Horolsky Posted May 31, 2017 Report Share Posted May 31, 2017 Hello everybody, I recently discovered for myself this article of Christian Rault:http://www.christianrault.com/en/releases/how-when-and-where-the-specific-technological-features-of-the-violin-family-appeared I know that at this forum I can find discussions on the most controversial topics of lutherie, but the Rault's ideas about central positioning of the soundpost and bassbar are quite ignored (if I searched the forum properly). Can somebody give me an objective opinion on that hypotheses, or a link to already existed discussion\analysis\critics?Below is the fragment of Rault's text on the subject: Quote The early violin Since this latest decisive innovation, (bent ribs and linings) all the technical matters necessary for building a violin seemed to have come together. During the first decades of the sixteenth century, instruments really looking like violins did indeed appear, mostly in the hands of angels in Italian paintings (figure 11). A few decades later Andrea Amati built such wonderful instruments that they are still considered as the founding masterpieces of the prestigious Cremonese school. As we know from the State Archives of Cremona, Andrea Amati is first mentioned as a craftsman in 1539, and we can follow some important steps of his life through the notary deeds until his death which occurred in December 1577. But we should now consider the appearance of each technological feature as set out in a summarised chronology (see Appendix). Considering this succession of historical evidence, we cannot fail to note that such an essential element for our modern conception of the violin as the soundpost, seems to appear later than was hitherto believed to be the case. We have already discussed elsewhere that we have no testimonies to the use of the soundpost in the medieval vièles. The very few early bowed instruments surviving in largely original condition, on the whole corroborate the absence of such an internal reinforcement. The violetta of Santa Catarina de Vigri, usually kept at the Corpus Domini convent in Bologna, beside the body of the Saint (1413–1463), has no soundpost. In the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna are preserved two early bowed instruments built in the sawn-out technique: a lira da braccio by Andrea da Verona c.1511 (figure 8), and the so-called “viola da braccio” (c. 1530); neither was conceived with a soundpost. The same can be said for the last decades of the sixteenth century about all the Venetian viols by the Sicilianos (Linarol or Erbert), built with bent ribs and with flat, bent or carved bellies supported underneath by transverse bars, as with the ancient vihuelas – but without soundpost. The belly of the viol by Zanetto in Brussels is strengthened (as is the viola da braccio from Vienna or the later vihuela in the Encarnación convent in Avila) with a thicker central section of the belly. The viol from Brescia, by Gasparo da Salo (1575), now in the Ashmoleum Museum, only bears a central spine in its axis. Even from the end of the sixteenth century, the anonymous guitar-shaped viol in the Dolmetsch collection bears this same axial reinforcement, as do other guitar-shaped viols from Brescia. This structural answer to the pressure of strings is still in use in the first half of the seventeenth century as testified by the original front of a small bass violin attributed to Joseph Mayer, in the Berlin Instrumentenmuseum (MIN 5202) and studied by Karel Moens. In my own workshop I have come across an eighteenth century German violin with the same axial spine. All these early instruments preserved in original condition clearly testify that many experiments to develop sound projection and musical possibilities of both viols and violins were still being carried out at the very end of the sixteenth century. We have to wait until the final decade to meet with certainty, for the first time, clear mention of the use of the soundpost. In London in 1596 William Shakespeare was giving his Romeo and Juliet. Three protagonists of this famous drama are musicians called respectively Rebeck, Catling and … Soundpost. Around the same year (shortly before 1594), real instruments had been put in the hands of music-making angels, sculpted in wood in the burial chapel of Freiberg Cathedral (Saxony). Five bowed instruments from the violin family (small discant, discant, tenor, and bass) had been built in workshops near Freiberg, most of them bearing a central soundpost of a rectangular section, situated between the two upper circles of the f-shaped soundholes. This was now almost twenty years after Andrea Amati’s death, but considering the necessary time lag between any invention and its documentary expression, this does not mean with certainty that the famous maker did not attempt any kind of acoustical experimentation. Nevertheless serious doubt must exist concerning the presence of an internal system inside the violins made by Andrea that we have now come to expect. This suspicion that we had already formulated in 1995 is confirmed by the instrumentalist Sylvestro Ganassi, who published in Venice in 1542 (that is, three years after the beginning of Andrea’s attested activity) the first volume of his viol tutor Regola Rubertina. In his chapter IX, he suggested, in order to change the pitches of a consort of viols, tuning them “as low as it can still be fingered, and so still audible, lengthening the string by moving the bridge down towards the tailpiece […] in order to lower the pitch […] or moving the bridge up to shorten the strings and thus raise the pitch of the instrument.” Every violonist and every violin maker knows perfectly well how important the precise placement of the bridge is between the “ff” for it to be in the best balance with both the soundpost and bassbar. Being able to move the bridge in such a free way simply means the lack of such an internal arrangement. The situation of the bridge and internal reinforcements As most of the earliest preserved instruments, which have been played in the following centuries, were drastically modified, we need iconography to show how they appeared in their historical context. In the first depictions of vihuelas, or in the earliest Italian pictures of viols and violins, such as the paintings of Il Garofalo (1508–1512), Ludovico Mazzolino (1510 to 1515), Gaudenzio Ferrari (1529–1530), or Lodovico Fiumicelli (1537), we can see the bridges situated very low on the belly, near a short tail piece and generally very far from the central area set between the soundholes. This peculiar situation, similar to the position of the bridges on plucked vihuelas and lutes, makes the introduction and placement of any kind of soundpost impossible. In such a case, there are only two possibilities: either the flat soundboard is supported by transversal bars, as in the lutes and vihuelas of the same period; or, as with the vièles and liras da braccio, the vaulted belly is conceived to sustain the pressure of the bridge by its thickness. These practices, excluding the presence of any soundpost, continued during the life of Andrea Amati. We can clearly observe how the bridge is situated at a far distance from the centre, below the soundholes, on the Frontispiece of the Treatise by Ganassi (figure 12); also in the portraits of Duiffoprugcar (1562) and of a viol player by Vezzano (1519–1561); as well as in numerous later testimonies during the seventeenth century. The vast iconographical production of these times confirms the still movable position of the bridges up to the eighteenth century. But a noticeable change can be observed in the later pictures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the varying location of the bridge, not yet stabilised in its modern central place, becoming progressively closer to the soundholes, and very often near their lower end. This evolution very likely indicates the generalisation of the use of the central soundpost, as it limited the movement of the bridge to its sphere of mechanical influence. As mentioned earlier, we must leave aside our contemporary violin makers’ knowledge and certainties simply to understand that the early polyphonic bowed instruments such as the medieval fiddle, the vihuela, the lira da braccio or the lira da gamba were conceived to be played alone. And the monoxylous conception, without any internal structure and almost flat bridge was perfectly adapted to produce, around a polyphonic musical line, a rainbow of harmonic clouds. When polyphonic effects are created by a consort of instruments of the same frame but built in different sizes and pitches, the role of each instrument becomes completely different, that is to say: monodic, and its conception has to be thought through again. Moroever, the fact of bringing instruments together clearly expresses the search for a greater volume, which is first obtained by a higher tension of the strings. We will probably never know if the soundpost was used a long time before the first mentions of the very end of the sixteenth century, but we have to accept that both its mechanical and acoustical effects perfectly answered the new instrumental requirements, as the consort practice really seems to expand only with the second half of this century. Hypothesis 1: Andrea Amati, the “pins” and the central soundpost Some few years ago, colleagues drew my attention to an unexplained hole observable in every violin by Andrea Amati. This hole, of a variable size from about 1 mm to 2.5 mm, is situated in the inside part of the back, on its longitudinal axis, at the height of the upper part of the soundholes (figure 13). This hole, often filled up with glue is not cylindrical but slightly conical (figure 14). It is as deep as the thickness of the back and sometimes goes through the back to be visible from outside as in the later “Conte Vitale” violin (figure 15). We had many discussions together, trying to find some technical explanation for the presence of such a mysterious feature we called a “pin”, making various hypotheses but without arriving at really convincing solutions. We have already referred to the unexpected discovery of original instruments, almost contemporary with Andrea Amati, in the burial chapel of Freiberg Cathedral. Most of these instruments have a central soundpost. In the “diskant geige” no. 4 (whose length of body is about 340 mm), a kind of small metallic nail is inserted in the lower part of the central soundpost and its point, going beyond the wood, is fitted in a hole of the same frame and situated at the same position as are the “pins” in the inner bottom plates of Andrea’s violins (figure 16). As we know, Andrea was the founder of a great dynasty of violin makers whose members were remarkably long-lived. His son Girolamo, brother of Antonio, died in 1630, aged 82 years. His own son Nicolò reached the age of 88 in 1684, and Girolamo II, son of Nicolò and exact contemporary of Stradivari died in 1737, aged 91 years. We must believe that each member of the family had received a thorough instruction based on well-established constructional traditions, as the permanency of the same models and constructional techniques during a period of two centuries appears to attest. Between 1628 and 1632, plague succeeded by famine devastated northern Italy and the violin corporation was badly hit by the disaster. All the Brescian makers disappeared, but in the city of Cremona, a single member of the Amatis survived, sole heir of a great family tradition. To cope with the ensuing shortage of craftsmen, Nicolo would teach an unusual number of apprentices. As a result, high quality skills and knowledge then spread out from a single source, which fact explains both the wide diffusion of the Amati models and the presence in most Italian violins of this long period of the same “pin” in their inner bottom plates. A few years later in Paris (1636), Marin Mersenne published his famous Harmonie Universelle. In this impressive treatise, we meet for the first time the clear mention of a movable soundpost in the viols (“un petit bâton que l’on relève par l’ouye quand il est tombé”), asymmetrically situated under the right foot of the bridge. From the Latin version of the same text, we can deduce that this soundpost was of a circular section, but nothing is said about the presence of any kind of bassbar. Hypothesis 2: Antonio Stradivari and the asymmetrical reinforcements If, since the founder Andrea Amati, an old tradition of violin making had been transmitted without appreciable changes, things were clearly moving with another very famous violin maker of the Cremonese school: Antonio Stradivari. Compared with the previous permanence, the diversity of Stradivari’s output suggests a rather different frame of mind, revealing the spirit of innovation of a whole society where the musical seeds of the Renaissance finally blossom during the seventeenth century in a flowering of many extraordinary composers and musicians throughout Europe. With the development of the orchestra and the arrival of new musical forms, such as the concerto, instrumental requirements had radically changed. Now soloists were looking for a really powerful and clear monodic voice, with equal volume on a very extended compass. Basing his work on the Amati models, Stradivari openly attempted to develop the acoustic potential of the violin. Moving away from the old medieval geometrical principles even respected by his colleagues, he first dared to use the metrologic system to modify empirically the shape of its body, surrendering partly the proportional canonical conception transmitted by his predecessors. Looking from the outside, the observable alterations he experimented with on violins are well known. Beginning in 1692 by lengthening the resonating body, an approach he would quickly abandon, he would continue making it broader, while lowering the arching. Considering the architectural conception from the inside, these new broader and lower plates are only made possible by the use of the definitive solution: the dissymetrical internal structure combining the different physical effects of each former axial reinforcement: the sound post and the lengthwise bar. Both ancient symmetrical systems are now brought together, so ingeniously and harmoniously arranged with the very singular mechanical properties of the vaults carved in quarter cut spruce. The bassbar, almost parallel to the grain of the belly, amplifies the lower frequencies while the soundpost from now onwards, behind the treble foot of the bridge, lends the highest notes a wonderful and powerful tone. This soundpost, being movable, allows each instrument to achieve its optimal balance. Did Stradivari invent by himself an acoustical system so sophisticated and so efficient that we still use it today? Probably not, but its conception could only be the act of some highly experienced, discerning man of independent ideas, stimulated by innovative music and musicians. Hitherto, what looks to us like an early form of bassbar is attributed to Nicolò Amati who died in 1684. Another one by Andrea Guarneri (d. 1698) is known to be in the the Vermillion collection. But as they have been removed, we do not know for certain if they were situated behind the bass foot of the bridge or in the axis of the belly. While the “pins” did not appear in Stradivari’s output, they are still observable in the violins of his neighbour and colleague Guarneri del Gesú (see figure 14 above). The new, and so efficient internal arrangement, would be progressively copied by the later violin makers, and these holes would gradually disappear, though probably more slowly than one might imagine. Pending further observations, we would point out an Italian violin of c. 1750 stamped GBG (probably Giovanni Battista Gabrielli, Florence) in the Vermillion collection, bearing the same hole in its back. From 1725, the German baryton no. 228 of the Rosenbaum Family Collection has kept its original square section central soundpost fixed in place with two studs for stability. The numerous high quality paintings of the eighteenth century seem to corroborate, through the still unstable position of the bridge, a slow generalisation of the new system (figure 17).Everyone knows the phenomenal prices reached by Italian violins since the nineteenth century. If the violins by Andrea Amati, like those by some who came after, had been conceived with thicker plates and central soundpost, how many of them might have stayed in their original state five hundred years later? Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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