The Violin

A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument

David Schoenbaum (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book

The life, times, and travels of a remarkable instrument and the people who have made, sold, played, and cherished it.

A 16-ounce package of polished wood, strings, and air, the violin is perhaps the most affordable, portable, and adaptable instrument ever created. As congenial to reels, ragas, Delta blues, and indie rock as it is to solo Bach and late Beethoven, it has been played standing or sitting, alone or in groups, in bars, churches, concert halls, lumber camps, even concentration camps, by pros and amateurs, adults and children, men and women, at virtually any latitude on any continent.

Despite dogged attempts by musicologists worldwide to find its source, the violin’s origins remain maddeningly elusive. The instrument surfaced from nowhere in particular, in a world that Columbus had only recently left behind and Shakespeare had yet to put on paper. By the end of the violin’s first century, people were just discovering its possibilities. But it was already the instrument of choice for some of the greatest music ever composed by the end of its second. By the dawn of its fifth, it was established on five continents as an icon of globalization, modernization, and social mobility, an A-list trophy, and a potential capital gain.

In The Violin, David Schoenbaum has combined the stories of its makers, dealers, and players into a global history of the past five centuries. From the earliest days, when violin makers acquired their craft from box makers, to Stradivari and the Golden Age of Cremona; Vuillaume and the Hills, who turned it into a global collectible; and incomparable performers from Paganini and Joachim to Heifetz and Oistrakh, Schoenbaum lays out the business, politics, and art of the world’s most versatile instrument.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • December 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-393-08440-5
  • 6.6 × 9.6 in / 736 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide excluding the European Union.

Endorsements & Reviews

“[A] terrific read—one of those rare epical surveys that can be read in a single long stretch or picked up and savored, chapter by chapter. ...Schoenbaum deftly melds history, criticism, legend and occasional snatches of good gossip into a book that will be necessary reading for anybody who plays the violin, and it ought to appeal to anybody simply in search of some engrossing and exhaustive nonfiction.” — Tim Page, Washington Post

“David Schoenbaum’s witty, exhaustively researched, and fascinating history of the violin, born of the same passion that has inspired luthiers, collectors, players, and composers for centuries, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the societal implications of craftsmanship, artistry, and great music.” — Eugene Drucker, member of the Emerson String Quartet and author of The Savior

“An incomparable compendium of everything you could ever and should ever want to know about the world’s best-loved musical instrument.” — Jason Price, director of Tarisio Fine Instruments and Bows

“Schoenbaum’s splendidly detailed social history follows a giddy parade of humans as they buy, sell, play, collect, build, copy, steal, reinvent, love, and try to understand the most coveted of all musical instruments.” — Joseph Curtin, violinmaker and MacArthur Fellow

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