Baroquifying a modern violin


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I want to play in an early music group but I can't afford to buy or commission a violin to play historically informed performance style.  I thought I could just put some gut strings on a modern violin, have a baroque style bridge installed and use a baroque style bow but I have heard that using the baroque bridge and bow won't work because the neck angle will be wrong, the bridge won't work properly with the stronger bass bar.  Do any of the makers here know whether this makes sense ?  Thanks for your comments.

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If you do not have much money, I can't really see why this wouldn't work to an extent. It won't be like a baroque violin, but might accomplish what you need for now.

Although I'm loath to suggest them, Chinese baroque violins can be had for a reasonable amount.

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11 minutes ago, gowan said:

I want to play in an early music group but I can't afford to buy or commission a violin to play historically informed performance style.  I thought I could just put some gut strings on a modern violin, have a baroque style bridge installed and use a baroque style bow but I have heard that using the baroque bridge and bow won't work because the neck angle will be wrong, the bridge won't work properly with the stronger bass bar.  Do any of the makers here know whether this makes sense ?  Thanks for your comments.

From a player's point of view, what difference will it make to the music if you play on a modern instrument?

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Gut strings and maybe a baroque bow can get you close to the sound. Many baroque bridge blanks/styles that are used today do not necessarily represent what was used on historic instruments anyway. Many designs are based on inaccurate paintings or things like the Tuscan Strad viola bridge, which was probably was not the norm. 

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Just get the appropriate bow and strings and see how far you go with it.  If it works, it works.

One of my instruments, which has a modern bridge etc, is being played in the early music group Tafelmusik on a regular basis, or at least was before performances stopped. 

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Professional players regularly use instruments in modern setup in period ensembles all over the world.

Different instruments will respond differently to gut strings.  It's not necessary for you to put a baroque bridge on the instrument to use gut.  Once you get gut strings that work on the instrument (which may not be trivial in some instances), if the other players think your instrument is too loud, you can try a baroque bridge.

Don't let people dissuade you from using documented historical bridges such as seen in paintings and Stradivari artifacts.  There is an incorrect theory floating around the violin world based on labels on transitional bridges in a French museum which does not fit the overall evidence.

If you plan to buy an expensive bow, be aware that the one you choose to go with your modern instrument isn't going to reflect what might work well on a fully baroque instrument.

 

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7 hours ago, sospiri said:

From a player's point of view, what difference will it make to the music if you play on a modern instrument?

The more historical the equipment, the easier it is to explore subtleties of historical performance practice.  You can play idiomatically on the right violin in modern setup, but you will end up with a different kind of sound and a different range of articulation.  These videos may help give an idea, although you'll have to read past the different recording environments.  Pine is of course playing on a really good instrument in modern setup and modern strings, she's using a very heavy 'baroque' bow.  Sato is using a much more historical setup and beyond the fact that their conceptions of the piece are different you can hear that they are each working with a different palette of tone and articulation.

 

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I'd like to second Mark's comments, and point out that Elizabeth Blumenstock's Andrea Guarneri has a modern neck. She opted not to have it "reconverted" to spare it the surgery. Doesn't seem to hold her back from being a top flight historical performance specialist. 

Bow and strings are the most important, not to mention a dramatically different approach to technique overall. It can be very frustrating, but be patient with yourself. 

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9 hours ago, Wood Butcher said:

 

Although I'm loath to suggest them, Chinese baroque violins can be had for a reasonable amount.

Do not recomend that. Only for playing outside in bad weather conditions... 

On the topic in general: As a person deeply involved in HIP movement I can honestly say there is many players in many baroque orchestras playing on modern instruments with baroque bows. But what is most weird thing - they also use modern technique and also do not care or do not know nothing about historical sound producing and approach . If you are going to play fully "chin off" (it should be so, but majority still are not able to do), then you will find modern angle not very comfortable, but still possible to play .So for begining it is not a very big problem to start use modern violin with gut strings, later you will start to think about changes.

 

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2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

How does anyone really know what baroque sound and articulation were like? Weren't all the recordings and videos from that era destroyed during the revolution? ;)

Let alone how one produces that sound and what playing techniques were used, including whether or not chins touched violins.

The curious thing for me has always been that so many folks pursuing what they believe is historical performance practice and sound to the Nth degree are using old instruments.

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3 hours ago, David Burgess said:

How does anyone really know what baroque sound and articulation were like? Weren't all the recordings and videos from that era destroyed during the revolution? ;)

 

1 hour ago, Mark Norfleet said:

Let alone how one produces that sound and what playing techniques were used, including whether or not chins touched violins.

The curious thing for me has always been that so many folks pursuing what they believe is historical performance practice and sound to the Nth degree are using old instruments.

Of course the honest answer is "no one does objectively know how music was played pre-recording technology". Any serious practitioner of HIP will readily admit that. 

The HIP movement is to a degree an academic discipline, perhaps you could think of it as a sort of musicological anthropology. While we haven't got any recordings, there is a surprisingly vast amount of technical writing on music from the past. Careful study of these resources, the correspondence of composers and performers of bygone eras, the notation itself, allow HIP players to attempt a plausible recreation of the musical methods of yesteryear. 

It really isn't that dissimilar to what many in our own trade practice, seeking an ever deeper understanding of the tools, materials, and methodology of the past masters. Only the HIP crowd has a lot more to go on than we do! 

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5 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

 

It really isn't that dissimilar to what many in our own trade practice, seeking an ever deeper understanding of the tools, materials, and methodology of the past masters. Only the HIP crowd has a lot more to go on than we do! 

I'm not so sure about that. We still have actual period "performances" to guide us. The HIP crowd does not.

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12 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

I'm not so sure about that. We still have actual period "performances" to guide us. The HIP crowd does not.

You're overselling our position somewhat. All but a handful of the "performances" you're claiming we have are heavily modified. Both the HIP folks and the luthiers that are so inclined have to do the best we can with the information available, which requires the skills to carefully vet said information in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Put aside playing technique for a moment and concentrate on the physical violin.

Bridge: there is no scientific reason why a modern bridge cannot or does not emulate the playing characteristics of the so-called "baroque" bridge.  A crappy bridge is crappy regardless of the style, and a good bridge is good regardless of the era it purports to represent.

Getting an experienced luthier to carve a "baroque" bridge will make your violin look baroque if you want.

Strings: There is a distinct difference in sound and playing characteristics between gut and most modern synthetics. But there are modern strings that emulate the timbre of gut. Again, picking gut strings over gut-like modern strings seems more of a choice for appearance than sound.

Neck Geometry: You can find scholarly studies on this. To the extent that baroque necks were set to give a lower projection to the bridge (a lower bridge), that could have a noticeable affect on the sound. I believe it is mostly a power (projection) issue.

Violin Body: Different violins sound different, regardless of age. Other than the bassbar, is there really such a thing as a "baroque" violin body?

Bow: There is a decided difference between playing characteristics of a baroque style and modern (tourte) style bow. You can partially emulate the baroque style by gripping a modern bow closer to its balance point. 

TLDR: Use gut or gut-emulating strings and a baroque bow, or modern bow with baroque grip. Everything else is playing technique.

 

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22 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

You're overselling our position somewhat. All but a handful of the "performances" you're claiming we have are heavily modified.

Granted, it would be better if we had more, but how many do we need?

8 minutes ago, ctanzio said:

Neck Geometry: You can find scholarly studies on this. To the extent that baroque necks were set to give a lower projection to the bridge (a lower bridge), that could have a noticeable affect on the sound. I believe it is mostly a power (projection) issue.
 

I don't think we know the angle at which baroque necks were originally set, except it's safe to say that all have come down over time, if the instrument was under string tension. So current fashion may be following distorted instruments, rather than the way they originally were.

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2 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Granted, it would be better if we had more, but how many do we need?

That's an unanswerable question, but as in any research discipline a larger sample size is always preferable. 

Thanks to the fistful of unaltered instruments and other artifacts, we actually have a fairly good idea of the range of neck angles used by first rate makers of the past. The result was a pretty similar break angle over the bridge to what we use now. Regrettably, this doesn't stop old speculation and folklore from continuing to be traded in as fact in the business, by makers, dealers, and players alike. 

Whether it comes to playing or making, there are many ways to do it. I favor a research and evidence based approach, others like to go with their gut. Different strokes. 

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3 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

That's an unanswerable question, but as in any research discipline a larger sample size is always preferable. 

Thanks to the fistful of unaltered instruments and other artifacts, we actually have a fairly good idea of the range of neck angles used by first rate makers of the past.

How? Do we take a wild guess on how much they have sagged over the years, and add that back on?

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Re Baroque setup. It is worth reviewing Roger's baroque setup articles. See evolutionary road and period of adjustment. General argument is that there are certain requirements that need to be met to make a violin playable and modern setup is a continuation of what was done in the baroque. 

To @David Burgess comment above about neck sagging, the only Strad with its original neck joint (medici tenor) appears to have had a wedge added under the finger board to compensate for the neck sagging. For what is is worth most of the Strad neck templates have an 86 degree angle. Including the Medici tenor. See Pollens, pg 3

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8 hours ago, David Burgess said:

How does anyone really know what baroque sound and articulation were like? Weren't all the recordings and videos from that era destroyed during the revolution? ;)

Or de-platformed.  My theory is the music itself, which didn't change, has always dictated what to do.  For example hip "rolled" chords sound less interesting than 2 + 2 chords from the fact that two notes together offer more possibilities, say.  I've seen no actual evidence our earliest, "romantic" recordings of Bach are less similar to what was happening just 150 years before then than current styles are.  And they're obviously closer to the source.   

It's interesting we don't have sound recordings from 2000 years ago since the elements of mechanical recording have been around forever

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33 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

It's interesting we don't have sound recordings from 2000 years ago since the elements of mechanical recording have been around forever

The musician's union put the kibosh on it. Would have reduced employment for live performances.

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15 hours ago, Andres Sender said:

The more historical the equipment, the easier it is to explore subtleties of historical performance practice.  You can play idiomatically on the right violin in modern setup, but you will end up with a different kind of sound and a different range of articulation.  These videos may help give an idea, although you'll have to read past the different recording environments.  Pine is of course playing on a really good instrument in modern setup and modern strings, she's using a very heavy 'baroque' bow.  Sato is using a much more historical setup and beyond the fact that their conceptions of the piece are different you can hear that they are each working with a different palette of tone and articulation.

 

Rachel Barton Pine usually plays a del Gesu, the 1742 "Soldat".  In the small NPR studio we are very close to the violin and, to me, it has a wirey edgy sound which might serve well in a large hall.  The warmth and softness of Sato's instrument, a Giovanni Grancino (1695), would at least partly be due to the gut strings and Baroque technique.  It appears he was playing in a rather large room, maybe in a church(?), but from the reverb it would seem to be heard some distance away.  For comparison I listened to Rachel Podger's recording of the piece and her interpretation seemed close to what Sato does.

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