Today in Music History
A Daily Look at Music History For Violin Students
A Look at What Happened on Today's Date
Long, Long Ago . . . Or Maybe Just Last Year
TODAY IS
October 7
Can You Guess?
What Else
Happened
Today?
1646 - Orazio Benevoli takes position at Capella Giulia at St. Peter's in Rome.

1728 - Death of Dresden concertmaster Jean Baptiste Volumier. Bach friend and fan.

1746 - Birth of American hymn composer William Billings in Boston.

1782 - Death of Welsh harper 'Blind John' Parry.

1802 - Wilhelm Bernhard Molique, German composer and violinist who studied with Spohr, was born.

1832 - Charles Crozat Converse, hymn composer (tune to What a Friend We Have in Jesus) was born.

1836 - Mendelssohn's oratorio, St. Paul, debuted.

1921 - Yaltah Menuhin,  English pianist and sister of violinist Yehudi Menuhin, was born.  Often accompanied her brother.

1955 - Birth of Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

1956 - Premiere of Dimitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 6. by the Beethoven Quartet.

1959 - Mario Lanza, film tenor, died.

1961 - Premiere of Henry Cowell's Symphony No. 15 Thesis. Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney conducting.

1983 - Premiere of Arvo Pärt's If Bach Had Raised Bees for harpsichord, electric bass guitar, tape and ensemble, in Graz, Austria.

1994 - Premiere of Daniel Asia's Gateways for orchestra.
Jean Baptiste Vuillaume was born October 7, 1798.  His family were luthiers, his grandfather had been an apprentice to Stradivari.  He worked in his father's shop in Mirecourt until he was 19, when he left to go to Paris.  Once there he worked for Francois Chanot.  In 1821, he joined the workshop of Simon Lete, Francois-Louis Pique's son-in-law. He became his partner and in 1825 they opened a shop under the name of "Lete et Vuillaume". His first labels are dated 1823.
In 1827 Vuillaume found that many violinists wanted instruments in the style of 18th Century Italian master violin makers.  Vuillaume began to imitate those instruments, and was so skilled at it that it was difficult to tell the difference between his instruments and those of the masters.   For a time he evidently actually misled people into believing that he was selling actual master violins, but he eventually stopped this practice.

In 1827, Vuillaume won a silver medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition.  That inspired him to set up his own business.  He did just that in 1828.

Almost immediately his shop became the most important violin shop in Paris.  Within twenty years he was recognized as the greatest violin craftsman in Europe.  Vuillaume's instruments won gold medals in the Competitions of the Paris Uinversal Exhibitions in 1839, 1844 and 1855.  He won the Council Medal in London in 1851, and that same year was awarded the Legion of Honour.

Due to Vuillaume's skill, instruments made by luthiers such as Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu passed through his shop.  Vuillaume carefully measured and documented each, and made copies of them.  His favorite violins became "the Messiah" by Stradivari and "The Cannone" by Guarneri, which belonged to Niccolo Paganini.  When Paganini saw his own instrument and Vuillaume's copy side by side he could not tell them apart, but said he could detect subtle differences between the tones of the instruments.

Not content to simply handle and pass on the instruments that inspired him, in 1855 Vuillaume purchased 144 instruments made by such craftsmen as Stradivari (24 instrumets including "The Messiah") from an estate.

Vuillaume saw many types of instruments and bows.  He used the inspiration he received to invent a "contralto" viola (5 strings) as well as the octobasse (see the picture above).  He invented the pedale sourdine (a kind of mute controlled by the chin) a tubular steel bow and several machines used in the manufacture and repair of instruments, one of which was able to make gut strings of perfectly equal thickness. 

Vuillaume decorated some of his violins with the coats of arms of those who purchased them.  He also named many of his instruments after biblical personalities (the Gospel writers) and birds.

Vuillaume was evidently a capable teacher, as many of those who worked in his shope went on to fame in the field of violin craftsmanship include Hippolyte Silvestre, Jean-Josoph Honore Derazey, Charles Buthod, Charles-Adolphe Maucotel, Telesphore Barbe and Paul Bailly.

Nestor Audinot, a pupil of Sebastien Vuillaume, himself Jean-Baptiste's nephew, succeeded him in his workshop in 1875, the year of Vuillaume's death.

In all, Vuillaume made more than 3,000 instruments.  His violins were played by many of the world's best violinists including Joseph Jozchim, Eugene Ysaye and Fritz Kreisler.
Jean Baptiste Vuillaume
1798 - 1875
Stradivari Keepsake Box
Violinist Mug Yehudi Menuhin
Coffee Mug with a Quote from Yehudi Menuhin:
"The violinist must possess the poet's gift of piercing the protective hide which grows on propagandists, stockbrokers and slave traders, to penetrate the deeper truth which lies within."
We read about Vuillaume's invention of the octobasse, which is pictured here.
It is HUGE.  Can You Guess how the player "fingers" the strings?

Look at the Bottom of the Page for the Answer.
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Levers and mechanisms on the octobasse "finger" the strings so that normal sized people can play!
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