The Vielle: a Short History

Topics: String instrument, Violin, Musical instrument Pages: 7 (2615 words) Published: June 1, 2013
History and Literature I
Vielle: A Short History
Bowed instruments have been around since the ninth century AD, according to Werner Bachmann, author of The Origins of Bowing. They originated in Central Asia, where they produced very fine hunting bows, which eventually developed into the first musical bows. In the tenth century, bowed instruments had traveled to the lands of the Islamic and Byzantine Empires. (Remnant, 1989) In the eleventh century, the vielle was depicted in Byzantine manuscripts. The instrument then traveled up through Italy, Spain and then up through France into England. It showed up in English art in a developed shape after the year 1200. (Remnant, 1989) Many things have changed about the vielle, but the basic concept has remained the same. From the bow to the shape of the body and also the way the bow was used, stringed instruments have come quite a long way since first being introduced. The vielle is a chordophone instrument, meaning that it is a musical instrument that has strings as the tone-producing elements. The strings are also the part which determines the pitch of the instrument. (Marcuse, 1975) It is one of many different stringed instruments that developed during this time. It was among of the first, however to use a bow. The vielle has many different names throughout the many books and documents that discuss it. According to Sibyl Marcuse, the word vielle is the French equivalent to the fiddle and is a shortened version vielle à roue. This term was used from around 1180 until the late fourteenth century when it was changed to viole. (Marcuse, 1975) The French vielle was an instrument that spanned across many places and was called something different in each place. The words vielle and fiddle can be used interchangeably. In Spain, it was called a Vihuela de Arco, in Germany it was a fiddle. In Old Nordic, it was a fiđlu, and in Anglo-Saxon it was fiđele; it was called a fele in Norwegian, vièle in Old French, and a viola in Italian. (Sachs, 1940) All these names were derived from the common Latin root fidicula. (Montagu, 1976) It is believed that the bow would have entered Western culture after an Islamic invasion. (Gammond, 1975) Bowed instruments, as mentioned, developed in Central Asia, near the River Oxus which marks the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. (Remnant, 1989) These would have been spike fiddles, which were common to that area. These types of fiddles have long necks which pierce the body of the instrument, rather than being made from one continuous piece. This spike goes all the way through the instrument and projects at the base. The spike fiddle is held vertically, the instrument resting on the player’s knee or on the floor. (Diagram Group, 1976) Most instruments were used for folk dances. The fiddle is no exception. Musicians used this and other instruments to accompany dancing and folk songs for entertainment. Traveling musicians, known as Troubadours, used early fiddles to go along with their singing and dancing. The music performed on these instruments was not written down and was played from memory. They were generally folk songs learned by rote and performed as such. (J. Peter Burkholder, 2010) Instrumental music was not performed in the church, as the church fathers thought only music with words could open the mind to Christian teachings. Therefore, instrumental music was condemned. People still used lyres to accompany hymns sung at home but never in church. Any references to instruments such as harps, trumpets, or other instruments within the bible itself were explained away as metaphors. (J. Peter Burkholder, 2010) In its original form, the vielle was spade-shaped, similar to fiddles still seen in modern day Turkmenistan and Mongolia. It seems the body was originally hollowed out from one piece of wood, and the neck and the head were likely two other separate pieces of wood. There are few if any actual instruments left from this...
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