Still LifeRenaissance 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.


Valois1The 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.


1523 The treasury of Savoy paid for the services of "vyollons" who came from Vercelli.


1529 "viollons, haulxboys et sacquebouteurs" and""violons de la bande françoise" are listed as being at the French court.
1544 Jacques Moderne Musique de Joye: "Suitable both for the human voice and for learning to play the spinet, the violin, and the flute." Includes music by Willaert et al.
1550 Claude Gervaise 6iéme livre de danseries includes the Pavanne des Dieux, "qui est faict bonne pour les violons."
1581 Ballet comique de la Royne: 5 part music specified for 10 violins. Written by violinist Balthasar de Beaujoyeux (Italian -- Baldassare da Belgioioso, arrived in France 1555.)

Italy (Venice -- Schuola Grande di San Rocco)

1531 Reform of music adds 4 violinists (later 6) to the confraternity.
1543 Before the winds were dismissed in 1543, the violinists played mostly in processions, but thereafter they played in the liturgy, as well.
1550 "the violinists are playing many songs (canzon) and other sounds much more lascivious than devotional... (if) the players are found to play songs and other amorous things as stated above," then they will be dismissed.


1540 A group of 6 (Sephardic Jewish) string players who played both viols and violins arrive from Venice, Milan and Cremona and start the English court string ensemble.

Germany (Münich)

1554 Payments to "Geygern" -- members of a violin ensemble.
1568 Violinists are known to play motets of Cipriano da Rore in 6 parts and they played "French chansons, motets of refined style, and some exquisite madrigals."
1581 Antonio Morari, the leader of the violin band, is paid a salary of 450 florins, as much as that of the kapellmeister, Orlando di Lasso.

Low Countries (Antwerp)

1555 guild rules state violins must play in groups of 3 or more...


scrolls3Violin Scrolls