Italian Violin strings... Print E-mail
Article Index
Italian Violin strings...
The Four Ages of Gut Strings
Gut string manufacturing technologies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
The centres of production
Criteria for judging gut strings
String types
The string gauges
Equal tension, equal feel and scaling tension
The fourth string
Bibliography and Notes
All Pages

Italian violin strings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries:

typologies, manufacturing techniques and principals of stringing

by Mimmo Peruffo

(Updated version of the original article in Recercare IX, 1997, pp.155-203)

In the first version of Recercare some of the conclusions reported in section 8 (Working tension and “feel”) turned out to be incorrect. I apologize to readers and offer an updated version of the article below.

Questa picciol'arte, che contribuisce tanto

al nostro piacere, e forse una delle men

note, attesoche' coloro che la professano

ne serbano le pratiche a guisa di segreto.

FRANCESCO Griselini: Dizionario

delle arti e mestieri (Venezia 1765).

On matters concerning strings and the criteria of stringing bowed instruments from the beginning of the eighteenth to the end of the nineteenth century, the systematic study of recently acquired material has produced some remarkable surprises, that are particularly revealing if compared to the stringing techniques currently used by the early music specialists. For at least a decade researchers (1) have begun to realize that a too fast interpretations of the original sources in certain important violin methods dating from the first half of the present century - as, for example, that of Carl Flesch (2) - have had a bad influence on those who first began to pose the problem of how best to recover past musical repertories, in accordance with the strictest principles of authenticity

It has been widely held, for example, that eighteenth-century bowed instruments, and especially the violin, had a thin, nasal sound – in marked contrast, therefore, with that of our own century, with its dominance of metal strings: this was generally attributed to the preference of early musicians to string their instruments much more lightly than is done today in ordinary practice (3). The idea became so deeply rooted (mainly because no really serious research was done on the subject) that even important string manufacturers would recommend very thin strings to anyone intending to play baroque music.

In recent years, however, a more painstaking study of the historical documents has suggested a substantially different situation, thereby generating a founded doubt that what we hear today in so-called ‘authentic performances’ does not wholly correspond to what was once generally heard (leaving aside matters of performance practice). In fact, just as the reconstruction of early musical repertories and their respective instruments requires accurate comparative studies of the various elements of the past, it stands to reason that the string - the actual generator of sound - should be one of the main points of departure (if not the main one) of that endeavour. Hence, as some studies have shown, the string is no longer just one of the bricks making up the edifice, but rather the "corner stone of the temple" (4).