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What Is a Baroque Violin?

By Marty Paule
Updated May 23, 2024
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Generally speaking, a baroque violin has components that are typical of those used during the Baroque period. Today, replicas as well as unmodified, original Baroque violins are played by violinists interested in recreating the authentic sounds and playing styles of that time period. The baroque violin differs from its modern counterpart in the design of its components, including the bow, string tension, and overall tone. While Baroque violins share certain characteristics, there are many variations associated with different European regions and violin makers.

Beginning in the 1970s, Baroque period instruments have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity spurred by a movement known as Historically Informed Performance (HIP). Musicians who are intent on authentically reproducing the Baroque musical repertoire often refer to historical texts and scores in their quest for this authenticity. Because of the physical differences between modern and baroque violins, the latter require modified playing techniques, including the natural and relaxed posture. Since most Baroque violin players do not use a chin rest and position their instruments farther forward than modern violins, a different bowing technique is required.

The Baroque violin usually employs gut strings that produce tones that are distinct from modern synthetic or metal strings. While it has been generally believed that Baroque stringed instruments had less string tension than their contemporary versions, there is some debate about this. The Baroque violin bridge differed substantially from the modern bridge in that it was significantly lower and thicker, and the bass bar and fingerboard often also tended to be somewhat shorter. The overall lengths of Baroque violins vary considerably, with some being shorter and others being longer than modern violins.

Typically, the Baroque violin neck and headstock was fitted so as to be parallel to the body, while modern necks slope downward to create a more acute string angle at the bridge. Today, many Baroque violins have had more modern necks retrofitted while retaining their original headstocks. Baroque instruments also lack the fine tuners used today. Since violin design has evolved gradually and differently in various regions and periods, there are no sharply defined distinctions among Baroque, Renaissance, and Classical violins.

Baroque violin bows are usually significantly shorter than modern bows, typically being about three-quarters as long. During the 17th and 18th centuries, most bows were made with snakewood, as opposed to pernambuco — the modern wood of choice. These snakewood bows were somewhat stiffer and denser, had considerably less hair, and a fixed frog. Baroque bows typically produce more distinct articulation and allow a larger range of detached bow strokes.

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Discussion Comments

By Rotergirl — On Apr 08, 2014

I am always amazed at the level of technical detail where classical instruments are concerned. A violin is a deceptively simple instrument if there ever was one. They're not very large, don't weigh much and look rather plain. Not like looking at a bassoon or bass clarinet or something. But their construction is every bit as intricate and detailed.

It always blows me away to hear these instruments played by people who really understand them.

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