Essentially a box with strings stretched across it, played with a gliding bow, the violin was born in its current form in 16th century Europe just in time for Renaissance composers to take full advantage of its melodic and dynamic potential. Soon every orchestra featured violins, and their gliding, glistening sound forms the basis for much of Western classical music. But the violin wasn’t content dominating the high-falutin’ orchestra halls of Vienna. Musicians from many parts of the world traveled to Europe and brought Western orchestral instruments back to Europe and brought Western orchestral instruments back home, weaving them into local compositions. The violin became a staple in the Islamic world, fitting well with the sliding quarter-tones found in Arabic music. The portable instrument made the voyage to the Americas, where musicians made it a staple of their folk styles, notably in Mexico where a mariachi band just wouldn’t be the same without a bevy of violins, and in Appalachia where the violin, inspired by its Irish folk-playing forefathers, stomped and hollered, and took on an entirely new persona – a “fiddle.” This “fiddle” was essentially the same instrument as the violin, but musicians played it with improvisational exuberance not welcome in classical forms.
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