21 March 2015
The Great Violin Makers (Cremona School)
Was the first violin derived from the early versions of the fiddle or was it the other way around? Who is credited with the creation of what we now know as the violin? Was there a certain preferred size and did size matter? Did the first violins survive in their entirety or have they succumbed to the effects of deterioration? My intent of this research is to find the answers to all of these questions while learning something of the initial history of the violin.
The history of the violin has not always been firmly established. In the 20th century, after more than 400 years of debate and investigating, there is certainty beyond a reasonable doubt who is credited with making the first violin, and within a decade, the period of time it was made. To that end, the most recent findings have indicated that the first violin came from an area of Italy and was created by a single person.. The history of the violin got its start in northern Italy during the second and third quarters of the 16th century. It originated from the late medieval fiddle, especially in the form of the viola da braccio, undergoing a transformation which, before the end of this period, resulted in the full development of the violin family of musical instruments. This determination is the result of intense archival research on which the studies of early makers was carried out in the late 19th century by the Bolognese specialist in violin history, Giovanni Livi. 1 Due to a period of polemic disputes in the 1930s there was much speculation as to who was the actual “creator” of the violin family2. In modern times it has been established that there were was not a single inventor of every feature of the violin family. Venetian book illustrations of that period3 demonstrate an unmistakable pattern of such development in the great commercial and maritime capital of north-east Italy, but there is sparse similar documentation for the other known centers of violin building such as Cremona, Brescia and Bologna or likely ones such as Milan. Because of new publications, reprints, exhibitions and travel, those who are interested in early bowed strings now have a better knowledge base of existing instruments and documentation than was previously possible. One result of this increased knowledge base is the emergence of luthier Andrea Amati as the master primarily responsible for the crystallization of structural features and standardization of sizes of the modern violin family. The oldest violin has been traced back to Andrea Amati(1505-1578) of the Cremona Region of Northern Italy.
The first version of the violin, created by Andrea Amati in 1546, was actually a three stringed Rebec which he later modified with four strings in accordance with Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salabue, who made determined efforts over a period of many years to see as many of Amati’s authentic instruments as was humanly possible. Andrea Amati’s earliest known four string violins are dated about 15644. In his famous Carteggio Cozio supplied crude drawings and gave a few descriptive details.5 Amati didn’t stop with just the violin and he proceeded to create a whole line of instruments.
Andrea Amati’s creation of the violin and other violin family instruments weren’t just the originals but were crafted in different types and sizes. It has been established that he produced two sizes of violins, and various sizes of violas and cellos by the set of instruments surviving today that were originally made for the royal court of Charles IX of France. The smallest instrument in the set that Andrea Amati produced, known as a “small violin” was an instrument 342 mm in length that was prepared for the court of Charles IX of France, who ruled under the regency of his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, from 1560 until his death in 1574. All of the instruments known to have come from this set are painted and gilded, with mottoes and