Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Books I'm reading: History of the Violin

I recently read this 2006 Dover reprint of a book by William Sandys and Simon Andrew Forster originally published in 1864 about the history of the violin and other stringed instruments. It was not exactly what I was expecting. While it covers early precursors of the violin, it does so in a rather haphazard way and there are so many overlapping terms for the earliest instruments that I was not left knowing a great deal more than I already knew. In addition, the book frequently gets bogged down in lists of instruments made by individual luthiers or genealogies of families of luthiers, some of which I skipped through. No attempt is made to define technical terms used and the text is liberally seasoned with Latin and French quotes with no translations.

While the book discusses the famous Amati, Stradivarius, Guarneri, and Stainer families, it also devotes a great deal of time to recent (at the time of writing – that is, 150 years ago) families of violin makers with a special emphasis on English violin makers. These last are hard to keep straight because of the English habit of naming everyone James, Thomas, John, or Charles, sometimes for multiple generations. I came out of my reading more confused than anything. That said, there was enough of interest between the covers that I DID actually finish the book, my skipping of lists here and there not withstanding. Interesting, but I think most modern readers would expect a more organized and objective treatment of the subject than the title suggests.

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