Renaissance violins, such as the "1580's" model treble violin pictured here, are altogether different from baroque, classical or modern violins.
The instruments Ensemble Braccio plays are all strung with high tension sheep gut from the highest treble string to the lowest bass string, without a trace of metal anywhere. This gives the ensemble the opportunity to create the same rich and vibrant colors with their sounds as can be seen in 16th and 17th century painting.
The original name of the violin family, viola da braccio, or viol of the arm, tells us that the treble instruments were played resting on the biceps of the arm, what one researcher calls the "breast position." When the violin is played in this manner the arms of the player are relaxed, giving the instrument a full and resonant tone, ideal for vocal music, as well as the possibility for the split-second articulation necessary for ornaments.
The bass instrument is also played standing, which gives the player the same energy of movement as his colleagues in the band.
Ensemble Braccio's bows resemble hunters' bows in that they are curved outward and are made of light, soft woods. They are also strung with black horse hair, which gives the incisive attacks and lush sustains that the music requires.
To hear what this sounds like, buy the CD pictured on the left, or contact us at admin at ensemblebraccio dot com
A Brief History of the Very Early Violin
According to one theory, consorts of violins and viols were invented in Northern Italy in the beginning of the 16th century in order to provide alternatives to the wind instruments already being played in consorts. The viole da gamba were made for intimate and/or amateur music making in private spaces (as a replacement to flute consorts, for example), and the viole da braccio (violins) were created for professional players to perform at public occaisions: balls, processions, church services, banquets and the like (as potential replacements to cornetto, shawm and trombone ensembles).
The following is a short list (organized chronologically and geographically,) of some of the earliest references to violinists in various locations. It is interesting to note that the violin ensembles were almost all started by people with Italian names.
In this list the word, "violin," doesn't just mean the top member of the family as it does today, but can refer to the whole violin family: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
Italy (Venice -- Schuola Grande di San Rocco)
Low Countries (Antwerp)