(Roughly) Daily

“A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony”*…

 

Before electronic amplification, instrument makers and musicians had to find newer and better ways to make themselves heard among ensembles and orchestras and above the din of crowds. Many of the acoustic instruments we’re familiar with today—guitars, cellos, violas, etc.—are the result of hundreds of years of experimentation into solving just that problem. These hollow wooden resonance chambers amplify the sound of the strings, but that sound must escape, hence the circular sound hole under the strings of an acoustic guitar and the f-holes on either side of a violin…

While it’s true f-holes date from the Renaissance, they are much more than ornamental; their design—whether arrived at by accident or by conscious intent—has had remarkable staying power for very good reason.

As acoustician Nicholas Makris and his colleagues at MIT recently announced in a study published by the Royal Society, a violin’s f-holes serve as the perfect means of delivering its powerful acoustic sound. F-holes have “twice the sonic power,” The Economist reports, “of the circular holes of the fithele” (the violin’s 10th century ancestor and origin of the word “fiddle”). The evolutionary path of this elegant innovation—Clive Thompson at Boing Boing demonstrates with a color-coded chart—takes us from those original round holes, to a half-moon, then to variously-elaborated c-shapes, and finally to the f-hole…

More musical history at “Why Violins Have F-Holes: The Science & History of a Remarkable Renaissance Design.”

* Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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As we draw our bows boldly, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Ernst Theodor Amadeus (“E.T.A.”) Hoffmann; he was born on this date in 1776.  A key figure in the German Romantic period, Hoffmann was an author of fantasy and horror, a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist. While some of his compositions survive in the canon, he is probably better remembered for his stories: they form the basis of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the famous ballet The Nutcracker is based.  The ballet Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, while Schumann’s Kreisleriana is based on Hoffmann’s character Johannes Kreisler.

Hoffmann also influenced 19th century musical opinion through his music criticism. His reviews of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808) and other important works set new literary standards for writing about music, and encouraged later writers to consider music as “the most Romantic of all the arts.”

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Written by LW

January 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

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