Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/286
��art of fiddle-making: for they increased both the tension of the resonant box, and the transmission of the vibration of the strings. The construction of instruments with cornerblocks, in various sizes, was contemporary with the great develop- ment of polyphonic choral music in Germany and the Netherlands in the 15th century : and by the beginning of the next century, the Treble or Discant Viol, Tenor, Bass Viol, and Double Bass or Violone, were well established both in those countries and in North Italy.
The 'Violin' model, which differs from the Viol in having shallower sides, with an arched instead of a flat back, and square shoulders, and in being composed in all its parts of curved or arched pieces of wood, glued together in a state of tension on the blocks, first appears in Italy towards the middle of the i6th century. It completely revolutionised the fiddle-maker's art, driving out of use first the Discant Viol, then the Tenor, and last of all the Bass Viol. The Double Bass, alone, which remains a Viol pure and simple, has resisted the inroads of the Violin model in all save the soundholes. The substitu- tion of the Violin for the Viol in all its sizes except the largest, is due to the louder tone of the former instrument, and it accords with a general principle underlying the whole history of musical instruments, which may be stated as the * survival of the loudest.' The vibrations of the Viol were insufficient to meet the growing demand for power. As a means to this end, Viols were constructed double-strung in fifths and octaves [see LYRE], and also with sympa- thetic strings of metal, constituting the family of the Viola d'amore and BARYTONE. [See vol. i. p. 146.] But in the last century the Violin effected a complete rout of all its competitors, and its model was finally adopted for the Tenor and Bass, and sometimes even for the Double- Bass, although for the last-named instrument the Viol model is still generally used in this country. The Viol Double Bass has survived partly be- cause it is much easier to make, partly because from this particular instrument a penetrating, rather than powerful, tone is required. The Violin extinguished the Discant Viol in Italy and Germany in the 1 7th century, in France and England in the i8th. England held out longest for the Bass Viol or Viola da Gamba, for this instrument continued to be manufactured and played in this country to nearly the end of the last century, when it had everywhere else become practically extinct. The models now in use for our bowed instruments have scarcely changed at all since the time of Stradivari (1680-1730) : and his models varied only in the design of certain details from those in use a century earlier.
The Violin, as we have it, is therefore about three centuries old. Of all musical instruments it is the only one that has survived unchanged throughout modern musical history. The lutes, the universal companions of bowed instruments until a century and a half ago, have disap- peared as completely as the spinet and the harp- sichord. Wind instruments of all kinds have
been completely revolutionised, but the Violin has remained for three hundred years the same : and it is probably destined to remain so while music exists, for though numberless attempts have been made to improve it they have been all abandoned.
The model of the Violin, which the experience of centuries and the ingenuity of many genera- tions of mechanics thus wrought out, appears at first sight eccentric and capricious. It might be thought that any sort of resonant box, and any sort of frame strong enough to hold the strings, would equally answer the purpose. The fact however is, that every minute detail has its use and meaning. Suppose, for instance, the fiddle were made with straight sides. In this case, unless either the resonant box is so much narrowed as to spoil the tone, or the bridge is considerably heightened, with the same result, the bow could not reach the outer strings. Sup- pose, again, it were made of the same general outline, but without cornerblocks, like a guitar. In this case the vibrations would be more nu- merous, and their force would be consequently less ; the tone would be thin, as may be proved with one of the many guitar-shaped fiddles which have been occasionally made in all periods. Suppose it made with a flat back like the Viol : in this case, though the tone might be improved in the high treble, it would be deficient in depth in the middle and bass, unless indeed it were made considerably larger and deeper. If the curves of the various parts or the shape and position of the bridge and sound- holes are materially altered, the capacity for vibration is injured, and the tone deteriorates in consequence. If the body of the instrument is lengthened at the expense of the fingerboard, the player's left hand is cramped; if the whole length is increased the instrument becomes too large to be conveniently handled. Probably every struc- tural alteration that could be suggested has been at some time tried and dismissed. The whole design of the fiddle has been settled gradually in strict accordance with the requirements of tone and execution.
The total normal length of the violin has been determined by the length of the average human arm bent at a convenient angle. The length of the handle or neck has been determined by the space necessary for the average human hand to manipulate the fingerboard ; and since 'shifting* on all the strings has become general this length has increased. The length of the resonant box is the first of these measurements less the second. Its central or smallest breadth is determined by the requirements of bowing, as applied to a bridge of sufficient breadth and height to set the in- instrument properly in vibration. The other breadths and lengths are determined by the ne- cessity of allowing a sufficient vibrating length for the strings, while keeping the bridge in the centre, i.e. on a line dividing the superficial area of the belly into two equal parts, or nearly so. The tongue, so to speak, of the violin, that which corresponds to the reed of a wind instrument, is