From Folkopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The fiddle has a long history and is integral to the music of the western world, both classical and folk. Despite this, the study of fiddle music in England has been neglected for many years and available resource material is difficult to find.

This page needs to be developed and expanded to reflect the importance of the instrument in social music making. We require links to information on the development of the instrument itself, the development of the bow which plays it, the makers, the repertoire, etc.


The origins are the violin are sketchy, such is the nature of history at this distance in time. Sometime around 1520-1530 the language in Italy starts to discuss a new instrument, although these had only 3 strings, was tuned in fifths and was fretless - in essence the of the violin as we know it.

The word fiddle was already in use in these times and is often used to broadly refer to bowed string instruments, in the way we now say 'strings' to mean stringed instruments. Interestingly enough the medieval fiddle is not the direct ancestor of the violin. However, the term fiddle seems to have stuck throughout the ages and in modern times now is a synonym for violin. Again in modern times we seem to use violin when we are talking about classical music, and fiddle when talking about traditional music. Our ancestors didn't make this distinction, for there was little distinction between classical and folk music.

The birthplace of the violin was Bresicia and Cremona in Italy (Brescia was more important in the sixteenth century but who is to say which featured more in the development of the violin), however, it spread fast (probably through trade) and similar instruments had reached France and Poland shortly afterwards such was the influence and verve of the Italian Renaissance.

The earliest violins with the characteristics as we know it today were an amalgamation of the features of the lira da braccio (a species of fiddle), and the rebec. Viols are not the true ancestors as many would think. The confusion exists due to the language of the time not being as specific as ours now, and too many people assume that the word violin is simply and evolution of the word viol. The reality is much more confusing and complicated. Although the shadows of the violin family are talked about in 1520s we are certain that by 1530 the violin had been born, with the viola and cello in existence by 1535-6. It can be considered that the entire family (violin, viola, cello - the double bass was a later edition) pretty much popped into being. (Polyphonic music has been around for over 200 years at this point). It is not until Andrea Amati and his instrument of 1564 (which is in the Ashmoleoan Museum in Oxford) that we can have an actual 4 stringed violin which still exists. By 1550 the violin now had 4 strings.

Music specifically requiring a violin did not appear until 1581, in a French ballet. However, its association with dancing was already well establish a long time before this and is often commented on that this is the case by writers of the time (Jambe de Fer 1556). Indeed from its outset the violin appears to have been played for dancing (what we would call folk dances), the rhythmic abilities of the violin seeming to endear it to players for dancing. It was also considered to be an instrument of low standing in society.

The violin has always been associated with dancing from its very origins. But what really made the violin an instrument that has become universal in Europe was its versatility, range and most importantly its expressiveness.

Despite the fact we know little about the origins of the violin, Michael Praetorius writing his Syntagma Musicum, (Vol II Part II Chapter XXII, 1619) says "And since everyone knows about the violin family, it is unnecessary to indicate or write anything further about it"!! You cannot get more frustrating than that - someone who was not too far removed from the origins of the violin was so relaxed about it. But this is a sign of the times. It shows the expectation that by 1619 as far as Praetorius was concerned everyone was acquainted with the violin to an extent that he needn't bore them with the facts...

Starting points

  • Wikipedia throws very little light on the fiddle traditions of the British Isles and is almost silent on the subject of English fiddling. Wikipedia on 'Fiddle'