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The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument [Kindle Edition]

David Schoenbaum
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Schoenbaum’s immense collection of factoids may perhaps annoy as well as entrance, and for the same reason: it’s a trivia trove. Its four big “books” are chock-full of stories about persons who built violins (“Making It”), traded in them (“Selling It”), played them (“Playing It”), and represented them in pictorial art, literature, and movies (“Imagining It”). Each book proceeds chronologically from the sixteenth century, in which the violin came from nowhere to near-completely supplant other bowed string instruments within two human generations, to the present and such hot phenomena as the all-female Bond quartet, who posed in the altogether behind a couple of their music makers (not including the cello). Schoenbaum lightly touches on the economic and social developments that enabled the making, selling, playing, and imagining but concentrates on biographical tidbits about the likes of—to note only the most glittering names—Stradivari, Paganini, Kreisler, Heifetz, and Oistrakh—and, at the end, descriptions of pictures, novels, and movies. For violin music, technology, and technique, look elsewhere while enjoying the gossipy pleasure Schoenbaum affords. --Ray Olson


“[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)

Product Details

  • File Size: 15371 KB
  • Print Length: 753 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 039308440X
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (December 3, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007Q6XKIA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #625,676 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, groundbreaking, comprehensive December 23, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dr. Schoenbaum's remarkable and comprehensive book about the violin and the network of cultural and commercial institutions that has grown up around it, is truly groundbreaking.

As a violin collector, I am more than moderately familiar with the world of violin experts, competent or sham, and of violin dealers, honest or venal. This book is the first I've seen that addresses the underbelly of the violin world accurately and competently.

Dr. Schoenbaum's research tapped the expertise of violin world insiders directly. I first heard of his project when my friend, Robert Bein, the late, great Chicago violin expert and dealer, told me that Dr. Schoenbaum was "the real deal", a serious researcher seeking accurate information (as opposed, I suppose, to a yellow journalist seeking sensation). I know that Bein and many other fiddle-world luminaries spent hours and hours with Dr. Shoenbaum educating him on the twists and turns and lore of the violin trade. I believe this book is unique in that it enjoyed the active cooperation and trust of those who really are involved in the violin business.

Of course, "The Violn" goes far beyond a mere discussion of the violin trade. It is also presents the fascinating history of the instrument's development, the incredible genius of the early Cremonese makers, the colorful personalities of artists that perform on the violin, and the unique significance of the instrument as a totem of Western culture.

Oh, and did I mention that the book is entertaining, witty and exceedingly well written?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Should have been so much better June 17, 2013
"Page-turner" one of the other reviewers says! I wonder if they really know the meaning of the phrase in common usage.

I'm plowing through this book from the library, and I have to say that it's hard to believe that such an interesting subject could be made so dull. I THINK that it truly is a valuable addition to musical historiography, but it's hard to tell for sure. It's so frustrating because I'm intensely interested in the subject.

What do I find wrong with it? First; there's no real thesis. There is no discernible reason for this huge number of facts, other than the author's passion for reading and footnoting previously published histories. At least I haven't seen a thesis yet. Yes he plays the violin (so do I), but that doesn't really seem to be where his passion lies.

Second; where are the pictures and maps? In the tradition of histories there are a few "illustrative" images shoved in a few pages in the back. But when one is writing about history of such an important artifact there should be some images of precursor types, or known extant early examples, or even something that points out the defining characteristics of the Strads vs. other models. Or maps! When he states that "a quick glance of a map of trade routes" would help explain the role of Venice in spreading the violin, maybe there should be a map.

Sigh. Well I'll continue plugging away until I cannot renew it from the library any longer.

And, I may search out low-priced used versions in the future to round out my personal library. Because, in spite of my frustration, it is a great collection of exhaustibly researched facts. I think it will be a valuable reference.

Edit: I've upped my stars to three. I agree with some other reviewers that this just isn't a "cover-to-cover" sort of read. More for reference. I expect I should not have been so peevish.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb January 27, 2013
Why should anyone bother ordering a book that British publishers are so far refusing to publish? Well the answer is; precisely because they are refusing to publish! David Schoenbaum who has for decades pestered me and many of my colleges has finally come out with a meaty and very tasty volume, called simply; 'The Violin' a social history of the worlds most versatile instrument'. And it is a cracker. I thought I was a clued up member of the trade until I read this exceptional volume. Although familiar with many of the events and stories he tackles, (I honestly cannot think of anything of import that he has missed), I have been surprised and delighted with the information that he has so painstakingly researched and managed to wheedle out of various colleges And it is not dry. It is an extremely well written and very entertaining book. I found myself laughing out loud at some of his revelations. Nevertheless I imagine that I will be using this work as a reference book for years to come.
His assessment of the development of the violin, the various schools that grew from the success of the early Italian prototypes, and the geopolitical and social effect upon these schools is probably the best that I have ever read. It is informative without being boring, it is amusing without being flippant. But from this excellent historical romp, he glides deftly from makers to dealers without so much as a ripple on the waters. And here again his insight is astounding. Something about this unassuming man (I have met him many times) invites trust and confidence. He has interviewed the famous and infamous, the lofty and the lowly, the noble and the ignoble and he has glean something from them all. He has chased and worried, half truths, rumor and innuendo, until he found the facts.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad - stay away!
This was about the worst book I ever read. It was horrible! Fairly racist snobby new york ... I can't go on any more without being offensive. I did make it to the end though. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Benjamin Herbst
5.0 out of 5 stars For Lovers of the Violin
This is a very interesting book for violin lovers: players and audience participants.
The book is written well and keeps the reader involved.
Published 12 months ago by Sherry Danielson
4.0 out of 5 stars The Inside Scoop On The World's Most Desired Musical Instrument
An exhaustive, inside look at the king of instruments which none other than Hernry Ford dubbed "a miracle of engineering". Read more
Published 12 months ago by Anthony Skey
2.0 out of 5 stars This is virtually unreadable
I have been reading these reviews completely slack-jawed. This may be the most poorly written historical work that I have ever picked up. Read more
Published 13 months ago by A. Galt
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Book about a Fascinating Subject
There is the violin, and then there is the world of the violin. I know that world pretty well, and I can tell you that Dr. Schoenbaum has covered it well and accurately. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Will Logan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book to get the inside knowledge of the violin
Very interesting read. This has provided me with knowledge of the violin, makers, buyers, etc. Took me even deeper into the musical world of the violin.
Published 14 months ago by Candy
1.0 out of 5 stars Remaindered being sold at full price
More than a little annoyed to have paid this price for a remaindered book. Remainders should be marked as such online, given that they're shipped with clear physical remainder... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Quadrivia
5.0 out of 5 stars Best One Yet!
There are a lot of books dealing with the violin in various forms and fashions but this one is a winner. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Baregrass
1.0 out of 5 stars so much good information, so horrifyingly unreadable
It's such a shame. Seven years of research, hundreds of entertaining stories, and so poorly written that I'll never finish it. It's not just a little disorganized. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Alyssa Larson
5.0 out of 5 stars David Schoebaum's book on the sociology of the violin
David Schoenbaum's book of the sociology of the violin is an amazing example of organological literature. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Edward L. Kottick
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