The history of bowed string musical instruments in Europe goes back to the 9th century with the lira (or lūrā, Greek: λύρα) of the Byzantine Empire, a bowed instrument (held upright). The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911) of the 9th century, was the first to cite the bowed Byzantine lira as a typical instrument of the Byzantines and equivalent to the rabāb used in the Islamic Empires of that time. The Byzantine lira spread through Europe westward and in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009). In the meantime rabāb was introduced to the Western Europe possibly through the Iberian Peninsula and both bowed instruments spread widely throughout Europe giving birth to various European bowed instruments

The violin first emerged in northern Italy in the early 16th century especially from the Brescia area. Many archive documents testify that from 1485-95 Brescia was the cradle of a magnificent school of string players and makers, all called with the title of “maestro” of all the different sort of strings instruments of the Renaissance: viola da gamba (viols), violone, lyra, lyrone, violetta and viola da brazzo. One of the firsts documents that testify the excellence of brescian masters is the 1495 order of three “viole” from Isabella D’Este Gonzaga to an anonymous maker in Brescia. One can find “maestro delle viole” or “maestro delle lire” and later, at least from 1558, “maestro di far violini” that is master of violin making. From 1530 the word violin appears in brescian documents and spread all around north of Italy especially in the last decades of the century. While no instruments from the first decades of the century survive, there are several representations in paintings; some of the early instruments have only three strings and were of the violetta type. Most likely the first makers of violins borrowed from three different types of current instruments: the rebec, in use since the 10th century (itself derived from the Arab rebab), the Viola da Braccio (or Renaissance Fiddle), and the lira da braccio. The earliest explicit description of the instrument, including its tuning, was in the Epitome musical by Jambe de Fer, published in Lyon in 1556. By this time the violin had already begun to spread throughout Europe
Because documents show that the Brescia school started half a century before Cremona, it is debated whether the first real violin was built by Andrea Amati, one of the famous luthiers, or lute-builders, in the first half of the 16th century by order of the Medici family[citation needed]. Andrea was probably a lute maker who was astonished at the Brescian market for violins around 1550-60, and decided in those years to change trade. A document of 1636 (a letter to the secretary of Monteverdi) testifies that while Brescian master makers of string instruments had dominated the violin market until then, Cremonese makers gained influence following the death of Brescian masters in the 1630 plague. Andrea Amati built instruments using a mould, allowing more precise measurements than previously, and made the instrument’s body slightly vaulted. The violin immediately became very popular, both among street-musicians and the nobility, which is illustrated by the fact that Charles IX of France commissioned an extensive range of string instruments in the second half of the 16th century.

The oldest confirmed surviving violin, dated inside, is the “Charles IX” by Andrea Amati, made in Cremona in 1564, but the label is very doubtful. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an Amati violin that may be even older, possibly dating to 1558 but also this date is very doubtful.[4] One of the most famous and certainly the most pristine is the Messiah Stradivarius (also known as the ‘Salabue’) made by Antonio Stradivari in 1716 and very little played, perhaps almost never and in an as new state. It is now located in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford.



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