Just like Paganini, there have been a lot of great violinists in Europe. Unsurprisingly, the birthplace of the violin is also the home of the world’s greatest violinists. When it comes to the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition, which welcomes violinists as young as 6, 79% of entrants are under 25!
In this article, we’re going to have a look at the origins of the violin, where it’s played, and the greatest European violinists of all time.
The Origins of the Violin in Europe
A lot of people already know that the violin is European as it was invented in Italy.
While it’s hardly surprising that a lot of people in Europe play the violin, how exactly was it created?
The Violin in Europe: The Musical Cradle
Of all the bowed string instruments, the violin is one of the oldest. It was created in the 16th century near Milan, Italy. The very first violin was found in Cremona, a town that is now internationally famous for it. In fact, if you want to find a good luthier, there are plenty of incredible violin makers still working in the town.
While the exact date is unknown, it seems that the first time a violin was played occurred sometime between 1523 and 1540. There are texts in Lyon, France, dating back to 1560 that mention violins. The violin then began to spread across Europe.
Did you know that Charles IX of France ordered 24 Amati violins?
During the Renaissance, the violin became rooted in Italian and French musical culture and started making its way to Germanic countries. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Vivaldi both favoured the violin concerti.
The violin was an instrument for popular music. After becoming popular in Italy and southern France, the violin was borrowed by northern countries for chamber music.
The Romantic period gave the violin its virtuosity: Paganini, Bazzini, Kreutzer and Vieuxtemps were among the first European violinists. The violin soon had its own repertoire, especially thanks to Beethoven’s works.
The 19th century was the golden age for the violin in Europe as it was one of the most essential instruments for the classical repertoire. Violinists such as Profokiev and Maurice Ravel gifted Europe with their violin performances.
European Violin Descendants
You can’t ignore that the violin in Europe has changed over time. Most of these changes were made in order to improve the sound box and make the bow more flexible. European violin also led to:
- Savart violin
- Chanot violin
- Suleau violin
- Latin Violin
- Stroh Violin
- Tolbecque Violin
- Electric Violin
Most of these styles were adapted in order to play a role in a symphony or national orchestra. For example, the Chanot violin was created in order to improve the violin’s tone, making it more like a Stradivarius. Latin violin is little more than a parody made popular by the Argentine group Les Luthiers.
In addition to stylistic changes (chinrest, rosin) and technical changes (bass bar, tuning), what are the European violin practices?
Are there different styles in different regions?
European Violin Practices
Each European country has a special relationship with the violin and is more popular in certain regions than others. However, in general, it’s quite popular everywhere in Europe.
Northern European Violin Customs
From the 17th century, we could find the violin in various countries:
- Continental slatter music in Norway
- Sweden, with Gammaldans
- Finland’s pelimanni music.
- Estonia, where the viiul is at the heart of folk music.
- In Lithuania, the violin’s cousin, the smuikas, has three or five strings.
The violin was quickly welcomed into the heart of Nordic music.
The Violin in Eastern Europe
Since the violin is small and easy to transport, it was great for Eastern Europe’s gipsy music and nomadic peoples. Especially in:
- Bulgaria, with the Roma people.
- Moldova, where they play the gadulka.
- Poland, where the violin is hugely popular.
- Romania, where they use a Stroh violin and scordatura tuning.
- Serbia and Ukraine, where violins are common in folk music.
The Violin in Britain and Ireland
In Britain and Ireland, there are many different ways to play the violin. The violin and its relatives, such as the rebec, have been used since Medieval times.
You can find plenty of variants such as the viola da gamba being used in England, the crwth in Wales, and the fiddle in Ireland.
The Violin in Western Europe and the Mediterranean
The baroque violin was most commonly used in countries such as Italy and French by the nobility.
The instrument is also very popular in Portugal.
Did you know that the violin is also hugely popular in folk music from Brittany?
Violins are used without chinrests in Greek gipsy music. The violin is used less in Spanish and Albanian music, but it’s still used.
Wanting to play the violin is one thing, knowing where to learn it is another!
Where to Learn the Violin in Europe
When you start playing the violin, you’ll need to learn music theory and get technical training. You’ll then need to practise.
Which are the best places in Europe to get violin training?
The best training is usually offered by conversatoires and universities specialising in music training. The Conservatoire de Paris, for example, is one of the most famous in Europe as well as the conservatoires in Vienna and Rome. To become a master of the violin, you should attend one of these incredible establishments:
- Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany
- Mozarteum University Salzburg, Austria
- Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Belgium
- Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts - Plovdiv, Bulgaria
- Academy of Music, University of Zagreb, Croatia
- Royal Danish Academy of Music, Denmark
- Conservatorio Profesional De Música Arturo Soria in Madrid, Spain
- Sibelius Academy Helsinki, Finland
- École Normale de Musique de Paris, France
- Athens Conservatoire, Greece
- Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, Hungary
- Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Milan Conservatory, Italy
- Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, Latvia
- Faculty of Music - уким, Skopje, Macedonia
- Academy Of Music, Monaco
- Royal Conservatory of The Hague, Netherlands
- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Edinburgh
- Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, Switzerland
In total, there are over 1,500 different musical establishments dedicated to higher musical education and the violin, in particular. Of course, these aren’t the only places you can learn to play the violin.
Who Are the Most Famous European Violinists?
Rather than going over the violinists who created the classical violin repertoire, we’re going to look at more recent violinists.
André Rieu. Originally from the Netherlands, this popular classical violinist has been the leader of the Johann Strauss Orchestra since 1975.
Svend Asmussen. This 21st-century Danish violinist was nicknamed “diddli’ Viking” due to his unique style which influenced a number of other musicians.
Didier Lockwood. The great French jazz violinist won the Victoires de la musique award in 1985. He’s the co-founder of the Festival des Puces jazz festival.
Yehudi Menuhin. This talented violinist and conductor was a child prodigy and is considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. His deep and vibrant music made him famous. While he’s an American, the Swiss violin competition bears his name.
Kevin Burke. A traditional Irish fiddler born in 1950. He’s currently based in London and is a master of traditional music.
Cathy Heidt. The young Luxembourgian violinist was chosen for the prestigious European Union Youth Orchestra.
Andres Mustonen. The Estonian conductor and violinist is famous for traditional music and chamber music. He also directed the Estonian national symphony orchestra.
Dorota Anderszewska. The famous Polish violinist won several prestigious awards. She now plays as a soloist or in a duet with her brother who plays the piano.
Why not start learning and become a star of violin playing?
If you're looking for stringed instruments, there are plenty of great music stores online where you can get violin bows, tuners, replacement violin strings, and plenty of accessories for your musical instrument. If you live in a big city, you can also probably find a dedicated violin shop for buying a violin or getting replacement parts like tuning pegs, a new tailpiece, and parts to improve the playability of your instrument.
If you want to learn to play the violin or if you need a supplement to your violin lessons, you can do so with a private tutor and Superprof. Many tutors offer the first hour of tuition for free and you can see whether or not you get along, the type of tuition they offer, and if they're right for you.
Those with awkward schedules or living rurally can get online violin tutorials via webcam. These are often cheaper than face-to-face tutorials as the tutor doesn't have to factor travelling costs into their rates!