The violin is one of the most important and most loved instruments and plays a vital role in many genres of music. But, who invented the Violin?
Like many instruments, the Violin was not “technically” invented. So, how old is the violin? Well, that depends. It evolved over several hundred years from a variety of influences, and it took a long time for the violin to become the instrument we know now.
It was almost certainly born out of necessity rather than design. Going back over 2000 years, people living in what we now know as Palestine and Israel had a form of stringed instrument that was used for religious services. Although no records were made of it, it is mentioned in texts.
This was an instrument that had two strings and was played with a bow. The body was created with a gourd-like shape, and it had a long neck. Musicians would sit and play it with the instrument in their lap.
How long the Rabab was in use before it made its way to Europe is unknown. But around the 11th century, it appeared. Why and how is uncertain, but it could well have been the result of wars.
A Spanish nobleman, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (1043 – 1099), was fighting against the Arabs in Southern Spain. He became a Spanish historical hero who became known as “El Cid.” It is believed that it was during this period that the Rabab arrived. If it did, it was renamed the Rebec and had some construction differences. And it was here that the Violin we now know began to take shape.
While the Rabab could be considered a physically smaller forerunner of the Cello, the Rebec was more like the violin. It had three strings instead of two and was made of wood. But the big difference is that the Rebec was played wedged into the shoulder as against being seated on your lap. It was played with a bow.
Evolution and the Vielle
Over the next two hundred years is when the violin spread across Europe. And no doubt, changes were being made to the design and how it was played.
By the middle of the 13th century, a newly designed instrument was being used in France. This was the five-stringed Vielle. This may have been a name that evolved into the Fiddle.
This was during the Medieval music period, and we were heading towards the Renaissance. Music was changing, ideas were developing, and more was being demanded from the instruments.
In the Court of Versailles
It is here that the first Violin we recognize as the forerunner of what was to come made its appearance. The viola da braccio and the viola da gamba were both used in court. They had a ribbed body design, very close to what we know today. The ‘F’ holes also appeared at this time, improving the sound and giving it more volume. And the neck had no frets.
It would have to be Italy
But it was not in France that the Violin we know first appeared. It was in the North of Italy sometime in the early 1500s. There is some discussion about this. Some argue that the first violins were already being manufactured in the late 1400s.
A Musical Mystery
No one actually knows who created the first violin in its current format. But most will give credit to Andrea Amati, who lived in Cremona. The oldest violin in the world, which still exists today, was made by him.
There are written copies of an order for 24 violins to be made for Charles IX. Charles was King of France from 1560 to 1574, and that is the earliest official record in existence.
Additionally, there are visual references of early violins in paintings by Gaudenzio Ferrari. He painted scenes that included the violin, viola, and cello in the 1530s. Albeit, the instruments only had three strings.
Well, we have Gasparo di Bertolotti from Brescia in Northern Italy, who some believe created the first violin. But I am going with Amati. There is something quite significant about him that we should take a look at.
The First of the Great Cremonese Luthiers
That is how Andrea Amati is described. He lived and worked in Cremona, near Bologna, from 1511-1577 and made lutes, viols, and rebecs. He is credited with designing the defining shape of the Violin, giving it its elegant form. If you want to know who invented the violin, you should get familiar with Amati.
In Cremona, he set up the first violin workshop, which later became a well-known school for violin makers. Today one of the best violin makers is Antonio Guiliani, and a great example of what they produce is the Antonio Giuliani Etude Violin.
Two of his offspring, Antonius and Hieronymus Amati, attended the school and were later known as the “Brothers Amati.” By the time his grandson, Nicolo, arrived, the school was renowned for its workmanship and the quality of its instruments.
One of Nicolo’s students was Antonio Stradivari. Yes, him. He started his apprenticeship at the school at the age of about 14. He came from a long line of wealthy Cremonese businessmen and was well-known to the Amati family. If you want a violin Stradivari might use if he was around today, then check out the Bunnel Pupil Violin Outfit.
Famous for Stradivarius Violins, he also made cellos, violas, and even some guitars. Most crafted from Maple, they are adorned with various patterns like the fleurs-de-lis. But while looking stunning, it is the sound they are most famous for.
Any more from “the school”?
Another from Cremona, who was taught by Nicolo, was Andrea Guarneri. His grandson, Giuseppe Guarneri, is another whose violins are recognized as being some of the best.
Players at the top of their profession, Vanessa-Mae, for example, prefer the Guarneri instruments. There are fewer than 200 of his creations left which accounts for their very high price tag.
Thankfully, there are present-day violin makers who carry on the Guarneri legacy. And buying these will not cost a fortune. A nice example is the Cecilio Violin Package For Beginners. If you’re thinking of “taking up the bow,” it’s a fantastic option.
The Legacy of Lombardy
Cremona is only 85 miles away from Milan, one of the great cultural centers of the world. It is right and proper that the world of the violin, and later the viola, and cello should reside here.
It was a small village then and isn’t much bigger today. But you can walk the old cobbled streets, look through windows and still see violin makers plying their trade. It’s like looking into another era, and one can imagine Andrea and Nicolo Amati, Stradivarius, and Guarneri painstakingly creating their masterpieces.
Interested in Great Violins?
Also, don’t miss our handy guides on How Can I Learn to Play the Violin on My Own, Tips For Tuning Your Violin, Different Types of Violins, and A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings for more useful information.
Who Invented the Violin – Final Thoughts
As I said at the beginning, the violin was not really ‘invented’; it evolved. But if the violin owes its history to one small village, then it is in Cremona where its soul resides. And, of course, Andrea Amati and the school he created.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the history of the violin. And I hope to have inspired the next generation of violinists, as well as reinvigorated those who may have put it down but are looking to rekindle their love for this great instrument.
Until next time, happy bowing.