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Characteristics of the Baroque Violin

It is proven by the time-based comparison of the evolution of the violin and the development of approaches to Baroque violinartistic styles that the violin shape was created in the period of late Renaissance at the beginning of the early Baroque, which were evolving at the same time. It is particularly noticeable that the determining characteristics of its shape were not altered by the later developed Baroque either. It is proven by the above that the evolved shape of the violin met the aesthetic requirements of the mature Baroque, which it had identified with, and this violin shape had been adopted thereby as its own. It deserves even greater attention as at that time considerable changes occurred in every field of fine arts, that is, in architecture, sculpture and painting as well.  The developed Baroque created a new approach to creation, and even if some of the favourite formal elements of the Renaissance (spiral lines, inverted curve forms) were also used thereby, they were re-evaluated and transformed to its own taste. Thus, where can we find the connection between the Baroque approach to artistic style and the formal characteristics of the violin?  First of all, in the development of lively and vigorous mass formation. The dynamic formation of shapes is a determining principle of Baroque visual arts. The masses and facades of buildings are made livelier with undulating convex and concave surfaces and arched rims, thus creating a picturesque effect. If we draw a comparison between the shaping that is determining in Baroque architecture and the formal characteristics of the violin, we can recognize not only a related approach, but a radically identical spirit as well.  The use of straight lines was avoided by Baroque compositions. We cannot find any straight lines on the violin either, except for the bearing surface of the fingerboard and the side edge. Its body was full of curves and it was enclosed by three-dimensional curved surfaces. Baroque spatial arts – architecture, sculpture – were striving for the use of the shaping role of lights and shades by increasing the plasticity of the masses and surfaces. The formal characteristics of the violin were also based on this. The spatial effects of its curved surfaces: rims, arches, spirals, the dimensions of thepeg box with contra post were intensified by the light and shade conditions.  A similar approach was reflected by their approach to the relationship between forms and materials as well.  In order to emphasize the lightness of the masses and forms, the limitations of the quality of materials were neglected by Baroque sculpture. Airy figures were formed from heavy, weighty stone, and they were brave enough to create shapes from the easily broken parts of fragile marble. The same appeared on the formal elements of the violin as well. Despite the fact that the instruments were made of vulnerable thin panels, the physical characteristics of the used materials were occasionally neglected during their formation. It was made perceptible by the edges exceeding the rims, the boldly jutting corners of some models, and the overhanging extensions of the f-holes.  So what did the mature Baroque style change about the formal characteristics of the violin that basically reflected the same formal approach? The formal details became typically refined, the delineation of bounding curves was more vigorous, more mature proportions were developed, and the most determining was that the individual stylistic marks of violin makers were crystallized at this time, e.g.: the formal characteristics of Nicola Amati, Jacob Stainer, Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guameri. (The delineation of the contours of the violin's body reflecting their personal taste, the bolder or blunter projection of corners, the development of the size and shape of f-holes, the creation of the characteristic spatial form of the spiral.)  It is indisputable that all these were encouraged by – besides their effort to create more graceful shapes – their intention to improve the sound efficiency of the earlier constructed instruments (e.g. the selection of the width of the top and back plates and the height of the arch, as well as the proportions between the certain elements). The formal characteristics of the violin that evolved in the early Baroque period were crucial for the evolution of the instrument in the later period thereof. Not only their inherent relationship to the formal characteristics of the Baroque is proven thereby, but they also provide evidence of the fact that they were preserved and improved when the period of this style was in its prime, its creativity was on the top and its glory was flourishing.

Their real achievement was that they have not been altered by later style periods either. To some extent it is explained by the fact that the ideals and the spiritual patterns of Classicism, which came immediately after the Baroque,  – the same way as at the beginning of the violin formation – were rooted in the ancient approach to arts. Thus, Classicism did not find 'anything to object' in the formal characteristics of the violin, either. However, this argument is weakened by its comparison to the approach of style in later periods (Romanticism, the period of different -Isms), which were more radical and did not identify with the approach to creation in earlier periods – even having the intention to refuse them –, while the original shape of the violin has been preserved until today.In a more sophisticated way, it can also be said that the violin, which came into existence during the early Baroque period, and became mature under the influence of the stylistic approach of the flourishing Baroque, was evolving similarly to a pearl in a shell, and its originality, which was further refined by time, has been preserved thereby. 

Author: Christopher Grimes

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