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Morphological Evolution of the Violin


jdevries
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Imitation, Genetic Lineages, and Time Influenced the Morphological Evolution of the Violin

 

 

 

Abstract

Violin design has been in flux since the production of the first instruments in 16th century Italy. Numerous innovations have improved the acoustical properties and playability of violins. Yet, other attributes of the violin affect its performance less, and with fewer constraints, are potentially more sensitive to historical vagaries unrelated to quality. Although the coarse shape of violins is integral to their design, details of the body outline can vary without significantly compromising sound quality. What can violin shapes tell us about their makers and history, including the degree that luthiers have influenced each other and the evolution of complex morphologies over time? Here, I provide an analysis of morphological evolution in the violin family, sampling the body shapes of over 9,000 instruments over 400 years of history. Specific shape attributes, which discriminate instruments produced by different luthiers, strongly correlate with historical time. Linear discriminant analysis reveals luthiers who likely copied the outlines of their instruments from others, which historical accounts corroborate. Clustering of averaged violin shapes places luthiers into four major groups, demonstrating a handful of discrete shapes predominate in most instruments. Violin shapes originating from multi-generational luthier families tend to cluster together, and familial origin is a significant explanatory factor of violin shape. Together, the analysis of four centuries of violin shapes demonstrates not only the influence of history and time leading to the modern violin, but widespread imitation and the transmission of design by human relatedness.

 

It doesn’t look like there is anything new and earth shattering here, but still a fun and interesting read.

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A sample sentence 

 

"A shape attribute highly correlated with time largely separates early from later luthiers, but also precociously appears in the violins of Antonio Stradivari, preceding his copyists centuries before this element of shape dominated violins of the 20th century. "
 
Pricelessly back to front observation ... 
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A sample sentence 

 

"A shape attribute highly correlated with time largely separates early from later luthiers, but also precociously appears in the violins of Antonio Stradivari, preceding his copyists centuries before this element of shape dominated violins of the 20th century. "
 
Pricelessly back to front observation ... 

 

This precocity/prescience seems to have been a common characteristic of artists of this and the immediately preceding periods.  Bach, for example, or many of the Renaissance painters.  Some support for a similar burst of precocity by luthiers in early 20th. century Italy may often be found on eBay.  ;)  I see a strong support for article quality assurance by peer review in this example, as well  :lol:

 

Still, a nice article.  Thanks for posting it, jdevries  :)

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I posted this on the thread that Stephen F. started because I couldn't find this thread- it's a more accessible recounting of the article, in perhaps less scientific terminology, but still detailed. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/plant-biology-informs-the-origins-of-the-stradivarius/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ScientificAmerican-News+%28Content%3A+News%29 and also here: http://phys.org/news/2014-10-centuries-history-imitation-role-modern.html

 

Dan Chitwood is a plant morphologist (and a viola player!) which explains many of the techniques.

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His work is using the framework of evolutionary biology and complex shape analysis to put a series of already well-understood observations in the wrong sequence. In his analysis, Stradivari is an aberration in a process of natural selection which would otherwise be moving towards a violin very like a Stradivari!

Historical study has already demonstrated the real causal links in the "evolution" of the violin, and I can't see what this paper adds ...

Jim Woodhouse's quote is just silly, as if we needed a scientist to legitimize the widely understood historical trends in violin-making.

"This puts some scientific substance behind the anecdotal evidence of makers and expert dealers."

Phew, what a a relief!

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