer with Pope Leon X, and brought back the viol maker with him, is proved by an engraving made by Woeriot, in Lyon in 1562. Vidal estimates that Duiffopruggar worked in Paris from approximately 1515 to 1530, but, in spite of their contentions that Duiffopruggar was a wonderful artist at inlay work, there is absolutely no proof existing, as Vidal asserts, of the authenticity of the violins he is said to have made.

The labels of this master are conceived in the following terms:

Gaspar Duiffopruggar à la
costé St. André à Lyon
(Gaspar Duiffopruggar at the
side of St. Andrews' in Lyon)

and have the form of a reverse triangle. Count Louis de Waziers and the violin maker Chardon-Chanot, of Paris, possess bass viols by Duiffopruggar whose authenticity is beyond question.

The following Latin label, in which an allusion is made to the wood of which the viols were constructed, is also attributed to Duiffopruggar :

Viva fuy in Sylvis; sum
dura occisa securi;
Dum vixi, tacui, mortua
dulce cano
(I was living in the forest;
the cruel ax did slay me.
Living, I was mute,
Dead, I sweetly sing.)

The viols were the immediate predecessors of the violin, and the viols, in so far as form is concerned, were, as Vidal tells us, subject in construction to all the liberties which the builder might choose to take with them.

The creation of the violin of to-day in its actual shape is veiled in mystery, which the most ardent discussions on the part of specialists have not been able to solve. The opaque curtain of uncertainty which hides the truth from us has made it possible to ascribe the glory of having called forth the wonderful instrument to which this book is devoted to Testator the Older, Amati, Gasparo da Salo and Maggini respectively. A luthier (a viol and lute maker) named Kerlino, who lived in Brescia about the year 1450, is also credited with the discovery of the violin in the form known to us; and Kolitzer, a famous Parisian builder of the same epoch, is said to have effected the transformation from viol to violin by changing the neck of a viola da braccio. All in all, while it is possible that the paternity of the violin may be conceded to Gasparo da Salo, it seems most probable that Maggini of Brescia may be considered the first to give the violin its present form; and, at all events, the instruments made by this famous builder are authentic in all their parts.

It is evident that the actual form of the instrument is the fruit of a thousand and one successive changes, and that the present form has been in use for several hundreds of years. Innumerable experiments have been made with the object of varying the form, and of increasing the sonority of the violin as we know it; but none of those who would improve the violin has produced instruments which can equal in nobility of tone the instruments made by Stradivarius, Amati and other great Italian masters.

We may set the date of the actual creation of the violin somewhere between the years 1500 and 1550. It played a part in a fête offered by the city of Rouen to the King Henry III of France and to the Queen Mother Catherine de Médici "on their triumphant and joyous entry into the said town, which took place on Wednesday and Thursday, the first and second days of October, 1550." A feature of the entry was an artificial rock, with Orpheus and the Muses, "and in the middle of said rock, Orpheus was seated upon a block of polished marble ... to his right stood the nine Muses, garbed in white satin, who together rendered madrigals and follias with their violins in excellent voice." In the year 1571, there were seven violins included in the royal band of Queen Elizabeth of England, which North mentions in his memoirs, published in London, in 1846 : Item, "to the vyolons, being seven of them, every one of them at 20d. per diem for their wages, and £. 16, 2s, 6d., for their lyveries, in all per annum £. 325, 15. s."

The fabulous prices paid in these days for the great Stradivarius instruments—I know of many which have become altogether extinct—represent a later development, for the cost of violins was modest enough at first, as is shown by amounts quoted in the fragment of an account of King Charles IX of France where, in many cases, the prices are no more than those paid for ordinary, cheap commercial instruments at the present time.



It is unfortunate, but nevertheless a fact, that almost nothing of consequence is known about most of the European violin makers; the labels, in many cases, being the only source of information. Even these are often not to be relied upon, because so many "genuine" counterfeit labels bearing the names of great makers have been placed in violins by imitators that it usually requires an expert to determine their authenticity.

This scarcity of information applies almost as well to the great masters of the art of violin making as to the lesser lights. At the time when violin making flourished, those who engaged in it were looked upon as artisans—not to be compared with the artists who performed upon their instruments. Therefore, while we have copious information regarding the great players of the violin, the only authentic facts regarding the makers are those which have been acquired by painstaking research on the part of antiquarians.

The list which follows presents the names of all violin makers of reputation in alphabetical order, irrespective of nationality, thus enabling one interested in the subject to find the name he seeks without difficulty. Wherever the maker's name has no special interest attached to it, beyond the fact that he was engaged in the business of violin making, the information is of the briefest character. In the case of those makers whose fame for the beauty and tone of their instruments has carried through the centuries, sufficient concise information is given to thoroughly place the maker's position in his particular field.

This chapter is illustrated by reproductions of the labels and the instruments of many of the most famous violin makers, and wherever such labels and instruments have been reproduced, reference has been made to same in the article under the maker's name.

Abbati, Giambattista, Modena, 1775 to 1795.

Absam, Thomas, Wakefield (Yorkshire), 1810 to 1849.

Acevo, ———, Tannenholz.

Achner, Philipp, Mittenwald, 1772 to 1798.

Adani, Pancrazio, Modena, 1775 to 1827.

Addison, William, London, 1665 to 1670.

Aireton, Edmund, London, b. about 1727, d. 1807.

Albanesi, Sebastiano, Cremona, 1720 to 1744.

Albani, Paolo, Palermo, Rome, Cremona.

Albanus (or Albani), Matthias, Bozen, b. in Kaltern 1621, d. Bozen, 1712. One of the best-known makers in the Tyrol. His first violins were made in 1645, and he was still producing in 1712, at the age of ninety. His instruments are distinctive in that the backs are always made of acorn wood, finished in a light reddish-brown color. Like Stradivarius, he attained the height of his art at middle age. Albanus also was known as an excellent bow maker. His sons, Michael and Joseph, were also notable violin makers. The label used by Albanus is reproduced on Plate 17, and one of his instruments on Plate 18.


Alberti, Ferdinando, Milan, 1737 to 1760.

Alberto, Pietro, Rome 1578, still living in 1598.

Aldred, ———, London, 1600.

Aldrich, Jean Francois, Paris, b. Mirecourt 1765, d. 1843.

Allard, Francois, Paris, 1776 to 1789.

Alletsee, Paul, Munich, 1698 to 1738.

Alvani, Paolo, Cremona, 1750 to 1755.

Amati, Andrea, Cremona, b. about 1535, d. after 1611. The founder of a famous, violin-making family, but unfortunately very few of his excellent instruments are still preserved. His violins were of a small pattern, fashioned from the best of woods, and varnished either a reddish black or a dark yellow. The name "Amati" has been sadly misused, being applied to any instrument resembling an Italian maker's model. Twenty-four violins made by him for Charles IX of France were destroyed in the French Revolution.

Amati, Antonio, Cremona, b. between 1555 and 1560, d. after 1640.

Amati, Hieronymus (GIROLAMO) I, Cremona, b. about 1556, d. 1630. Antonio was eldest son of Andrea Amati, and worked jointly with his brother Hieronymus, their beautiful instruments resembling the work of their father. The best instruments known are credited to the brother Hieronymus. The varnish of their earlier violins was dark cherry brown, later they made it orange in color. After the death of his brother, Hieronymus labeled his violins only with his own name, and they became famous not only in his own country but also in France and other European countries. The label used by Antonio and Hieronymus Amati is reproduced on Plate 11, and one of their instruments on Plate 14.

Amati, Hieronymus (Girolamo) II, Cremona, b. 1649, d. 1740. The label used by Hieronymus is reproduced on Plate 11 and one of his instruments on Plate 6.


Excerpted from AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE VIOLIN by ALBERTO BACHMANN, ALBERT E. WIER, FREDERICK H. MARTENS. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Swiss-born Alberto Bachmann was a concert violinist and composer whose enthusiasm for the instrument compelled him to write about it. He wrote Le Violon in 1906, Les Grands Violinistes du Passé in 1913, Gymnastique à l'Usage des Violinistes in 1914, and culminated his work as a writer in 1925 with the publication of this encyclopedia.

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