A (relatively) brief history of holding the violin
Posted by Jessamyn on November 01, 1997 at 18:56:20:
In response to Chin support, written by Ann on October 30, 1997 at 01:30:46
] ] I was looking at one of the Sharpe episodes the other night, and I noticed that John Tams (Coporal Hagman) plays his violin in the crook of his arm, not under his chin.
] (He also sings the theme song, doesn't he?)
] ] When you look at old paintings of violins they don't seem to have chin pieces attatched.
] While I have little real knowledge on this subject (so I don't really know what I'm talking about), I thought that chin rests still aren't used on high quality violins, but that the musician uses a piece of cloth to cushion their chin. I would doubt that you would want to screw/bolt/glue something like that onto a Strad.
Believe it or not, I am actually the assistant editor at a magazine for bowed-instrument players (e.g., violins, violas, cellos) so I can speak with some real authority, for once!
Playing on the arm is a casualism. Yes, some modern fiddlers do still play that way. The violin moved up under the chin (and began to look more or less like what we think of as a violin, versus a viol or dessus) in I think the 16th century (possibly a little earlier). For a while the violin was just rested on the shoulder; bows were literally bow-shaped (hence the name) and were drawn rather lightly across the strings. But as musicians developed more virtuosic pieces, they needed more control.
So first of all, the bow was curved slightly in toward the hair, rather than very far out as it had been before, and various things were invented to put more tension on the hair; these allowed more controlled bowing. On the instrument, a chinrest was added so that the violin could be gripped between the chin and the shoulder and the left hand had more freedom. A modern player can drop his left hand and the violin will not move--otherwise, smooth shifts to the higher positions would be impossible.
The reason you've seen violins without chinrests is not that they weren't intended to have them, but that they're not bolted on--just clamped. So if they're not original to the instrument, often they'll be removed when the $1.5 million Strad is being photographed for posterity. Also, if you see a modern player who appears to be using a cloth instead--it's not instead, it's in addition. All violinists struggle with "violin hickies," because the skin of the neck is tender and clamping a hunk of varnished wood and metal against it is very irritating. Some people even get open sores. So there are all kinds of patented covers for chinrests, and many people just wrap a clean handkerchief around the end of the violin.
One more piece of hardware operating down there is the shoulder rest. You can barely see it when someone's playing, but most players use one. The violin is actually pretty thin, especially for people with long necks, so you attach a pad or a little stand to the back of the instrument that sits on your shoulder. It's removed every time you put the instrument in the case, so you'd never see one unless you watched someone play. The pads are usually held on with elastic, and the standup kind have grippy rubber-covered feet that hang on to the edges of the instrument.
Oh, dear, I bet that was far more than you could possibly have wanted to know--sorry!
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