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Letter: Ancient Simple Fiddle

Letter to the Editor: Ancient Simple Fiddle

by Paul Butler

Originally published in American Lutherie #86, 2006



I’m an amateur luthier that does reproductions of Medieval and early Renaissance stringed instruments, and was researching information on the early “medieval viol,” also called a guitar fiddle, or by various other names. It was a sort of tenor or baritone fiddle played gamba style in the 12th–14th centuries.

In any event, in doing research for this instrument, I came across what is considered possibly the oldest depiction of a bowed instrument: Mozarabic manuscript S. Beati de liebana explanatio in apokalypsis S. Johannis. Spanish, c.920–30. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Hh58, fol.127r is the full reference. Here is a reproduction.

Photo courtesy of Paul Butler.

I came across R.M. Mottola’s Savart-style Canotto upright bass in AL#80 and the small variation built by Arecco and Raiteri which appears on the GAL website’s “Extras” page for that issue, and was particularly surprised at the strong resemblance. It seems in creating a simple structured instrument, especially one for children, Arecco and Raiteri have reinvented one of the oldest bowed strings! I just thought it was too amusing not to share.

Photo courtesy of Francesco Arecco.