Monday, April 11, 2016

A quick tour of some very special early violin family instruments:

The exact origins of the violin remain debatable and murky.

But most experts would agree that Andrea Amati played a central role in founding the violin family we now know.

The 'King' cello made by Andrea Amati in the town of Cremona:

King cello by Andrea Amati  -- made in 1500s

This cello has often been claimed to be the oldest existing violin family instrument.  The cello is believed to have been made sometime between 1538 and 1564.   That's approaching 500 years ago!

Remarkably, we can hear this cello played today.

It isn't clear which of the three -- violins, violas, or cellos -- came first.   

Possibly all three came to made at the same time, but one could argue a case for the violin coming after the viola.  Regardless, Andrea Amati made the full range of violin family instruments.   And after his successes, the violin was well established.

An Andrea Amati viola with decorated back, circa 1570:


Also circa 1570, an Andrea Amati violin:

Andrea Amati violin ca1570 from RAM

Today, the town of Cremona is inseparable from the legend of great Italian violins.  But Cremona's instrument making fame begins with Andrea Amati.  Situated on the Po river, just below the traditional spruce wood sources in the Italian Alps, Cremona was well positioned -- both for selling the instruments and for ready access to the materials to make them. 

But just a little closer to the spruce wood sources is the town of Brescia, with an even older tradition of instrument making.  Brescia is also the seat of one of Europe's oldest steal making traditions, essential for tools needed to carve instruments.

For more than a century before Andrea Amati's work, Italian instrument makers were exploring various kinds of bowed stringed instruments.  Most of the features of the eventual violin family show up in different combinations in earlier instrument maker experiments.  Andrea wasn't working in a vacuum, or inventing completely from scratch.  In fact, it's quite possible that the basic features of the cello and/or the viola might have appeared elsewhere first.   Brescia is a likely location.

Consider this viola by Peregrino Micheli, son of Zannetto Micheli:

The date on this Viola is estimated as after 1564.  That makes it contemporary to Andrea Amati. The working careers of Andrea and Pellegrino overlap by some 35+ years.  And while Andrea was about 15 years senior, he was however the founding maker in his family where Pellegrino was instead continuing the work of his father.

 We can make a great case that Andrea Amati refined and established the overall violin family.  But to say he didn't start from preexisting cellos or violas is much less certain.

Based on design considerations that will be explored more fully in later blog posts, I'm going to suggest that the Zanetto like Brescian instruments are more likely to represent antecedents to Amati's work than not.

No comments:

Post a Comment