Lyra and gadulka: the medieval rebec lives on.
The introduction of the rebec to Western Europe coincided with the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. It was originally called a “rubebe”, developed around the 11th century from the similar Arabic “rabāb”, and it was played vertically. Like the rabāb, the rebec had a shallow, pear or teardrop-shaped body, carved from a solid piece of wood, like a large spoon. Popular from the 13th to 16th century, the rabāb's skin top was replaced with a wooden one, a fingerboard was added, and it was usually held horizontally against the chest now. The three strings were tuned in fifths and no frets were provided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, two different evolutions can be seen: the rebec gradually narrowed and lived on as a boat-shaped dancing master kit, also called a “pochette”, or it retained its usual larger shape and was generally played under strict conditions, for example in France, by poor people who had never received any proper musical training.
Rebec-type instruments are still being used in traditional music in Europe: the “lijerica” in Croatia, the “kemene” in Serbia, the “rabel” in Spain, the “Calabrian lira” in Italy, the “gadulka” in Bulgaria, the “armudî kemençe” (pear shaped kemenche) in Turkey, and the ”politiki lyra” and the “Cretan lyra” in Greece . Both instruments presented here are very similar to the ancient rebecs: the neck and body are in one piece and the soundpost is standing between the right foot of the bridge and the back. Both are played using the left hands fingernails. The “politiki lyra” or "Pontian lyra" like the one on the left is being played in Greece in traditional “Rebetiko” music, and is identical to the “armudî kemençe”, typical for Ottoman classical music. The larger Bulgarian “gadulka” on the right has a small fingerboard under the highest string, and originally it had three additional sympathetic strings.
An Arab "oud" and a reconstruction of a late-medieval lute
The “oud” has already been described by Arab scholars in the tenth century, including Avicenna (980-1037), who considered it to be the most important instrument of all. It was characterized by an egg-shaped sound box that was usually longer than the neck. The latter was equipped with a slightly angled pegbox that was bent backwards. The back was no longer cut in one piece, but composed of an impair number of thin wooden ribs. The origin of the name “lute” for this instrument lies in the fact that a wooden top was used instead of a skin: "al oud" means "made of wood". As for the sound holes, there was a lot of variation. Usually two to three round holes with rosettes were inserted. The number of strings evolved from 5 to 7 single ones to a standard of 5 double strings. The oud is still widely played in Turkey and in the Arab world.
From the tenth century on, the oud was also imported into Europe via Byzantium in the east and via Spain in the west. The Crusades and the presence of Muslims in Sicily certainly played a role in this evolution. In Palermo and on the Iberian peninsula we find interesting representations of early European lutes, among others in the “Cantigas de Santa Maria” dedicated to Alfonso X “El Sabio” of Castile (1221–1284). Initially, the European lutes were very similar to the Arabian ones. The drawings Arnault Van Zwolle made in Dyon in 1440 fully correspond to those of Safi al-Din al-Urmawi from thirteenth century Baghdad, as far as the sound box is concerned. However, the lutes are being increasingly Europeanized: the strings are closer together, the pegbox becomes straight, and the circular sound holes with rosettes take on a different configuration, a small one near the neck and a large one closer to the bridge. From the fifteenth century on, frets were tied around the neck and later the plectrum became obsolete: finger picking was required for polyphonic playing.
Two reconstructions of “archaic” violins from around 1600
Until the mid-17th century, the average violin is not a Cremonese or Brescian instrument. It is usually built closer to home by the musician himself, although more and more players start to specialize in violin and cittern construction. Some instruments are still left unvarnished and only receive a protective layer of linseed oil or egg-white. Bridge, sound post and bass bar have no fixed place yet. The use of glue is limited to a minimum. The bass bar is carved out of the mass of the top, and the neck and upper block are made from one piece of wood. The ribs are let into a groove following the back’s outline.
They display very distinctive stylistic features: the f-holes have sharp wings, large incisions and circles of equal diameter above and below, while the corners are very long, because of the construction without corner blocks. The pegs are sickle-shaped and the tailpiece is often baluster-shaped. The violin is mainly used in public places by professional musicians.
In Northern Italy before the end of the 16th century, as in music, there was a new tendency in violin making, when makers started to integrate elements from the lute into their violins. This evolution was almost exclusively embodied by Cremona and to a lesser degree by Brescia. So in a way this should be considered as a regional style that arose amidst “archaic” traditions. Slowly this “school’s” reputation grew outside Italy, and it gradually started affecting Western European lutherie. Around 1650 the “archaic” style, and later the “archaic” construction methods started disappearing.
The violin on the right is permanently exhibited in the Museum Vleeshuis in Antwerp since 2006. I finished it a few years before. The one on the left is the result of “reworking” a cheap old Saxon violin from around 1880 with “archaic” features.
"Pardessus à 5 cordes" and "quinton": same use, different shapes!
At the end of the 17th century, the "pardessus" was developed as the smallest member of the “da gamba” family to perform solo music within the reach of the violin. At the beginning of the 18th century this music became more and more popular, also in noble circles. The preservation of the viol form, the use of frets and the vertical playing position made it acceptable for gentlemen and especially ladies of the upper class who still considered the violin below their dignity.
Around 1730 a variant of the "pardessus de viole" was created in France. With only five strings, the three lowest were now tuned like a violin and the two highest maintained a quarter interval (GDAdg). The name "quinton", generally used for the violin-shaped variant, indicates the hybrid character of these instruments, which are fully interchangeable in terms of social context, playing method and repertoire.
Both these "pardessus a cinq cordes" and the violin-shaped quinton were played vertically, contained five strings and were partially tuned in fifths. In order to make the use of the left hand in this position more comfortable, given the number of strings and the usual techniques at that time, the fingerboard had to be wide enough, and the neck not too thick and not overly rounded. In addition, as with instruments of the viol family, the shoulders run even into the wider neck, which was provided with frets. The vertical violin position on the shoulder would be, to say the least, impractical for the left hand. So these are clearly members of the "da gamba" family.