What type of strings did the late 19th century masters use?
I’m aware that there may have been many forums in the past that touched on this subject, but I’ve looked and haven’t found one yet that answers it directly. Apologies if I’ve simply missed it!
I’m looking at trying to purchase the kind of violin strings that would have been used in the late 19th century, by the likes of Joachim, Vieuxtemps, Ysaye and others.
The main things I’m trying to discover is:
1. The differences between plain gut or wound gut
2. Whether virtuosi of that period used a gut E string
3. What difference varnishing makes
4. Whether, even in that period, violinists had any covering on top of the gut eg. silver
5. Whether any of the modern gut core strings (eg. Oliv or Eudoxa) come close to that 19th century sound, or whether I’d be looking at more specialist/handmade strings (eg. Damian Dlugolecki, Gamut, etc.)
Also, in an age not noted for its uniformity, or even it’s equal temperament, was the ‘A’ generally lower than 440 or did this vary from town to town?
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
They would have used plain gut E, A and D, with a copper wire wound G (the copper may be silver plated). As for the make of string there were many makers, and today's Pirastro and Savarez were around in the 18th century! Steel Es weren't around until the last decade of the 19th century, and they may have taken a while to get generally accepted. In the 20th century, between the Wars, one prominent German symphony orchestra had it written into its violinists' contracts that they were not to use other than gut Es. The understandable issue was that steel Es would be too prominent (and metallic) for the sound of the other gut strings. As a personal note, that is the reason why I often use a gut E today in conjunction with plain gut A, D (Chorda) and an Eudoxa (or Chorda) covered gut G - my choice of gut/steel E depends on the music being played and the size of the orchestra (chamber or symphony).
I am pretty much in agreement with Trevor, although I don't think it impossible that somewhere someone was using a wound gut D, Gut D is the weak link in this string set up, but was presumably what most people used, even well into the 20th century.
I second the recommendation to get your strings from Damien Dlugolecki.
It's curious to remember that Olivs and Eudoxas are actually modern strings. They still sound like gut-which they *are*-but are definitely different from pure gut, and not just technique-wise.
The only expensive thing about historical Dlugolecki strings is the cost of the wound G, which is more than a Eudoxa G by about 50%, the unwound strings are very reasonable, especially when you consider the a and e come in double lengths, 2 strings for the price of one.
For more on pitch, see the Wikipedia article on concert pitch.
I find it amazing to think of the big concertos being played on a gut E!
"What are we missing?"
I’ve played gamut, chorda, and tricolore and found them interesting, but of little use to me imho. Perhaps my opinion is a little collored by my experience as a bassist. Gut strings for bass have led to many compromised set ups and schools of playing, techniques, and tunings that players still argue about and have been a huge waste of years for me. IMHO modern strings and technique on the larger instruments afford more range and ease in playing - that said, I prefer the gut-like (yes compromise) sound of synthetics for every string instrument I play except the high e and low pairs on cello and bass.
I don't know the "facts" but in the movie, "The RED Violin, I noticed on the big screen how the strings changed over the years and when they started to show metal windings. The Pirastro company started in business in the late 18th century (I think) and I believe at least the G strings were already being metal wound.
As to your original questions. If memory serves:
I'd just like to thank you all for spending time in giving me the benefit of your expertise. Some of the replies were exactly what I was hoping for and I feel a lot more informed about it all now. Thanks for your reply Christian as I'd seen a response you made in a similar blog post from around 2011 and hoped to get your point of view on this. I'll certainly approach Damian Dlugolecki and although I'm based in the U.K., it's all about getting it right. I'm not sure (with my long neck!) whether I'll be entirely successful dispensing with my shoulder rest, but I'll experiment with it as Edward's comment about it causing ...'a major change in resonance' must be true (aside from the shoulder rest being an anachronism to late 19th century playing!).
I've heard that Damien Dlugolecki is so particular about his strings, that he goes to shelters and hand-picks the cats himself.
There's some insights from the late 19th / early 20th century players themselves in the book of interviews:
Although more baroque in focus, ‘Before the Chinrest’ by Ritchie is also an excellent resource.
Erik, I think you need "shelters" in quotation marks! What real shelter would sell cats to the likes of Dlugolecki?
I'd be more worried if he wanted to adopt my sheep!!