Baroque VS Modern Violins

November 27, 2007 at 06:37 PM · What are the differences in sound, price, avaliability, music style, etc.? Which do you prefer, and why?

Replies (21)

November 27, 2007 at 08:12 PM · A baroque violin is for playing baroque music with a recreation of baroque technique. It is a specialty item and is not required in order to play baroque music in a plausible and pleasing recreation of baroque style.

It is more difficult to find good quality baroque violins in the various price ranges because expectations of performance are (unfortunately) lower.

I understand that you are just starting out? Unless you are already fanatical about baroque technique and have to go that direction, just leave it alone for now. It is much more difficult to find lessons and get good equipment, so you are much much better off as a beginner going with a normal modern-style instrument and teachers.

The sound of too many baroque violins is weak and whiney. The sound of a good one (or a good modern violin strung with gut) is rich, colorful and can be sweet or a bit raw depending on how it's played and other factors.

One's preference will depend on one's musical preference. If you like any classical romantic or modern violin music you should not restrict yourself to a baroque violin and bow.

I'm a baroque fiend myself, so it's not that I don't love the style. :-)

November 27, 2007 at 08:32 PM · Andres................I do not know how you could remotely think that.

Lorice, if you want to do it, DO IT! Playing the baroque violin is a great thing. It helps your technique in modern violin because you cannot grip the violin with your neck, and you must use a light grip for your bow.

The main differences are that the fingerboard is shorter, the neck is shorter, the fingerboard and tailpiece are made of maple, with an ebony covering (sometimes). You can get a baroque violin with decorated sides, tailpieces, and fingerboards for a higher price. And there are no fine tuners.

In baroque violins, you must play with gut strings. (Well, you don't have to, but the sound is more authentic). Gut strings go out of tune easily, last shorter, and require a light style of bowing or else they will squawk. The position of which you hold it is also different. You must put your chin either on the tailpiece or on the side of the instrument OPPOSITE where your chinrest would be.

The bow is different as well. In baroque violins, you have two bows. One is the original German baroque bow, which is short, light, and convex. The transitional bow is lesser known bow that came after the German bow but before the Tourte. When untightened, it is concave, but when tightened, it is slightly convex or straight. Both of these bows are light, and naturally the sound of the violin will be less at the frog and tip than in the middle, which is opposite of the Tourte.

The tuning is different as well. Generally, early early baroque music from the mid 1600s will call for an A-392, which is very similar to a G. from late 1600s to early 1700s, for composers such as Bach, Biber, etc, they will call for an A-415, similar to an A flat. Later baroque and classical pieces will sometimes call for any tuning between A-415 to A-440. (Vivaldi usually tunes to 440, Mozart sometimes to 415, and Beethoven to both).

Now, the price. Baroque violins are usually much cheaper than modern violins. You can get a professional quality/soloist violin for 20,000 dollars or more. My baroque violin is a professional quality violin, and I got it for 4500 dollars. Beginner violins call for 1000-2000 dollars, and farther up they will get better rapidly.

Style wise, you have to use less vibrato. Back then, vibrato was used for ornamentational purposes only, and even then they used a small, slow one. And, you can add mordents, trills, runs, turns, or any ornaments to te music to make it interesting. Just don't add too many!

Here are a couple of artists and CDs you can listen to to get a great feel for. These artists are my favorites.

Fabio Biondi-Lestro Armonico

John Holloway-Biber Rosary Sonatas and Bach Sonatas and Partitas

Sigiswald Kuijken-Bach Sonatas and Partitas

Pavlo Beznosiuk-Rosary Sonatas

The Baroque violin is a great instrument to play, and it helps your modern violin playing as well! I get the feeling that you are a student. Keep up your modern violin playing too! Even as a soloist, you can hardly make a living playing solely baroque violin.

I wish you the best of luck, and if you need any help, don't hesitate to ask! Don't hesitate to PM me, either.

By the way, Andres has some great points. Although the violins are generally cheaper, it is harder to find a good one. And, buy a baroque bow to go with your violin first. Get the style, then get a violin!

Have fun!

November 27, 2007 at 08:26 PM · One thing you might wish to consider is getting a baroque bow in addtion to a modern bow and violin. The baroque bow will allow you to perform some of the bowing techniques that are specific to that period's music.

November 27, 2007 at 10:08 PM · Brian, so far as I can tell Andres was only suggesting that for a beginning violinist it is perhaps not necessary to spend time, money, and energy on a second set of equipment, lessons, and technical tools. Nothing very controversial!

November 27, 2007 at 10:15 PM · Not even a second set! What Brian doesn't realize is that it appears from her other thread that Lorice hasn't got her first instrument or started lessons yet. :-)

November 27, 2007 at 10:24 PM · My bad.....Andres, I'm sorry if I insulted you in any way. I must have just read what I wanted from the thread,and for that, I sincerely apologize.

It won't happen again. :-(

November 28, 2007 at 12:34 AM · No worries Brian. ;-)

November 28, 2007 at 02:36 AM · When The Time Comes: What has been said, "GUT STRINGS" are NOT the metal wound strings!!!! These are gut "without" any metal woundings or bindings. When I began playing again a while back I came accross a Baroque Violin (fingerboard is Birdseye Maple; Gorgeous!!!!) and I reserched what you are asking. Brian is our official Encylopedea (boy after my own heart. I wish I had such a memory..And PM him with any questions. He has really helped me!!) And some day I will learn the Baroque violin also. But I agree with Andres. I would love to learn both side by side, but really take it a step at a time one goal at a time.

I also read that to get a good sound with a Baroque Vil. The Bowing feels like you are drawing the notes out, which sounds like having need of good arm muscles, so I think for me I'll keep with the Classical vio. and build/work upto a Bar. Vio.

November 28, 2007 at 08:51 AM · Actually, now that you mention it, this thread contains a few points that need clarification. If you're not into baroque nerd stuff you can skip it. :-)

Although some baroque violins had shorter necks than modern, neck length varied quite a bit, and the nut was often slightly further up the pegbox, so it is not at all clear that string lengths were shorter. Given that most modern players want the nut in the usual place, this means having the same neck length as a modern violin fits in well with the evidence--and this is how many makers of good reputation are doing them lately.

Historical fingerboards were generally made of softwoods when they were veneered with ebony, i.e. willow.

If you search past threads you will find that many people experience longevity comparable to synthetics from their gut G, D, and A strings. Gut requires that you sink into the string when you bow, so the description 'play lightly' can give the wrong idea. Baroque bowing technique doesn't demand more from your arm muscles. Some schools will advocate a higher or more active wrist, but mainly baroque bowing just requires a different feel for the bow and a different, more 'speech-like' concept of musical style.

Baroque bows were shorter in all countries early on, and there wasn't really an "original German baroque bow". The first baroque violin bows were probably Italian, as that seems to be where the instrument as we know it first took shape. There was also a baroque long bow, sometimes (with arguable relevance) called a 'sonata bow'. These appeared in the early part of the 18th century and contrary to some past teachings they appear to have been used in France as well as Italy and possibly Germany (see Robert Seletsky's article in Early Music a while back).

Transitional bows came after 1750 and many still show camber when under tension. Although bows based on transitional models are often sold as 'baroque' bows now, this is not strictly accurate (see Stephen Marvin's interesting and mildly controversial two-part article on the bows of Mozart's time in The Strad magazine earlier this year).

November 28, 2007 at 06:33 PM · I agree perfectly, Andres. My baroque violin uses pure gut strings, so it has been a wonderful challenge using it. It is true that many of the facts I posted are relative, but I posted the "general" idea.

Royce, thanks for your kind response! It's people like you that make the world a nicer place to live in :-)

November 28, 2007 at 11:53 PM · Brian- It's people like us that reciprocate the good in others. good or bad, we choose what to see. At times one warants to be seen over the other.

November 29, 2007 at 05:48 PM · "Gut strings go out of tune easily, last shorter, and require a light style of bowing or else they will squawk."

That is rather inaccurate. They don't go out of tune anywhere near as much as the "pundits" would have you believe. The e and a strings can wear rather fast, but the D and G last much longer than synthetics, and the condition of your nails is all-important.

Bowing is more sensitive to contact point but not lighter to prevent squawking.

November 29, 2007 at 10:34 PM · Actually, Bilbo, I am not trying to be an a$$h01e here, because you are probably much older than I. I personally disagree totally with that statement. Gut strings are made of sheepgut, which is an organic substance. All organic substances react with any small changes in humidity. Though most of us violinists keep humidifiers, the humidity still changes. And, with any small changes, the strings will expand or contract, making them go out of tune. I don't mean any disrespect, and I respect your opinion. However, I believe that opinion/fact is wrong.

P.S. I agree with one point, though. I was unclear about the bowing technique. I did not mean light as in an airy, flautando type of stroke, which might have been the impression I gave to many. For this, I am sincerely sorry. I meant not attacking the instrument. Instead of pressing with your wrist, the baroque violin requires more sinking in rather than pressing. Thank you for that heads up, Bilbo!

November 30, 2007 at 06:19 PM · Hi Brian:

You are welcome :-)

I have a question: do you have any experience with plain gut? Have you ever rigged your own instrument up with it?

November 30, 2007 at 09:30 PM · Hey, Bilbo. Actually, my baroque violin at the moment uses a plain gut A and E string. It is a challenge to use, because they require a different type of response.

November 30, 2007 at 09:36 PM · I love the gut e and the gut a is to me the easiest to get used to. The lower strings are more difficult in my opinion.

I have been using gut for about 2 years straight and really the whole "tuning" thing is a red herring--it just isn't a problem.

I even put gut on a ukulele and it takes much less time to settle down than the nylon strings, which actually makes sense, because the gut fibers are already oriented, whereas clear nylon is amorphous and subject to larger viscoelastic response. Only an oriented-filament-based artificial polymer will settle down as rapidly as gut (in other words Dominants etc).

November 30, 2007 at 11:45 PM · Well, strings react differently with other instruments.....violin or ukelele :-)

Thanks for opening my mind a bit more to the gut strings than my original limited view, Bilbo. I appreciate it.

December 1, 2007 at 02:32 AM · Joshua I'm speculating, but ebony probably was in good supply at the time the modern setup developed, and it was easier to make the FB from one piece of wood. It just hasn't proved necessary to go to more trouble than that.

I have heard of at least one maker who puts composite FBs on his modern violins though, and as ebony becomes more scarce who knows what we will see.

December 1, 2007 at 12:37 PM · Joshua-

Check out my profile page, I downloaded a picture of an Amatti (sp) with maple FB and Tail Piece, it's small though.

December 1, 2007 at 01:39 PM · Beautiful, Royce. I love it!

July 23, 2009 at 02:28 PM ·

Hello-- thanks for this interesting post.  I would just add a cautionary note that we in the "historically informed" department tend to like to put things in a (rather small) box: for music from 17xx to 17xx, use such-and-such a bow; anything written before the 20th century must be played on gut strings with unmodernized "baroque" instruments (which operate under far less tension than is standard today) using little or no vibrato; we assume that the practice of performing baroque music at A=415, classical at 432, and romantic at 440 represents a trend of rising pitch from the dawn of instrumental music to the present which neatly parallels the desire for increased tension exerted on the instrument; etc. etc.  In devising such neat categories, we easily forget such things as that A' in the baroque era varied from 390 or so to over 500, and that to whatever extent we can discern a trend (outside of France, where the pitch was very low to begin with), it actually seems in many cases to have been bringing the pitch down.  Despite what we often hear, the fact is that as early as the 1780s stringed instruments were being modernized, and this was seen as a "great improvement"-- Tartini himself would send violins to Bagatella to have them put under greater tension to give them a more "human voice".  By 1806, the year of Beethoven's violin concerto, revamping old instruments in this way, by then not a new practice, was described by the Abbe Sibire as being absolutely necessary to meet the demands of new music.  As far as the strings themselves go, uncovered gut may have been common early on for the low strings, but once gut strings wound (or half-wound) with metal were introduced in the mid-1600s, they were seen as a great improvement by virtue of creating a more powerful sound.  Even so, in 1619 Praetorius expresses a preference for steel and brass violin strings, passing over gut altogether.  And concerning vibrato: yes, it is true that it was used extremely sparingly by the likes of Spohr and Joachim.  But let's also not forget that Franz Clement, a contemporary of Spohr for whom Beethoven wrote his concerto, was noted for his vibrato (along with the Hellmesbergers, etc.), in keeping with the long-standing ideal that the violin was to have a warm tone and imitate the human voice (though, of course, that does not mean that he vibrated the way most do today-- but that's another issue).  And incidentally, lest we view Clement's vibrato as betraying avant-garde sensibilities (and thereby dismiss its historical significance), we should observe that Geminiani (writing in Handel's England) advocated using vibrato as much as possible (albeit as an ornament-- but we know from surviving editions just how extravagent Italianate late-baroque ornamentation could be!) and that already by 1811 one writer was describing vibrato as "obsolete" (implying, of course, that it had an earlier heyday).  Interestingly, far from styling himself as a progressivist, Clement actually spurned the modern Tourte bow in preference for earlier bows (which is not by any means an isolated occurrence: the convex "baroque" bow continued to be used in certain parts of Europe into the 1820s, judging from iconography.)  Anyway, given such a mish-mash of tunings, string types, bow-types, instrument set-ups, aesthetic ideals, etc., my approach is this: take into consideration the then-available resources and tastes which influenced the composition in question, and then (following Mendelssohn's advice) use common sense in choosing how to pursue the delivery of a musically compelling interpretation.  Once prescription triumphs over communication, music has ceased to be music.   The whole value of period instruments is that they are far better suited to the genuine communication of the music written for them, and a knowledge of period performance practice (that is, the highly various and often contradictory opinions circulating at any given time) guides us in how to make the best use of them.

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