Ravanastron (this instrument is said to have belonged
to a sovereign of India 5000 years before Christ), the Rabab
or Rebab (very ancient, it was played in Persia, in Arabia
and in North Africa), the Rebec (the rubebe or rebel
or rebec was brought to southern Europe in the Middle Ages by
Muslim merchants and artists)... and many other more or less rudimentary
instruments dating back to ancient times are considered to be
interesting - although distant - precursors of the
The North African rebab (centre, with inlaid bow) gave birth,
in Europe, to the pear-shaped (or pyriform) rebec. The more
ancient type has round sound holes (front, left); later the
sound holes took the form of an f (behind, left). The ribbed
vielle (right) represented, with the rebec, the second major
mediaeval type of instrument. The four strings and the f-holes
were forerunners of the future violin.
the Middle Ages in Europe, as from the 11th century, we can
find the vielle and the rote (rotta), a
simple reproduction of the ancient zither: in order to use it
as a bow instrument and produce various sounds by shortening
the strings, a fingerboard was placed between the
sound-box and the upper transversal bar of the zither.
the 10th and 11th centuries the rote was widely used in all
of central Europe, as testified by iconography. It was superseded
by the vielle in the 12th century.
quite early on, small instruments were played by holding against
the left shoulder or the breast and not only on the knees!
from the 12th century there appeared a slightly more deeply
cut-out form similar to the modern guitar and representing the
last phase of the evolution of the vielle. This instrument
was already predominant during the Middle Ages, probably because
it was easy to handle, it had a vast sound range, and all the
notes of the scale could be played relatively easily.
number of strings soon grew from one or two to three or four.
As early as the beginning of the 11th century the classical
form of the five-stringed vielle came into being and remained
until the 16th century. Little by little ribs were introduced
to facilitate the use of the bow; the plaque to which the strings
were fitted, characteristic of the plucked stringed instruments,
was replaced by a separate tailpiece and bridge,
more appropriate for bowed instruments. Thus gradually the transition
was made from the stringed instrument of the Middle Ages to
the Renaissance viol, equipped at first with a round
opening that was eventually transformed into two crescent-shaped
a series of combinations of the two primitive types,
three other families of instruments appeared before 1500: the
viola da gamba (viol held on or between the playerís
knees), the lira da braccio (played with a bow)
and the viola da braccio (held against the shoulder).
It is from the viola da braccio that the VIOLIN evolved.
viola da braccio resulted from reducing the number of
strings of the vielle to three or four, adopting the
pegbox and the lateral pegs of the rebec as well as the
tuning in fifths, which is most convenient for small
arm instruments as it allows the use of four fingers, thus increasing
both the range and the manoeuvrability. It should be noted that
the ribs are much lower than in the viola da gamba, and the
cut-out becomes increasingly marked. As for the two sound holes,
which at the beginning were C
or crescent-shaped, they soon adopted the form of an É
as in the modern violin.
with the passing of the centuries, the violin, properly speaking,
took form. As we have seen, the origins of the violin are several
and varied; each of its parts is the outcome of a more or less
complex evolutionary process whose beginnings are often difficult
to determine; each of its parts, therefore, has its own history.
An instrument with a rather chaotic family tree, the violin
is an entity encompassing many destinies in a single instrument...