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The Violin

The violin is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the string family, and constitutes the orchestra’s largest group. Its four-octave range, agility and musical versatility have accorded it pre-eminent position within the orchestra over the last three hundred years.

The violin as we know it today was developed in 16th-century Italy, and the city of Cremona in particular gained a reputation for its violin-making tradition. Famous instrument-making dynasties from this time include the Guarneri and Stradivari families, whose violins are highly sought after today, sometimes fetching millions of dollars at auction.

Violinists use a variety of techniques to create different sounds, including drawing the bow across the strings (arco), plucking strings with the fingers (pizzicato), or striking strings with the wooden part of the bow (col legno). Multiple stops allow the violinist to play several notes at the same time.

Many composers have sought to capitalise on the violin’s wide dynamic range and unrivalled expressive capabilities, and popular orchestral violin works include: Beethoven Romances in G and F; Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs; Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending; Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole; Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; Chausson’s Poème.

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