Fun Facts About the Violin

Yes, the “Violin” and the “Fiddle” are the same instrument. Typically, the only difference is the style in which they are played, with “violin” denoting classical music and “fiddle” relating more to folk traditions.

 

Classical violinists often refer to their instruments as “fiddles” in casual conversation.

 

The origin of the word “fiddle” is of Germanic etymology. Some early forms of the word include:  fidula (Old High German) fithele (Middle English) fiþele (Old English), fiðla (Old Norse and modern Icelandic), fele (Norwegian), and fiddel (Danish).

 
 
                                     A Norwegian Hardangerfele

                                    A Norwegian Hardangerfele

 

The Origin of the word “Violin” is of Latin etymology, the instrument being a descendant of the Italian renaissance instrument known as the “Viol” (pronounced “vile”). The origin of this word is ultimately from the Middle Latin “Vitula”.

 

The word “Vitula”, a word referencing stringed instruments in general, took many forms throughout the Romance Languages, such as Vielle (Old French), Vihuella (Spanish), viole (Middle French), viola (Old Occitan).

 
                                     a Medieval Vielle

                                    a Medieval Vielle

 

It is possible that both the words “Fiddle” and “Violin” come from “Vitula” (most evidently seen in the Old High German “Fidula”). This has not been confirmed, however, and some scholars believe that the word “fiddle” is of purely Germanic origin.

 

The use of the bow in Europe was likely of Eastern origin. Trade routes with Byzantium (modern day Istanbul in Turkey) introduced the Byzantine Lyra, an early bowed instrument. The Arab Muslim conquest into Europe introduced the Rabab, another early bowed instrument, into Spain and Southern Italy. It is likely that the origin of producing sound from taut strings via friction originated in either India or China, and the idea moved West.

 
                             A byzantine Lyra

                            A byzantine Lyra

                                                        Rabab

                                                       Rabab

 

The origin of the modern violin started with the “Vihuela del Arco,” when Spanish musicians started using a bow to play their Vihuelas, an early guitar. When this was introduced to Italy from Spain, the Italians modified the idea and started producing the “Viol” or “Viola da Gamba”. The design and shape of this instrument is the beginning of the modern violin family.

 
                                 Spanish Vihuela

                                Spanish Vihuela

                                             Viola Da Gamba

                                            Viola Da Gamba

 

Someone who makes violins and other stringed instruments  is called a “Luthier”

 
                                                                                                        a Luthier's Shop

                                                                                                       a Luthier's Shop

 

The form of the modern violin was codified in Cremona, Italy, by Andrea Amati, in the mid-16th century. All luthiers after Amati made violins based on his model. Some of his instruments can still be played today!

 
                       A 1559 Amati Violin

                      A 1559 Amati Violin

 

Violins went through a few more changes in the early 19th century to accommodate the intensity developing in the music of the day. The neck was angled slightly down from the body and the bridge was rounded more (earlier bridges were flatter). This enabled the performer to put greater weight on individual strings, producing an intenser, louder sound.

 
      Early/Baroque (1) vs. Modern (2) Violin Bridges

     Early/Baroque (1) vs. Modern (2) Violin Bridges

 

The chinrest was also added around the same time. Although it was originally designed to protect violin varnish from beards, violinists, shaved and unshaved, found it was easier to play with one, so they stuck around.

 
                       Drawing of the first Chinrest

                      Drawing of the first Chinrest

                                          a Later 19th Century chinrest

                                         a Later 19th Century chinrest

       Chinrest of Spanish Virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate

      Chinrest of Spanish Virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate

                                                                 A modern Chinrest

                                                                A modern Chinrest

 

The bow also went through changes in late 18th century. Earlier bows were curved away from the hair, more like a bow used in archery (hence the name). A Frenchman name François Tourte developed a bow with an inverse curve, creating more tension in the hair and more power in the sound. This type of bow has been used in classical music ever since.

 
                                                         An Early/Baroque Bow

                                                        An Early/Baroque Bow

                                                                    a Modern Bow

                                                                   a Modern Bow

 

Though the idea of the bow was likely introduced to Europe from the Middle East, the oldest bowed instrument was found in Dublin, Ireland.