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Oliver Webber

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    Historical violin set-up, especially stringing.

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  1. Curiously Spohr wrote in 1832 that the best Tourte bows should have 100-110 hairs - much fewer than commonly used today. It's an element of early 19th century performance practice that has never been fully explored...
  2. Actually that link doesn't work. I don't think it was uploaded by Gabrieli and they are fairly strict about asking unofficial recordings to be removed. However there are some short clips specifically of the violins on the MV page here: http://www.themonteverdiviolins.org/hear.html
  3. Just a quick note, coming late on this. Very interesting thread and I hope you don't mind me responding to the comments on strings even if it's not a direct answer to the Brescian question. On equal tension stringing: Mersenne is not the only source for this: it is also recommended by di Colco (1690), Speer (1697), Eisel (1738) and L Mozart (1756); a lot of iconography corroborates it, and indeed some (naturally rather rare) examples of surviving strings - for example those on the Zanker bass in the Berlin museum. (This has come up on MN before) It's also worth noting that "equal feel" does not preclude equal tension: if the strings are too stiff (which is caused when they are not sufficiently twisted) then equal feel is indeed achieved only by using somewhat thinner lower strings than equal tension would require; however with very highly twisted, and therefore flexible, strings, equal tension strings do indeed feel equal under the bow and finger. Descriptions of strings, and surviving strings, seem to indicate that the best thick bass strings were indeed very highly twisted, so in fact there may be no conflict here. The concept of equal feel is especially important for the lute - Dowland, Burwell and Mace write about it, for example. I imagine that for plucked instruments that is the most practical way to judge strings (I don't play them myself) - but it's important to remember that the "feel" of a string alone doesn't tell us about the tension unless we also know how flexible or highly twisted the strings were. All this aside, that doesn't mean everyone used equal tension: as has been sensibly pointed out, many musicians won't have taken so much care, or may have had different opinions about what works best on their instruments (although none of them seem to have written anything down about alternative methods, frustratingly!). Leopold Mozart complains that musicians often choose their strings by eye - and that the result is often very bad! - before going on to describe the correct way (in his opinion) to select strings: use weights to make sure you have equal tension. So for the historical performer you might ask, do we imitate those who chose by eye with bad results, or do we follow the advice of Mozart senior who was a fine violinist and pedagogue...? As for the level of tension, it is indeed very hard to specify actual levels of tension (equal or otherwise) beyond the specific examples we have from Mersenne, Tartini* and the Zanker bass - it must be (and must have been in the past also) to some extent a matter of trial and error. However what I wanted to debunk was the myth that "baroque = lighter" - it might be in some cases, but (1) there are at least some examples (Mersenne and Tartini) which indicate higher than modern tension and (2) with a lower bridge, which was often the case in the 17th and 18th centuries, the maximum string tension that it is possible for a given instrument to sustain is higher (that doesn't mean that it *has* to be higher, of course - but it's wrong to assume it must be lower.) So as always a broad generalisation is unwise (and my 2006 article does perhaps risk that - apologies!) but the clues that do exist give a rather different picture from what used to be "standard" for baroque instruments 20-odd years ago (not just in terms of tension, but also string materials and the preponderance and construction of wound strings). I think what I am trying to say is that, not forgetting all the reservations necessary for any interpretation of historical evidence, the equal tension model is a little more than one person's personal experiment, but rather an apparent best practice recommended by many important writers of the period and corroborated by much iconographical evidence and even some surviving strings. It may not have been universal but evidence suggests it was important. It's also a practice which has had very interesting results in recent performance and recording - obviously you can judge for yourselves whether you agree. If you're interested, try any of the recordings by Gabrieli or Early Opera Company from the last 10 years or so; on line you could have a listen to Monteverdi String Band - we haven't made any CDs yet but there's a Radio 3 clip here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03t1nfg as well as a few live concert videos on our website. *Tartini data - it's quite right to point out that this is second hand information. We can't be 100% sure about it. But it is not implausible, especially with a relatively low bridge, so it seems wrong to disregard it unless or until there is specific evidence to contradict it.
  4. It will also of course depend heavily on the quality and gauges of the strings. I do use a slightly thicker, lower bridge on my baroque violin, but there's no reason why gut strings shouldn't work with a fully modern set-up- they were in common use until at least mid-20th century after all!
  5. Ha ha I have these all the time 2 common themes: 1. I'm trying to get my suit on, everyone else is on stage, and I just can't get my shoes/bow tie/cufflinks on, 2. I just can't get to the damn venue - extreme weather, wrong bus/train/plane, lost in a foreign city/wrong country, you name it. But my favourite of all time was *after* a stressful concert, when I had to play the Laudamus Te solo from Bach's B minor mass in a freezing cold Lincoln Cathedral, and 3 days later I dreamt that the conductor had asked me to play it from some gallery *outside* the cathedral next to the gargoyles, 100 feet in the air, and on the *viola* (but at pitch!). But by the time I found my way to the spot, everyone was coming out of the cathedral and I'd missed it, and got shouted at by the conductor. I guess we performers are neurotic types...
  6. If you're looking for measurements, photos and other details that might help you copy a viola d'amore or inspire one of your own, one good starting point might be Bill Monical's "Shapes of the Baroque", which contains at least 2 (Gagliano 1774 and one other). It's a free pdf download - if google doesn't find it for you I have a copy I could send, just drop me a pm.
  7. Well this is where things get interesting - this is exactly the kind of question I think we should be asking! Bridge height is also, I understand from speaking to other luthiers, closely connected with bass bar dimensions. Of course it's not surprising that all these matters are interconnected.
  8. I'd like to ask a specific question to Jacob, Bruce and Melvin: you've all indicated that baroque bass bars are sometimes longer than modern bars. Clearly this is the case in at least those 2 examples from Hill (the 1621 Bros Amati, and the 1720 A Gagliano); from your experience, can you say that the Cremonese bar dimensions given in that book (with the majority - 13 out of 15 - significantly shorter) are untypical, or contradicted by other data? If so, would you be able to point me to some more specific information about these? The other few examples I have managed to find (see post 9 above) also seem to be substantially shorter than modern; I would be very interested to learn about any *pre-1750* examples which buck this trend - and if any specific data are available (rather than just general statements), that would be *wonderfully* helpful...! Please note that I'm not trying to prove a point or attempt to establish a "norm" - obviously there is no such thing - but merely to gather as much information as possible.
  9. Of course such a division is simplistic, and I certainly don't mean to imply there was ever any kind of "cut-off" point, which would be absurd - but on the other hand it is not controversial to state that there is a clear period of quite substantial and rapid change in instrument design between *around* 1750 and *around* 1800, so using examples from the late 18th or even 19th century to make a case for early 18th century set up doesn't stand up to scrutiny either, with all due respect (meant quite genuinely!). Sorry: in haste I carelessly missed your "have" - point taken. However, if the *majority* of pre 1750 bars are shorter, that tells us something interesting. If the majority are not, then I'd like to learn more about the exceptions, which don't seem to be well documented. I have spent a lot of time in the last 6 months or so searching for surviving bars from the early 18th century, and haven't come across any apart from the 2 (out of 15) in the Hill book which are longer than modern. There are on the other hand many from the later 18th and early 19th century which are longer (as well as some exceptions which are shorter). Many of your fellow luthiers, as well as players and musicologists would be *enormously* grateful if claims about longer bass bars in baroque instruments could be elaborated on with dates and measurements! I don't have any preconceptions - I am simply trying to use the evidence that I can find to draw conclusions. Finally, I would of course concur that the idea of removing an original bar from a baroque instrument to "re-baroque" it is the height of stupidity; I would also be absolutely fascinated to learn the date and dimensions of said violin and bar
  10. I'm curious to learn about any specific examples (pre-1750) that are bigger - mainly because they seem to be in the minority, at least of documented examples, and it is always interesting to learn about exceptions to trends. I've seen (or read of) many examples from later in the 18th century that are bigger (including some longer than modern), but that is not so surprising in a period of great change. However, I don't have the invaluable experience of opening up dozens of old violins! Can you give any specific examples of larger bars before about 1750, Melvin? Are the measurements in the Hill book unrepresentative? In their list of Cremonese instruments, for example, of those before 1750, there are 15, of which 13 are shorter than modern, and 2 longer (a brothers Amati from 1621, and an A Gagliano from 1720).
  11. It rather depends on what you mean by "baroque", and what your aim is. There are certainly some long, modern-length or even longer bars from the 2nd half of the 18th century, and it is good to remember that there is not a simple linear development from short to long, and that some late 18th century bars are indeed longer than modern standards; however, this period is surely transitional or classical, whereas baroque is conventionally understood as ranging from c1600 to c1750 (the "c" of course being crucial!). If that is your target period, I think you should look elsewhere, and I would question following models from 1801 (pace Jacob) or Charles and Samuel Thomson (typically 1770s and 80s) to set up a baroque instrument, when examples from earlier instruments most certainly exist and are frequently much shorter than later bars. As far as violins are concerned, the Hill Stradivari book has a useful list of surviving Cremonese bass bar dimensions which vary from significantly shorter (the majority) to slightly longer (one or two) than modern (disregarding the Gaglianos, which are classical, of course); the 1679 Stainer's original bar is 233mm, a 1700 Albani is 235mm (can't remember whether this comes from Hill or Lindeman), a Jacobs from 1702 has 243mm, a German violin (possibly Widhalm? but uncertain, may be earlier) from the Pieta collection has 240mm. So it's not quite fair to say that shorter baroque bars are "an old wives' tale"; I would also strongly disagree that "you won't notice much of a difference" (sorry Torbjörn!) - most players in my experience do indeed notice, and a long bar in a baroque instrument certainly makes it sound more "modern". So, if you want to set it up as a baroque instrument, I would say that you should at least consider a significantly shorter bar, though the precise dimensions are hard to determine.
  12. This is fantastic playing, though the style is not to my personal taste - but that's beside the point... Listen *really carefully* to the first chord, and particularly the F and A which are held on together. They are *not* pure - the F is too low, relative to the A. You do not get the "Tartini tone" resonance you would if he played his F a little higher. This is the performer's choice, clearly - he is absolutely consistent with it. It gives a different character to the minor chord from the higher, pure F natural. My personal choice would be for the pure third/higher F - but his works too. Intonation depends heavily on context and interpretation, in other words!
  13. Fascinating to see this at last - thanks Ben! (I missed them when they came to England) But I can't help asking, why in heaven's name did they go to all the effort and expense of re-creating a 17th century instrument, only to set it up with 18th century strings and bridge... <sigh>
  14. Brilliant, thank you Conor - incredibly useful! It does indeed seem like just the thing for a Sunday afternoon...(rather like browsing Maestronet when I should be practising) So your 2.5-3g for a baroque bow would seem to correspond fairly closely to those early sources. Of course, we don't know how fine or course the hair was, and with only one source from the 17th century and one from the 19th we are not exactly overloaded with evidence Thanks again!
  15. Can you tell me roughly how many hairs this translates to for a baroque bow? Some historical sources speak of the amount of hair, but they always mention the number of hairs, not the weight. For example, Marin Mersenne indicates that 80-100 hairs is the normal range, and I mentioned in an earlier post that Tourte bows in the 1830s were haired with 100-110 hairs. I believe this is considerably less than generally in use today, but it would be interesting to be able to compare figures directly. Incidentally, in my experience as a player, baroque bows are often given too much hair - it may indeed damage the bow, but before it reaches that stage it has other negative effects, such as dampening the sound and making characteristic baroque articulations harder to achieve.
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