The violin can produce some of the most beautiful sounds you would have ever heard – taking us into an alternate universe of utter bliss! But did you know that the violin has been around for about 5oo years? In fact, the modern violin is said to have been made by Italian maker, Andrea Amati, in the 1500s! Here is some more interesting trivia about the violin that you may not know yet.
- The bow of the violin (also the cello and viola) is most often made of horsehair.
Surprised? Read more…
- There are about 150-200 hair in the bow of the violin.
- The tail of horses in cold climates is thicker and bushier, and this is suitable for stringing the bow of the violin.
- Not all the hair of the tail is suitable for stringing the bow. The hair is polished and dressed and only the finest is used.
- Substitutes for horse hair have not been found to produce the same sounds on stringed instruments.
- For you animal lovers out there, don’t worry, the horse doesn’t feel a thing when its hair is cut. Just like you don’t feel pain when your hair is cut. Additionally, most of the horse hair that is cut for bows is not taken from live horses.
- The violin is made up of at least 70 different pieces of wood.
Each of the parts of the violin – fingerboard, back, nuts, bridge, saddle, neck, pegs, sound posts, top and bottom plates, and so on are assembled to make the violin. Then, of course, there is the chinrest and the bow to account for too. Clearly, the violin is a complicated instrument to make.
Playing it is no piece of cake either! But, once you have your basics of bowing and fingering right, you will find your progress in learning to play it quite encouraging.
- The most expensive violins in the world are worth tens of millions of dollars.
- The violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri in 1741 was valued at US $16 million. This violin is called the Vieuxtemps Guarneri named after a famous Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps, who played it in the 19th century. This violin was also played by Yehudi Menuhin and Itzhak Pearlmann, and is now in the possession of the Japanese-American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.
- Stradivari’s “Messiah” violin, made in 1716, is said to be worth US$200 million! Naturally, since these deals are made anonymously, the prices and owners are not always fully disclosed. Also, since the older violins become antique-like pieces, the price is only likely to go up! Why are these violins so prized? It is because of the:
- quality of the craftsmanship
- varnish used
- aged wood, as older violins sound better over time
- thickness of its wooden top and back plates, which can increase its vibration
- the condition of the tiny pores of the wood of the violin
- maker’s brand, as there are very few violins made by the famous Italian makers available in the world today
- previous owners of the violin like the Vieuxtemps Guarneri violin has been owned by Yehudi Menuhin and Itzhak Perlman
- sound quality of the violin
Modern research also believes that there were cooler temperatures between the 1200s and the mid 1800s. This resulted in denser tree bark, which offered better acoustics. So, nature also played a huge role in making these violins one-of-a-kind.
Of course, only a handful of people in the world can afford such expensive violins. Thankfully, the rest have a choice of buying violins at a much more affordable price starting at a few thousand rupees.
- The violin’s strings were originally made of sheep intestine also known as catgut.
The strings of the intestines and guts of sheep were stretched, dried, and twisted before they became the strings that enabled the beautiful sounds we are used to hearing from the instrument. As you can imagine, the strings made of the guts of animals are more expensive and are not as enduring as the synthetic strings. They are also adversely affected by weather changes and humidity. Nevertheless, some older music like Baroque music is still often played with catgut strings as the tone of the string is considered sweeter than that of the steel strings.
Otherwise, today, strings are made of steel, nylon, and other such synthetic materials. Some are even plated with silver and gold!
- Violins are not all 4-stringed instruments.
Some violins have 4 strings, while others have 5 strings. While traditionally, violins are 4-stringed instruments, a number of modern makers make 5-stringed violins where the bottommost string is a viola string that helps increase range. Many violinists who play contemporary music use 5-stringed violins.
- Violin strings can be made from spider silk.
As per a BBC report, Japanese researcher Shigeyoshi Osaki, who has been studying the properties of spider silk for many years, has spun violin strings by twisting the strands of spider silk. The strands have no space between them which has the quality of making the strings soft. These strings are comparable to traditional gut or steel strings.
- The violin is the principal instrument in an orchestra.
The concertmaster, who is also ‘first chair’ is the leader of the orchestra and also leads the first violins; he is the best violinist in the orchestra and so the other violinists follow on his cue. There is also a second violin section which is led by the principal second violin. Second violins play a supporting role in an orchestra, playing at a lower pitch. Of all the string instruments, violins usually carry the melody and also have a higher pitch than other instruments which is why they are the principal instruments in the orchestra. Their tone is brighter and more audible than the other string instruments.
- Andrea Amati, the earliest manufacturer of violins, apprenticed as a lute maker.
As the lute was an instrument of high status at the time the violin was introduced in orchestras, most makers of violins were also lute makers. So, they were and continue to still be called luthiers. Andrea Amati was one of those who apprenticed as a lute maker and became a master even, in 1525.
He founded the Cremona school of violin making. His sons, Antonio (c. 1550–1638) and Girolamo (1551–1635) were also violin makers. Niccolò Amati (1596 – 1684), the grandson of Andrea Amati was believed to have perfected the instrument, and was the greatest luthier of the entire family. His violins are believed to be the most suitable for modern day violin playing, out of all the Amati violins because of their mathematical precision and symmetrical outlines.
- Guarneri and Stradivari were students of Amati.
Niccolò Amati also taught Andrea Guarneri, Joseph Guarneri’s father, who founded the house of Guarneri violin makers. It is also believed that Antonio Stradivari apprenticed with him between the age of 12 and 14 years. There are believed to be labels on some of his violins calling himself an alumnus of Amati. However, there is less similarity between Stradivari’s early violins and Amati’s violins than his later ones.
- Cremona was the center of violin production due to its conducive climate.
It is believed that Cremona in northern Italy was a suitable place for violin making to develop not only because of the gifted craftsmen but also because of its conducive climate and quality of the fir spruce wood. In fact, even today it is an important center for violin making. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also has Cremonese violin making in its cultural heritage list.
Makes you cherish the sleek, graceful instrument and the melodies that it can produce, even more, doesn’t it? Hope you had fun learning about these little-known facts about the violin! If you would like to make your own melodious music with the violin, we warmly welcome you to explore our courses here at SaPa.