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16 June 2011

“...Straunge Soundes” - "Equal Feel" string calculator online

Strings is the source of sound. Violins are built in such a manner as to amplify that sound in a particular manner. No wonder, there have been much discussion among the period-instrument players. Some advocate Equal Tension and some advocate Equal Feel and both base their arguments in historical documents from the 17th-18th centuries. However, writers in the 17th-18th century did not agree on this topic. Consequently it looks like we are left without much chance to come to any agreement.

Let me stress once again that longitudinally equal tension can not result in equal pressure unless the bridge is flat, and if the pressure is not equal, there can never be such as thing as "equal feel". It is also
understandable that you do not want to end up with excessively thick g- or c-strings because of inhamonicity effect and for this reason would rather choose excessively thin e" and a' strings. This however does not fit into historical data showing that e" and a'-strings were made from 3-4 and 5 ribbons of raw gut, resulting in the range of 65-75 for e"-strings and 85-91 or so for the a'-strings.

You might have to measure the angles on your violin or viol in order to measure the pressure but this string calculator demonstrates why so many sources, most notably Galeazzi, suggest string-gauges that never lead to equal tension. Nonetheless, they do probably lead to the "Equal Feel" and here is why this happens:

"EQUAL FEELING" CALCULATOR and explanation tool. Click "Edit", enter the pitch, the gauges as they are written on the envelopes and angles (you might need a piece of paper and pencil to mark the angles and a protractor). The angles given herewith are taken from one of Badiarov baroque Violins.

Gut-strings’ history consists of 4 periods each with a corresponding change in the history of music and instruments.

Do-it-yourself - Classical Antiquity to Middle Ages
From antiquity to the Middle Ages, strings and instruments were
often made by the players themselves. Consort music and consort instruments did not exist yet. Medieval fiddles were strung with plain gut or silk strings at the discretion of the player, physical properties of strings, size of the instrument and such pragmatic considerations.

Renaissance - from 1450 to 1550 - “Mynstrelles with Straunge Soundes”
String-making became a profession. String-making centers emerged in Barcelona, Munich, Bruxelles, Firenze, Venezia, Nuremberg and Lyon. Music was revolutionized in many ways and composers started to create very “modern” music - consorts in 3, 4 and later 5 parts. Dance music shifted from the forms based on cantus firmus to binary forms (AABB) which allowed endless repetition and improvisation. Advance in string-making quality and volume of production lead to several important changes: 1. creation of consort-instruments both wind and stringed made after identical or similar pattern and organized by their ranges inspired by the natural differences between human voices: alto, tenor, bass and, finally, treble. 2. Previously 5-stringed lute and viol were redesigned to accommodate the 6th string below the 5th. 3. Controversially, bass-bar and soundpost was introduced during this period. This is the period of Pierre Attaignant (1494-ca.1550), Thoinot Arbeau (1520-95); 'violons de la bande françoise' (1529), Jacques Moderne (fl.1526-1560), Josquin Desprez and others. You will use exclusively plain gut strings with their “straunge soundes”, though use of brass strings is also mentioned even though it has never became the norm.

3. Early baroque - from 1550 to 1650
This period corresponds another dramatic change in the history of string-making. In order to decrease vibrating-string lengths and increase the response of the thick lower strings, such as g and c on violas, G and C on the basses etc, string-makers successfully introduced the technique of loading gut with metal powder. Thus lute was redesigned into a 7-stringed instrument, with the 7th-course added below the 6th, without making the lute bigger in order to accommodate the extra low string. Success of these ultra-modern bass-strings loaded with metal powder was such that it lead to the development of a modern musical form - the sonata - in Italy: Gabrieli, Sonata pian'e forte, 1597; G.P.Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici (six sonatas) 1610; Monteverdi, Buonamente, Fontana, Castello, Uccellini etc.) This was also the period when the violin tuned gd’a’e” often joined the more archaic viole da braccio. This is also apparently the period when the idea of choosing thinner strings and smaller instruments for solo parts was born. You will use plain guts for the upper strings, catlines or plan guts for the middle range strings, and loaded strings for the basses. You might consider choosing thinner strings for solo parts and thicker strings/bigger instruments for the accompaniment.

4. Baroque - from ca. 1659 to this day “String of guts done about with silver wyer makes a very sweet musick”

Technologically challenging method of powder-loading was eventually replaced by metal wire winding, a much simpler method of making bass-strings thinner and shorter. This invention lead to the creation of the French 7-stringed viol with the 7th course added below the 6th, again without making the instrument particularly bigger as this was successfully achieved on the 7-course lute in the previous period. This also inspired the birth of all forms of smaller basses such as violoncellos. The method of winding gut core with metal wire increased the sound of bass-strings as well as the overall resonance of bowed instruments and inspired development of the Concerto form in Italy, elaborate double and triple stopping, such as in the works by Corelli and his immense following, by the German violin-virtuosos, and, notably, by J.S.Bach. The idea of thin-core and metal-winding has been introduced in 1659 and to this day no other technology was proposed to replace this ages-old system. You will use plain guts for the upper three strings, or for the upper two strings on violas and cellos, specially in solo parts, however it has still been fairly common to use exclusively plain guts both in solo and accompaniment parts throughout the 18th century.

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