Author: Brittany B. Joachim
When studying the origins of instruments, a mixture of fact, folklore, and verbal sources come into play. For instance, we know the modern banjo comprises of an instrument brought with West African slaves and the Spanish guitar. But the origins of the two instruments that birthed the modern banjo can get a little tricky. The same can be said for the violin as tracing its exact origins proves difficult.
The violin is certainly part of the viol family of instruments. These include a stringed instrument that is fretted and/or bowed. Think of the medieval fiddle or more modern instruments such as the cello. While played in 9th century Central Asia, stringed instruments appeared in Europe in the 10th century. The violin began appearing in paintings by the 1520s (14th century). The violin grew popular for many reasons, such as its limitless range, anyone from lay musicians to merchants to nobles could learn it, to being easily accompanied to the musicians singing. And from a practical standpoint, its portability helped make it popular.
The Rise of the Violin
The 1600-the 1750s was known as the “golden age” for violins. This was when famous violin makers came into their own. A majority of these violin makers came from Italy by makers such as Guarnieri, Amati, and Stradivari. These handcrafted violins, which could take years, represented the peak of the industry before labor switched to a production line method in the 18th century. In the 1800s, the violin underwent modernization, and we would recognize it as what people use today.
During the 1800s, political changes swept through much of Europe and these events affected much of life, including music. Financing musicians and events shifted from the aristocracy to the rising middle classes. They too wanted to experience concerts but have them as public affairs instead of private ones. Concerts became a part of social life and instruments needed to vibrate louder. For example, the bridge of the violin was raised to increase string tension, which raised the volume. As time continued, the violin, despite its murky origins, remains a popular instrument.
"A Brief History of the Violin". From the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra blog. Accessed on 28 October 2021.
Libin, Laurence. "Early Violins: Problems and Issues". Early Music. Vol. 19, No. 1 (February 1991), pp. 5-6.
"Violin-History". Vienna Symphonic Library. Accessed on 28 October 2021.