This is just for those of you who wonder what a baroque violin is all
about. It's far from conclusive, but I hope it'll be a useful
The violin developed in the early part of the 16th century in northern
Italy and by the second half of the century it had basically become
the instrument we know today as far as measurements, form, number of
strings and tuning are concerned. Set-up, playing techniques and
playing style were different though and evolved over time to what we
are used to today. Accordingly, there are two approaches to playing
music from earlier periods: using modern instruments and techniques
and interpreting the music in a contemporary way, or trying to play
the music the way it sounded at the time it was composed. For these
'authentic' performances musicians and instrument makers recreate
period instruments and playing styles from historic documents and
surviving (unaltered) instruments. Many old violins still played today
started out as baroque violins and were only modernized in the 19th or
20th century. In some cases they have now again been 're-baroqued' for
It is important to keep in mind, that in past centuries the violin and
its set-up weren't as standardised as it is today, but generally a
baroque violin may differ from a modern violin in the following ways:
- Shorter neck, hardly or not at all angled back from the top.
- Shorter, wedge shaped fingerboard made from a softwood core with
hardwood edges and with an ebony or hardwood veneer on top. Originally
it would also have been wider and less rounded than today.
- Generally lower and more massive bridge, though there was a wide
variety of bridge shapes.
- Usually plain gut strings, thought first experiments with making
metal wound strings date as far back as the 17th century. It is
customary for many baroque players to tune to 415 instead of 440 Hz,
reflecting a generally lower tuning pitch in the Baroque.
- No chin or shoulder rest. The violin was played held against the
chest or on the shoulder with or without chin contact.
- Veneered or carved tailpiece matching the fingerboard. Fine
tuners, as well as the steel E-string are 20th century inventions.
There are more, less immediately visible differences, for example in
the construction of the violin. There was also a preference for higher
arched Stainer- or Amati type instruments over the lower arched
Stradivari model favored today. The powerful sound of a modern violin
would have been considered too rough and sharp in the baroque
time. Achieving a beautiful tone was considered more important than
getting a lot of volume.
Early classic to romantic violin
Changes towards the modern violin started in the late 18th century,
with Paris as a center for this development. Musical development
required a stronger sound, a bigger range and more freedom of movement
when playing the violin. Today there are players who are using
instruments specifically set up for classic or even romantic period
music for authentic performances, though this is probably still less
common than using a baroque violin. It is also important to keep in
mind, that not all countries and not even all players adopted the new
gear and techniques equally fast. Generally the following changes
took place during this transitional period:
- Both neck and fingerboard are lengthened and the neck is angled
back more and protrudes more over the violin top.
- The fingerboard looses the wedge shape. Veneered fingerboards,
now often with ebony sides continued to be made for a long time (you
might find the occasional one still in use on a modern violin), but
they start to be replaced by solid ebony boards towards the end of the
- The bridge becomes higher, there's still a wide variety of shapes,
but generally the feet are made thinner and the center of gravity is
- Metal wound strings become more common, especially on the deeper
strings, though plain gut strings were still used by normal musicians
well into the 20th century. The tuning pitch also rises. Overall
string pressure rises, leading to changes in the construction of the
violin and creating a more powerful sound.
- There are first experiments with chin rests, at first usually just
in the form of a small ebony rim, but the shoulder rest only appears
in the 20th century.
Cello and viola
Basically the same developments took place for cello and viola. An
important modern addition to the cello is the endpin, which is a late
19th century invention. A baroque cellist would hold his instrument
like a viola da gamba, resting the instrument on his calves.