|Italian Violin strings... - Conclusions|
From the above it emerges with sufficient clarity that the principles of violin stringing and the criteria for choosing types of string formerly adopted were substantially different from those commonly found today in so-called baroque practice. The gut strings in such modern stringings are often too thin and too stiff, while the 3rd and 4th wound strings are modern wound strings (perlon or steel cores, flat metal wires, modern metals, etc.) or in any case, even if made with a gut core, too different from the historical ones in both acoustical result and constructional criteria.
The conclusions drawn from the information relating to the violin can be equally extended to the viola and cello of the same period. Whereas a modern "baroque" violoncello first string has a mean gauge of a little over a millimetre, according to the documents the same diameter could oscillate around 1.5 mm. Similar conclusions apply to the viola: in this case, in conformity with the ratios of proportion, the three lower violin strings became the first, second and third strings of the viola, while for the fourth Galeazzi recommends overwinding a violin third string. Unlike what is generally considered, today's second strings are more or less the same size as the top strings were once.
The strings themselves would also seem to have been very different from those used today. In particular, they were often much more twisted. And it is surely significant that musicians were once capable of distinguishing a good string from a bad one â€” something we don't often find today. The tone quality of an Italian violin in the eighteenth century must have been anything but thin and nasal, as testified by various contemporary observers and by the tests carried out today.
As regards the variations in tension (in kilos) alleged to have occurred over the period in question, we may confidently affirm â€” because of the substantial standardization of the manufacturing processes â€” that strings remained within the range of gauges available in the standard boxes and clearly also took into account the fluctuations in pitch standards (115). The tensions indicated by Hart, for example, allow for a range that corresponds to a rise in pitch of as much as a tone between the thinnest and thickest first string, even if the strings were always made from the three basic strands (or six, if cut down the middle). This is why it was possible to mount strings of varying strength, using a string-gauge to select, from among the strings packed in the customary boxes and marked by a number indicating the number of strands each string contained, those that suited one's personal taste and the type of instrument used. Spohr even suggests marking the string-gauge with the string measurements considered particularly suitable, and to stick to just those.
This does not exclude the possibility, however, that certain virtuosi like Pugnani, Dragonetti or Lindley intentionally used diameters that were genuinely above the standard-norm.
The scaling tension of the first three violin strings
Synoptic table of the string gauges from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources
(a) three guts = 0.70 mm.
(b) E = 6 grani; A = 10 grani; D = 15 grani; each string = 1.5 Venetian ft.
(c) very highly twisted strings
(d) silk string.
(e) for A = 415 / 435 Hz.
(f) 20/100 gauge = 0.70 mm.
(g) No. 18 mark on the gauge = 0.71 mm.
(h) commercial string-gauges.
(i) E = three guts; A = five guts; D = eight guts.
(l) weight of A = two times E string; weight of D = three times E string.
(m) light / small / thick.
(n) Aquila Corde Armoniche - baroque violin set, medium tension, 2003.
Finally, and in brief, the use of thicker strings than those generally adopted today impinged on a series of other matters concerning the instruments used: the flatter angle of the strings at the bridge (which Boyden paradoxically interprets as proof that tensions were once lower); the height of the strings over the fingerboard (Galeazzi wanted them as low as possible without having them whip the fingerboard); the size of components such as the bass-bar (which was generally shorter and thinner), and the position of the soundpost and the bridge (116); not to mention the type of resin (concerning we have successfully tested Galeazzi's recipe). In short, everything would appear to have been closely interlinked, according to a precise sequence whose starting point was the string: the fall of this element, some time in the twentieth century, had a "domino effect" on all the others.
But that is quite another story.
Appendix: "Manufacturers of musical strings", in NATALE CIONINI: Teatro e arti in Sassuolo, Forghieri, Modena 1902, pp. 273-5.
Â§ x. â€” Manufacturers of musical strings. â€” Apart from the tanning of skins, even that of violin strings flourished in Sassuolo, in the de' birri or Racchetta contrada (today the Delle conce contrada).
Valdrighi, in his Musurgiana, noted that the Zibini sisters (117), Giulia and Teresa, living in 1716-28, and Anna and Marianna Zibini Calvi, living in 1726-1803, were musical string makers in Sassuolo. But that is not correct because the first to introduce that trade [there] was Paolo Cecchelli from Bolognano in the Abruzzi in the year 1767. And this is how.
In a petition (118) of 16 February of that year, addressed to the Magistrate of Trade and Agriculture of Modena, after relating that his ancestors were those who brought to the Este State the art of making strings, and that he had been working in Modena for 56 years, with a right of monopoly, having taken over the management from the Cibini sisters (119) by paying annually 1400 Modenese lira, he complained that both he and his partner and compatriot Vincenzo de' Angeli had been dismissed from the factory of Dr Paolucci, who claimed that the said monopoly had devolved on him and who had already entrusted the factory to a foreigner he had called in. He begged that the business be restored to him or to be taken in as a partner, otherwise both he and his wife and children would be sure to die of starvation.
The Magistrate, on the 23rd of that month of February wrote to the governor of Sassuolo in the following terms:
"Having Dr Paolucci stated to our Magistrate that he had entered into the business of a certain Zibini, in connection with the violin string monopoly in this district, and not wishing to employ the Neapolitan Paolo Cecchelli to make the said strings, even if the latter, together with a cousin (the above-mentioned de'Angeli) carried out the profession under the said Zibini; so that he should not leave the State, we shall send him to Your Excellency and do not doubt that you will offer him all the necessary assistance to introduce and establish the manufacture of the said strings within your Jurisdiction. Yours, etc." (120)
That was how Cecchelli began to manufacture strings in Sassuolo. In fact, in another letter of the following 30 April, the same magistrate reported to the Lieutenenant of the government of Sassuolo:
"As Dott. Paolucci, who has the monopoly for violin strings in this city and district, may remain abundantly provided with the necessary guts in the jurisdictions of the State except in that where Paolo Cecchelli has settled to make strings of the same kind, we have prohibited the same [Paolucci] from continuing to make, directly or indirectly, new purchases of guts from these butchers after the 8th of the following month. Your Excellency will ensure the observance of our intention and, if necessary, give assistance to the said Cecchelli" (121).
After Cecchelli left Sassuolo, the manufacture of musical strings was taken over by the Giovanardi family known as Quaranta, who were from Fiorano.
A family of that name had its workshop in the Ghiarona (today Caula) contrada, in a house belonging to the Panini family, and specialised in making cantini, which it sold mainly in Modena, Reggio and Parma.
The manufacture, which was interrupted in 1857, was begun again by Vincenzo Pellati of Sassuolo, who continued it until 1869.
Count Valdrighi lamented the termination of this industry, considering "the convenience of the waters and the ease of having the sheep guts from the nearby mountains were an opportunity for perfecting and making it exceedingly useful amid such a lack of good production" (123).