Devil's Instrument

July 16, 2011 at 02:36 PM ·

What information is there to support the old legend that the Violin was the Devil's instrument?

Replies (21)

July 16, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·


Hello John,

Had you heard me playing last evening, you would not have asked your question...

All the best,


July 16, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

When trying to dig out information for my essay on the history of female violinists, I got the impression that part of it had to do with portable string instruments' being part of dance bands. Way back when the Catholic Church disapproved of dancing, the instruments that provided the music for these illicit affairs began to be associated with lasciviousness. And things went from there.

Then Paganini turned everything up a notch with his devilish appearance and crazy talent.

Or so I read. I never did get a completely satisfying explanation. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that a violin is shaped like a woman and has the range of a woman, and it's a beast to master and conquer, like a recalcitrant woman (don't tar and feather me; I'm speaking from the viewpoint of an eighteenth-century dude here)? And most players until 1900 were men, so they felt as if they were struggling with a difficult immoral mistress? I don't know.

July 16, 2011 at 03:38 PM ·

The earlier legend I can recall is Tartini's dream, which resulted in the Devil's Trill. It's quite possible that this is the very first story, as both the author and the composition are till now very famous thanks to the devil.

July 16, 2011 at 04:21 PM ·

 Well, Pan was already associated with the pipe/flute, and music has always had a precarious relationship with conservative religions (I don't mean just Christian; Plato was dubious, too).  There are late medieval illustrations of the Devil playing a violin-like/vielle-like instrument leading the unwary away.  My guess is the later assocations are more related to performers' cussing...

July 17, 2011 at 03:27 PM ·

Well, we seem to be getting into a little bit of broad cultural myth here, for several factors already mentioned.

-- It's the seductive (and therefore evil) "feminine" shape of the instrument (As a happily married man with two daughters, I probably shouldn't be saying that),
-- its ability to suggest the human voice (and in fact to scream or shreek, at least the way I play),
-- its association with the historically "evil" practices of singing and dancing,
-- its being viewed as having a frankly seductive quality through the centuries (a'la Paganini up to the Red Violin),
-- various historical and artistic allusions to it being the instrument of the Devil.
-- and it has inspired Tartini and Stravinsky to write some of their best music inspired by or involving the Devil .

So, I think that when you put all this together, the result is that all of us fiddlers are playing the instrument of the Great Evil One. (And by the way, who the devil is Mephistopheles?)


July 17, 2011 at 09:17 PM ·

organized religion and "fun" do not seem to go together very well but i think it's more of a protestant proscription than papist - witness the diabolical depiction of musical instruments in "the garden of earthly delights" by hieronymus bosch.

apparently, there's a "sinful" association with the violin in some extreme fundamental protestant communities in appalachia.  on a fiddle site recently i read about an old fiddle being found between the walls of an old cabin - put there because the player had bouts of righteousness, causing shame and regret for playing the devil's instrument.


July 17, 2011 at 10:13 PM ·

Sander: I believe there is evidence Mephistopheles was the devil's luthier.

And now I'm going down* to play my violin.

[Not that far down, my stidio is in the basement...]

July 18, 2011 at 02:36 AM ·

An instrument that is as hard to hold, and play well, as a violin is, deserves to have

inherited  the legend "The Devil's Instrument".

July 18, 2011 at 03:42 AM ·

 Hmm, so that makes the viola the instrument of God?

July 18, 2011 at 10:09 AM ·

a shuffle through catholic iconography produces many examples of fiddlin' putti - satan's association with the the violin et al. seems to be more of a protestant, bible thumping thing.  but any "folky" diversions - the great un-washed at play - would have been seen as suspicious by the church

July 19, 2011 at 04:32 PM ·

For a slight fee in the form of a trade (the nature of which I'll tell you about later), I'd be willing to exorcise any evil spirits from your violin, and you will find yourself playing just like your most favorite famous violinist.
Do we have a bargain?

March 8, 2014 at 09:44 PM · There is an old folk story about this:


No. 37.--The Creation of the Violin

Does anyone know of any other versions?

I ask this, because my daughter has reminded me of my telling her a version of this folk story, but which was slightly different --- I distinctly remember having read the version which I told her, and at the end, it was very specific that the man who picked up the instrument found it to be perfect for expressing the emotions and sorrow unique to the Romany folk.

If there is no other version, I guess I created a new folk story --- but it's very hard to prove a negative.

March 8, 2014 at 10:49 PM · Back in the day, the fiddle was associated with dancing and drinking which, of course, leads to other vices if the venue is right.

Also, there was church music and the people's music.

I think, however, it is because the fiddle is so addictive. :)

March 8, 2014 at 11:00 PM · But Saagar, with God all things are POSSIBLE!

March 10, 2014 at 03:39 PM · When students make unforseen mistakes in a concert, I like to say that it is due to little devils sneaking in between the angels, tripping them up, or treading on their robes.

The only solution is to invite far more angels, so the devils won't have room to move.

Meaning? Practice a whole lot more!

March 10, 2014 at 05:16 PM · It's the instrument's ability to play outside of the official musical scales. It's the absolute freedom that goes with having NO FRETS! Likewise, blues guitar players (especially Robert Johnson with his legendary encounter at the crossroads) "enjoy" a similar reputation. You venture outside the official scales at your own risk. Yes, I am joking.

March 11, 2014 at 04:00 PM · John Cadd, Saagar is still at school, and furthermore, from a society that is still reasonably civilized - I doubt if a fight will really get started. And over a viola joke, too! I meant possible underlined, or possible italicized, or possible in bold, none of which is possible (not underlined, italicized or in bold) here.

Actually Saagar has posted a video of Yuri Bashmet and Martha Argerich playing the Arpeggione that blows out of the water any other version I've heard.

March 13, 2014 at 10:43 PM · There's a famous lyric linking the devil and the fiddle by Robert Burns. Taking a dig at his own (highly unpopular) profession of Excise Man he wrote:

The deil cam fiddlin' thro' the town,

And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman;

And ilka wife cries, Auld Mahoun,

I wish you luck o' the prize, man.

The deil's awa the deil's awa,

The deil's awa wi' the Exciseman,

He's danc'd awa he's danc'd awa

He's danc'd awa wi' the Exciseman.

I've tried to research the history of this link in Scotland, but can't find any firm evidence. My best guess is that the fiddle was associated with taverns, dance and drink long before it became a parlour and art instrument.

March 15, 2014 at 04:05 PM · Violinist Nicolaus Adam Strungk visited Rome in 1685 (the year of Bach's, Handel's, and Scarlatti's birth!). Arcangelo Corelli, impressed with Strungk's technique told him "If my first name is Arch-Angel, then yours should be Arch-Devil!"

This is the earliest reference with the association of violin and the devil that I could find.

March 15, 2014 at 06:50 PM · It is actually quite easy to underline, italicize, or bolden

March 16, 2014 at 07:44 PM · The devil as a fiddler is linked with the stones at Stanton Drew.

As Wiki says, 'There are several local traditional stories about the megalithic complex. The best known tells how a wedding party was turned to stone: the party was held throughout Saturday, but a man clothed in black (the Devil in disguise) came and started to play his violin for the merrymakers after midnight, continuing into holy Sunday morning. When dawn broke, everybody had been turned to stone by the Demon: so the stone circles are the dancers, the avenues are the fiddlers and the Cove is the bride and the groom with the drunken churchman at their feet. They are still awaiting the Devil who promised to come back someday and play again for them.'

It is a seductive, beguiling instrument & used for dancing. The idea of cursed dancers is age old, but 'The Dancers of Kolbigk' story (explaining St Vitus' Dance) goes back to the eleventh century.

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