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Violin strings - cat gut etc - 2 inaccuracies

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1243404.  Tue Jul 25, 2017 11:20 am Reply with quote

QI: The Book of General Ignorance - The Noticeably Stouter Edition, p283.

QI says that catgut is a Medieval rumour put about by Italian makers.

Cat gut/lines are a Renaissance technology - not Medieval. Additionally the book provides no evidence except "This is a myth started by Italian makers. The evidence provided is "The legend was...".
"legend" is not a reasonable historical source - indeed it is completely unreferenced - essentially this is borderline "making things up" - Especially as the research has been available for around 40 years.

Cat gut is a synonym for cat line, venice cats, venice catlines, venice guts or pistoys. "Cat" being a contraction of catline.

The QI explanation goes against respected and unchallenged research published in 1976.
Please see "Abbott, Djilda, and Ephraim Segerman. ‘Gut Strings’. Early Music 4, no. 4 (1976): 430–37".
To quote:
"The 'catline' in the name indicates something of the construction. On a ship the catline is the rope used to sources 'cat the anchor' (i.e. to lash the anchor to the 'cathead', a beam fixed to the side of the ship for that purpose). The job needs to be done quickly and so the catline is an especially flexible rope. This flexibility comes from the way the rope is made. Any rope is made from a number of small ropes twisted together, but when the twisting together of the small ropes is in the opposite direction to the twisting of the strands that make up each small rope, the result is a highly flexible and somewhat stretchy rope, of which the catline is an example."

The second issue goes against primary evidence.

QI says "until 1750s all violins used sheep's-gut strings".

This is incorrect. Wound metal strings for violins have been used since 1659 (amongst which Dr Ephraim Segerman's research is particularly useful see Segerman, Dr. Ephraim. ‘ABOUT STRINGS AND STRINGING’, May 2009. ttp:// ).

To quote Michael Praetorius published in 1619 in his Syntagma Musicum II - De Organographia Chapter 22 "violin", "...except to observe that they give a much more gentle, pleasant sound when strung with brass and steel strings than they do when gut strings are used.".

Historical strings have also been made from horse hair, beef gut and silk. There is some discussion in research circles regarding the use of silk strings when the violin (which has been around since at least 1505) was introduced to the far east where silk strings were more common.

1324899.  Fri Jun 21, 2019 10:09 am Reply with quote

Hm, that's interesting..


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