Thursday, March 19, 2009

Question from Elizabeth M - Violins at the Tudor court

In the series The Tudors, the musician Marc Smeaton is always shown playing the violin. Was the violin played at the Tudor court?


Lara said...

The modern violin would have been anachronistic in the Tudor court (although it was already looking like its modern form in Italy around that time, if I remember correctly), but there were precursor instruments that were similar.

Here's an image from a medieval manuscript:

I have several co-workers who play a variety of stringed instruments and a couple of them have gotten into early music, which is really cool (especially when they rehearse in the room next to my office!).

Lara said...

Me again... I went and looked through a couple of music history books I have to double-check what I wrote off the top of my head and found references to fiddles dating to medieval times. The manuscript images of them looked even closer to a modern violin/fiddle than the image in my previous comment.

So anyway, if they were using a modern violin as the prop it wouldn't have been technically accurate but close enough (especially compared to the accuracy of other things in the series!).

Anonymous said...

The authoritative Grove Dictionary of Music indicates that the violin originated in the 1480s as a three-stringed instrument, a cross between the rebec and the lyre. By the 1530s, that precursor had been refined into three separate and distinct instruments: the treble viole da braccio, the tenor viola, and the bass violoncello.

The violin in its modern form, with four strings, emerged in the 1550s from the workshop of Andrea Amati in Cremona, Italy.

So ... Lara is absolutely correct: a modern-style four string violin would not have been possible in the Henrician Tudor court, and Mark Smeaton would have instead played a 3-string viole da braccio. Close enough for Showtime, but not historically "spot-on" accurate.

Anonymous said...

The violin did exsist in the Tudor period.Also there is an instrument called the Gittan which is like a violin.Elizabeth I gave a gittan as a gift to Robert dudley the earl of lecester.also ther would have been virginals which is the predecesser of the piano and spinets this is the predecesser of the harpsichord.Recorders and Flutes.All theese instrument would have also been played at the Tudor court.with the exception of the gittan this I would think is an elizabethan instrument so it would have been played at the court of Elizabeth I.It would still be classed as the Tudor period though.this would have been classed as the later Tudors.

Lara said...

Tudorrose, I believe the word you are thinking of is 'gittern' and it dates to medieval times (the earliest ED citation is 1377). I believe it was usually plucked, so it would have been more like a lute or guitar.

Anonymous said...

The Guitar gets its name from the gittern a medieval lute like instrument.When I saw a picture of one a book it looked more like a violin but a bit bigger.But it isn't at all.

Lara said...

Regarding the gittern in the British Museum (the one Elizabeth gave to Dudley) -- it was originally a medieval citole that was remodeled in the 16th century. They actually call it a "citole, formerly known as a gittern, remodeled as a violin" on their website now. So it probably shouldn't be taken as a typical example of any of those instruments.

But, it seems there is a lot of confusion about the various forms of stringed instruments. I found a neat website where someone has been compiling images of the different forms and research on the subject: