european musical instruments in India

Max Langley mlangley at
Thu Mar 27 20:21:19 UTC 1997

It was the structural innovations by Tourte and the Piccatte brothers in
the late 18th and early 19th centuries that allowed much of the vast
expansion possible by Niccolo Paganini of Genoa in the 19th century, and
his musical heirs. Indian music, Carnatic or Hindustani, does not at
present employ any of those technical possibilities--such as sautille,
saltando, rochet, etc.--now standard in modern Western violin-playing.
Moreover, because Indian music does not vertically built its musical
lines, the harmonic possibilities of the violin's longer fingerboard and
curved bridge [another innovation] are not necessary. In terms of
technical recquirements, violin [viola, cello] music in India resembles
that of the Italian baroque music. And a shorter neck and fingerboard are
sufficient for those requirements. 

Two families of instruments competed for primacy: the viol family [frets,
flat backs, less volume] and the violin family [gamba]. The latter won
out, and of course the fiddle belongs to the latter. All Indian music is
based on vocal. For that reason, the unvocal sound of many Indian players
seems uncharacteristic of the vocal tradition.

Max Langley
> From: Jacob Baltuch <jacob.baltuch at>
> To: Members of the list <indology at>
> Subject: Re: european musical instruments in India
> Date: Thursday, March 27, 1997 2:48 PM
> >On Thu, 27 Mar 1997, Jacob Baltuch wrote:
> >
> >[..]
> >
> >>
> >> Re: early (1800s) violin "technology" found in Carnatic violin. Is
> >> bow different from the usual bow? Bow type changed radically in
> >> around 1820.
> Just a correction. I was partially mistaken. The bow changed less
> abruptly that I was implying. The concave shape of the bow was invented
> as early as 1770-1780 by one of the Tourte (Francois?) I believe the
> mechanism was introduced by Francois Tourte around 1820 give or take 10
> In any case plenty of time, as Vidyasankar Sundaresan pointed out.
> One point I didn't see mentioned re: the adoption of violin (and not
> of other European instruments). Maybe what also favored it was the
> fact that it can play in any tuning, not only the equal-tempered one
> (unlike say the guitar or European wind instruments)? Sure,
> are key, but one can also ask, why did only the violin find such
> individualities while other Euro. instruments didn't. Note the violin is
> also the only European instrument adopted into classical Arabic music.
> I would assume (although I couldn't myself say) that Indian violinists
> take advantage of this capability & play the ragas correctly, which they
> don't do on electronic keyboards. (Although if they really wanted to go
> thru the headache they could. There are MIDI keyboards which can
> tuning tables from say a computer or a sequencer. Or maybe in the styles
> of music which would tend to adopt synthesizers one shouldn't expect
> musicians to worry too much about shrutis)
> And one can also ask, was there a specific empty niche the violin found
> Carnatic music? Was it experimentation for the mere joy of
> (With then lasting results)

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