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Geoffrey J. Seitz,
The Violin - Some Myths and Facts
The glorious violin, sometimes called the queen of instruments (the piano being king) is so loved, so hated, so misunderstood, so mythical and so mystical. Here are a few tidbits about this wonderful instrument.
Stradivari took the violin, already an established instrument and brought it to its peak of artistic and acoustic perfection. At this time there were a number of makers in Cremona, Italy, constructing violins of noble work.
Prior to the late 1700's violins by Jacob Stainer, b. 1621-d. 1683 Absom, Tirol, which are first rate violins in their own right, were popular because of their sweet tone, well suited to smaller rooms and chambers. In fact, many violins made between the death of Stradivari and the late 1700's, including Italian violins, are copies of Jacob Stainer.
Authentic Stradivari Violins
The chances of randomly finding a real Stradivari, or Amati are so slim that one has a better chance of being struck by lightning. To my knowledge, a Stradivari hasn't been discovered in the U.S. and the last one discovered turned up in Italy in the early 1960's.
Most often, though, the following is the case: There was a proliferation of violins made in Germany in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. Often these violins have authentic looking labels. These instruments were exported to various countries, especially the U.S., and companies offered violins through their mail catalogues. A violin touted as a "beautiful Stradivari model" looked appealing to the prospective buying public.
No doubt, an element of mysticism was involved to connect this common instrument to the treasures from Stradivari's hands. And lets face the fact that many devious dealers have misled their clients by inserting false labels in violins, an operation that is about as simple as putting a postage stamp on a letter.
Fine Stradivari Copies
Of course, there are copies of Vuillaume's copies. Just about any maker that has achieved any sort of recognition has been copied. If you have a violin whose pedigree is in question, first, assume it's a copy for the chances are good that it is not authentic to the label. Then take it to an appraiser or two, familiar with violins to determine its origin.
So, why the term "cat gut"? The Encyclopedia Britannica states that an Italian term for violin was "kit" and hence a gut string would be called a "kit gut." This in time developed into "cat gut." Another explanation is that when gut strings were first manufactured in Europe, the best strings came from Catagniny, Germany. They were so superior to other strings that players demaned Catagniny gut or "Cat gut."
My own feelings is that when an inexperienced player draws the bow across the violin strings, out comes this horrendous sound not unlike the screech of a cat. Linking the sound to the gut of the animal that makes such cacophony seems logical.