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Giordano Riccati on the

Diameters of Strings and Pipes*
C OUNT Giordano Riccati of Treviso (1709-1790), though
relativelylittle known to music historians,was a noteworthy
theoristof harmonyand the greatestItalianphysicistin the field of
acoustics. From his correspondencepreserved at the Biblioteca
Comunalein Udinewe learnthatalreadyin 1740he wasworkingon his
Dellecordeovvero ('Of elasticstringsor fibres'),which he
eventuallypublishedin 1767.In the prefaceto this book we read:
Thepleasure of musichasdrawnme to devotea fairamountof thoughtto
thosesolidandfluidstringsof whichmostmusical instruments
havingat varioustimes writteneightchapterson this subject, haverecently
gonethrough thempagebypageandrevisedthemhereandtheresothatwith
lessembarrassment theycan[now]be presented to the public.'
Riccati'sthoughtas a physicistextendswell beyond the scope of a
musician'scompetence,but in chapters5 and 6 the musiciancan find
some very useful informationon the 'solid and fluid strings'of
harpsichords,violinsandorgans.In this articleI shallanalyzefroman
organological pointof view the contentsof chapter6, whichis entitled:
'Of the dimensionswhich should be assignedto the stringsof an
instrumentandto organpipes,in orderthattheymayrendersoundsof
equalstrength,and pleasing[to the ear]'?
Accordingto Riccati,the areaS of the cross-sectionof a stringof
lengthL will fallwithinthe followinglimits(of whichthe secondhad
alreadybeen positedby LeonhardEuler):
S = constant S oc L
Psycho-physicallaws were as yet a thing of the future, so Riccati
calculatedthe 'best' value of S by assumingthat the loudnessof a
vibratingstringis proportionalto its kinetic energy. (Accordingto
moderntheoryit is proportional to the logarithmof the kineticenergy,
andalsodependson thepitchfrequency.)Theresultssetoutin chapter6
are garnishedwith documentaryevidenceaboutmusicalinstruments

*Muchof this articleis drawnfrom my forthcomingAcusticaaccordatura

ternperamento veneto.
in the Veneto which scholarshiphas overlooked but which is of unique
historical value.

Developing his assumptionsmathematically,Riccati found that on a
harpsichord, the cross-section S of the strings,'in order to rendersounds
of equal strength,andpleasing',shouldbe proportionalto the geometric
mean of the two limiting cases shown above. So S oc and hence
D oc L1/4. ,/L,
To verify this rule Riccati examined a 'harpsichordbuilt by Vito de'
Trasuntiniin 1559', measuringthe stringsfor two Cs three octaves apart
(p. 135). From the lengths given by Riccati one can deduce that they
were for c andc"' of an 8' instrument.(Evidentlyhe did not measurethe
C stringbecause in the lowest octave, as is well known, the curve of the
bridge changes abruptly and quite abandons harmonic proportion
among the string lengths.) For each of the two stringsRiccati measured
the vibrating length in 'inches of the Venetian foot' and, with a
jeweller's balance, the weight in Venetian grani of five feet of string.
More than once in this work Riccati specified that the Venetian pound
which he used as his unit of weight was equal to twelve ounces and
amounted to 12 x 576 grani:this is undoubtedly the 301.3-gram pound
which was at that time the standardof weight among Venetianjewellers
and pharmacists?Unfortunately, Riccati did not specify the materialof
which the strings were made; so in the following calculations I have
used 'Db' and 'Ds' to refer to the diametersas they would be for brass
(8700 kg/m3) and steel (7900 kg/m3 respectively. I use 'W' for the
weight of the sounding length of string:
for c : L=325/6(=949.5mm);W=20 (=0.872g);(Db=0.271,Ds=0.285mm)
for c"': L= 41/4 (=123 mm);W= 6 (=0.262g);(Db=0.149,Ds=0.156mm)
Since S:S"' (=W: W'"=3.3) was not very far from
VL:L'" (= 2.8),
Riccaticoncluded that his rule was adequatelyconfirmed by practice.If
we assumethat the string lengths would double in each octave, then by
Riccati's rule the diameters should have the ratio 1: 21/4( 1:1.19).
Bearing in mind also that from brassto steel the diameterswould differ
by only some 5%,we can conclude that on Trasuntino'sharpsichordthe
diameters were, approximately:
c=0.28 (c'=0.23) (c"=0.19) c"'=0.15 mm
According to Riccati's measurementsL"':L amounted to 1:7.7, or
slightly less than the 'harmonic' ratio 1:8. He explained this as

In all the harpsichordsand spinets that I have examined, when I have compared
the lower strings with the higher ones I have found them to be somewhat
shorter than the ratio of the vibration frequencies would require. From this it
follows that the lower strings,on account of their thickness,are a little less tense
than the higher strings. I believe that the practitionersdo this because the hole
through which the strings are passed [in the process of drawing them]
compresses and strengthensthin strings more than [it does] thick ones, so the
latter cannot bear the tension of a force quite proportional to their [greater]
thickness.There is also the dangerthat the lower stringsmight be broken in the
process of wrapping them around the pin, which flattens them. On the other
hand, when they are protected from these risks and strung to the proper
tension, they last a long time without breaking. The higher strings on the
contrary do not last very well and break easily.5

(This last inconvenience has not been completely eliminated even

today, partly because some harpsichord makers use diameters greater
than 1/4mm for the higher strings.) Riccati also showed (p. 138) that
when the string is plucked, the shorter portion is disturbed more than
the longer one: hence the string is more likely to break at the tuning pin
than at the hitch pin.
Riccati concluded his discussion of harpsichord strings by saying that
his rule should not be considered unalterable:

Experience together with theory has taught practitioners the suitable

thicknesses for the lower and higher strings, and these may be, within certain
discretelimits, done by approximationratherthanexactly. When two stringsof
congruent thicknesses are put on an instrument, there remains another means
- the force of the quills - of equalizing the strength of the sounds. When
tuners play two strings at once, they understandexactly which quill should be
increasedor diminished in force in order that the two lower and higher sounds
may make an equal impression on the ear.6
The diameters which I have inferred from Riccati's measurements
may seem rather small, but the relevant data published by Michael
Thomas in 1971 tend to confirm them! Here are the string-gauge
numbers shown on two late 16th-century Venetian instruments
described by Thomas, and the equivalent values in millimetres as
reckoned by Thomas himself and (in parentheses) by Kenneth

1. 'School of Trasuntino' (8' instrument, range C-f'")

c c' c" c" d"'
5 6 8 11 12
0.34 0.31 0.24 0.16 0.14 mm
(0.34) (0.31) (0.25) (0.19) (0.17) mm
2. 'Trasuntino'(4' instrument,rangeC-c"')
C c C' C1 Ci"

3 7 9 10 12
0.42 0.28 0.22 0.19 0.14 mm
(0.42) (0.28) (0.23) (0.21) (0.17)mm
Thomasalsofoundon a harpsichord of a certain'Franciscus, priestof
Rimini'some old fragmentsof stringwith the followingdiameters:
c : 0.30 c' : 0.23 c" : 0.14mm
He foundthe samediametersin bits of iron or soft steel stringson a
'smallNeapolitaninstrument'(on top of whichsomeonehadlaterput
brassstringsof slightlygreaterdiameter).Accordingto Thomas,'The
conclusionfromthe dataso far mustbe thatstringsat leastas thinas
.0055in. (=0.14 mm)wereusedin Italy'in the 16thand17thcenturies.
Germanmakersused thickerstrings,particularly in the treble?
I mightmentionthatin chapter1 of Dellecordeovvero fibreelastiche
Riccatidescribedsome experimentshe had done with a brassstring,
fromwhichit is possibleto deduce'0thatits elasticmoduluswas 8000
kg/mm2:thusthe brassof thatdaywas acoustically'better'thannow,
giventhattodaythe modulusis some9000kg/mm2.Indications of unit
breakingstress(SB)for differentmetalwirescan alsobe foundin the
samechapter(p. 18),wheretheresultsof measurements madebyJoseph
Sauveursome decadesearlier" are reported.From these may be
steel:SB 10300kg/cm2
brass:SB" 8500kg/cm2
copper:SB 4800kg/cm2
UnfortunatelyRiccatidid not say which metal the stringson his
harpsichordwere made of. (Accordingto his theorythis would not
affectthe choiceof diameters.)I shallnot tryto settlethismatterhere,
but I observethat:
i) In the experimentsdescribedin Riccati'sbook he used,exclusively,
brassstringsof smalldiameter.
ii) If the c"' stringmeasuredby Riccatiwas of brass,it bore some
5900kg/cm2of tension(thatis, somethreesemi-tones'worthlessthan
the breakingstress,accordingto Sauveur'sdatashownabove);if on the
otherhandit wasof steel,thevaluewouldfallto 5350kg/cm2(whichis
nearlysix semitones'worthless thanits breakingstress,a typicalvalue
for a 'slow' string). I have made these calculationsknowing that
Venetianpitcharoundthe middleof the 18thcenturywas430-440 Hz
for a'.12
iii) Nowadaysit hasbeenfoundthatin orderto workwithinreasonable
limitsof security,harpsichord stringsshouldbe stretchedatmostto two
or three semitones'worthbelow their point of rupture.3
iv) At the beginningof chapter6, Riccatiset out the premisethat
'sonorousstringswantto be stretchedto sucha degreethattheywould
breakif theirtensionwereincreased justa littlemore.... Stretching the
stringsa lot renderslively the palpitation of theirsmallest parts,[and]
the soundconsistsmainlyof this [palpitation]'. Also, as we sawabove,
he remarkedthaton his harpsichord the high strings'do not lastvery
well andbreakeasily'.
So the balanceof Riccati'sevidencefavoursbrass,at least for the
instrumentas it was in his day. (In whichcase the stringused for the
experimentdescribedin chapter1 would be for c'.)
InAppendix1 I describesomeremarksby Giambattista Doni (1695-
1647) which suggestthatRoman harpsichord makers (or at leastsomeof
them)at the time of Frescobaldi usedsteelstringsfor the highernotes,
and copperfor the very lowest.

Riccatiadaptedto 'fluid strings'the rule which he had devisedfor
harpsichord strings.He beganby showingthata harpsichord stringof
lengthL 'pushestowardthe ear'a massof airproportional to L31/12.But
the massof air thatis set directlyinto vibrationby a sonoroustubeof
length L and diameterD is proportionalto the volume of the tube
(oc D2L).Given,then,thatthe airwavesproducedby the pipe andby
string are propagatedat the same velocity, the condition which
determinesthe ratio of their kinetic energies can be reduced to:
D2L oc L31/12; fromwhich(andthisconclusionis emphasized on p. xiv
of the preface)Riccatiobtained:
D oc L19/24 • L34 (hence S oc L19/12 L3/2)

(Thesamerelationshouldhold for the mouthwidths.)Riccatishowed

that since pipes an octave apartshouldhave, theoretically,the ratio
Li:L2 = 2:1, it follows that (pp. 144-45):
= 23/2 =
(thegeometricalmeanbetween2 and4). Adoptinga geometricdivision
of theoctaveintotwelveequalsemitones,thediametersasonedescends
shouldthusincreaseas follows:
C B Bk A Ab G Gk F E Ek D Dk C B Bk A Ab
L19/24 1.00 1.05 1.10 1.15 1.20 1.26 1.32 1.38 1.44 1.51 1.58 1.65 1.73 1.81 1.90 1.99 2.08

L3/4 1.00 1.04 1.09 1.14 1.19 1.24 1.30 1.35 1.41 1.48 1.54 1.61 1.68 1.76 1.83 1.92 2.00

In the firstcasethe doublingof the diameterstakesplaceat aboutthe
minor10th,in the secondcase at the major10th.
Now 1: %is the 'diapason'calculatedby Toipferin 1833andused
by most modernorgan builders.ChristhardMahrenholz,evidently
unawareof Riccati'sstudy,has attributedto G. A. Sorge(1773)the
inventionof the two relationsunderconsideration.4(Sorgeactually
proposedthree kinds of diapason,in which the doubling of the
diameterswouldtakeplaceatthe major9th,minor10thandmajor10th
respectively.)Since theoristsbefore that time had remainedsub-
stantiallytieddownto the traditional 'pythagorean' scaling,Mahrenholz
in his lucidanalysisconcludesthata 'new era'in the calculationof the
diapasonbegan with Sorge. This honourshouldbe given ratherto
Riccati,who not only publishedhis conclusionssix yearsbeforeSorge,
but alsoderivedhis calculationsfromobjectiveprinciplesof acoustics
andnot,likeSorgeandTopfer,fromarbitrary arithmetical progressions.
Having found the rule, Riccati as usual turned to practicefor its
I measured verydiligentlywiththe aid of SignorLiberale Marcuzzi," the
worthy organistof this Cathedral[of Treviso],the circumferences,
proportional to the diameters, of two pipeswhichsounded[two]Fs three
octavesapart.The organof thischurchis a veryfineinstrument madeby
Urbanoof Venicein 1420.16
ForanextracheckRiccatigavealso(p. 145)thecircumference of the
pipe for the octave above the lower F. From hismeasurements (in 'lines
of Venetianfeet')it is clearthatthe lowerpipecorresponded to the first
key (I indicatethe diameterwith 'D', the circumferencewith 'C'):
F : C1= 140'lines'(=337.5mm);(Di=107.5mm)
f : C2= 84 'lines'(=203 mm);(D2z 65 mm)
f": C4= 29 'lines'(= 70 mm);(D4= 22 mm)
The corresponding diapasonis very close to 23/4. (Fora perfectmatch
one would have had to obtain D2=64 and D4=22.5.) Mahrenholz
noticedthattheratio1 :23/4( 1: 1.68)approximates verycloselyto 3: 5
(' 1: 1.67),a ratiowhichhe foundin some18th-century The
makerof the organdescribedby Riccatiprobablyfollowed such a
procedure.Inanycasewe canaffirmthattheso called'Topferratio'was
alreadyused by Italianorganbuildersin the 15thcentury.
As eachstringon thisinstrumentmustservefor severalnotes,the first
limit(S = constant)is imposedautomatically in manyinstances.Yet if
we intendthat 'the ear does not judge that [two equalnotes] should
belongto one stringratherthanto another',Riccaticoncludedthatthe
crosssectionsof thethreehigherstringsshouldcorrespondto theirpitch
frequencies,thatis, to 3:2, thusyielding:
string:D: A : E
section:9 : 6 : 4
diameter:3 : 2.45 : 2
(We shallsee presentlywhy the G stringwas not includedhere.)He
now proceededto his usualpracticalverification:
Witha jeweller'sscaleI weighedthreeequallylongsections,1/2 Venetian
feet,of threeviolinstrings,
knownasthetenor,thecantoandthecantino. I did
notweightheloweststringbecauseit is notof plaingutliketheothers,butis
customarily overspun witha thincopperwire."
If we recallthatthe cross-sections
areproportional to theweights,we
cansee thatthe weightsmeasuredby Riccaticonfirmhis theoryalmost
perfectly.To calculatethe diametersI have assumedthatthe specific
gravityof the gut amountedto 1350kg/m3(testswhichI havemadeon
stringsof differentdiametersand by differentmakershave yielded
valuesrangingbetween 1300and 1400):
D string= 15grani (D = 1.09mm)
A string= 10grani (D = 0.89mm)
E string= 6 grani (D = 0.69mm)
For a perfectfit with Riccati'srule the lastweight shouldhavebeen
62/3grani.Riccati,who was himselfan amateurviolinist,remarkedthat
gut stringswere quiteimperfectandvariable,and anyway'an expert
player'had told him thathis (Riccati's)E stringwas a little too thin.
Riccati'sstringsweresomewhatthickerthanthoseusedby 'baroque'
violiniststoday.LuigiRovighiandEnricoGattihaveinformedme that
they use the followingdiameters:
Rovighi: 1.05 0.67 0.52 mm
Gatti: 1.00 0.70 0.55 mm
We shouldbear in mind, however,that alreadybefore 1743 in the
Veneto, Tartinihad introducedthickerviolin strings.Count Gian-
rinaldoCarliwroteto Tartiniin a letterof August21,1743(fromVenice
to Padua):'Yourecognizedthatit wasnecessaryto thickenthestringsof
theviolinandlengthenthe bow, asyou have[indeed]done,so thatthe
vibrationsmightbe moreregulatedandthe soundcomeoutsweeterand
moresusceptibleto vibrations... .'19DavidBoydenhasconfirmedthat
'violinstringsin Italy,wherea full andstrongtonewasthe ideal,were
regularropescomparedto those used in France'.?o
For harpsichordstringswe sometimeshave contemporarygauge
numbers.Verylittlesuchdirectevidenceis availableforviolinstrings,21
but a clue canbe foundinJeromede LaLande'sVoyage enItalie(1769),
whichdescribesthe 'methodfollowedat Naplesfor the manufacture of
violinstrings':'theyputtogetheronlytwo strandsof gut(froma 7- or 8-
month-oldlamb)for the little stringsof the mandolin,three [strands]
for the firststringof theviolin,sevenfor the last'.22Thiswouldsuggest
a ratio between the diametersof the G and E strings of some
7:33= 1.53. Between the sametwo stringsRiccati'srule (whichof
coursehe didnotconsiderapplicableto the G string)wouldyield 1.84.
Sebastiende Brossardin his early18th-century manuscript treatisesaid
of the G string:'if it is merelyof gutit mustbe at leasttwiceas thickas
theD string,butif it is overspunwithsilverit is onlya littlethickerthan
theD string'."Riccati'sG stringwasoverspun,so we mightexpectit to
havebeen 'only a little thicker'than11/2timesthe thicknessof the E
string.Hence the value which we have deducedfrom La Lande's
description(1.53)is quite satisfactory.
In Appendix2 I outlinesome additionaldocumentary evidencefor
the diametersof 18th-and 19th-century violin strings.

Riccati'schapteryields the following organological information:i) the
harpsichordsof Vito Trasuntinohad very thin strings.Their diameters,
starting from a minimum of some 0.15 mm, doubled only after an
interval of at least three octaves down. ii) One of the best Venetian
organ makers of the 15th century (Antonio Dilmani)24scaled the pipe
diameters with a constant ratio equivalent to the modem 'standard
diapason' of Topfer. iii) Mid-18th-century Venetian violinists did
indeed use rather 'robust' strings, for which Riccati furnishes us with
precise diameters - data of unique value for the history of the

GiambattistaDoni, Robert Smith and Carlo Pellegrini
on Harpsichord Strings
Two hitherto overlooked remarks by Giambattista Doni suggest that in
Frescobaldi'sday Roman harpsichordmakers used steel in the higher ranges,
changingover to brassand then to pure copper for the lowest notes. In the first
remark Doni, discussing around 1640 the difficulty of maintaining the pipes
and strings of a claviorgano at the same pitch for the duration of an entire
theatrical production, concluded: '. . . hence [claviorgani] could be quite
useless, if it were not that this inconvenience can be remedied by tuning the

entireset of stringsabouta quarter-tonehigherthanthe pipesin orderthatthe
whole instrumentmaycometo its properpitchwhenthe airis warmedby the
torches[whichlightthe theatre];and[indeed]if the higherstringsdidnot also
warmasmuch,eitherbecausetheyaremadeof steelorbecausetheyareso thin,
it wouldbe necessaryto retunemanyof thenotes... .'25Doni indicatedwhich
metalthe loweststringsweremadeof in a letterof August7, 1638,fromRome
to FatherMersenneat Paris,referringto the 'practiceof our harpsichord
makers,who ordinarilyuse, for the lastnotesin the bass,some stringsof red
copper,becausethoseof brassdo nothavea longenoughmeasureto renderthe
In 1759RobertSmithreferredindirectlyto the practiceof changingoverto
copperin thelowestrange:forcertainof hisexperimentshe saidthathe useda
'copperwire,commonlyusedforsomeof thelowestnoteson the harpsichord'.
Fromhis dataone maydeducethatthe diameterof the stringin questionwas
0.563mm,27that is, equal to gauge 11 accordingto Bakeman'stable?sThe
credibilityof thisconclusionis indicatedby the factthatcopperstringsof the
samegaugenumberwereused,forexample,in thelowestrange(GG-BB)of a
harpsichord describedby JamesTalbotaround1698?9
On theotherhandCarloPellegriniatRomein 1665saidthattheharpsichord
normallyhad45 brassstrings(exoricalcho andthat:'The [8'] spinetta
is a very notableinstrument,of the sametype as the harpsichord, havingthe
samenumberof stringsasthelatter;butitssoundis notproducedby brassason
the harpsichord, butby copperor steel.It is notsonorouslike the harpsichord,
beingof smallerdimensions.Sometimesa redclothis placeduponits stringsin
orderthatit may emit a more submergedsound'?1

Plessiard'sRule for Violin Strings
A littlemorethana centuryafterRiccatianotheramateurviolinist,the French
engineerPlessiard,workedout a differentmathematical rule for the string
dimensions.32 His theory was, like Riccati's, with
garnished experimental data,
which give us useful informationaboutthe diametersfavouredby French
violinistsaroundthe middleof the last century.
Afterremarkingthatthe firstthreestringsare of plaingut, Plessiardsaid
'thatthe rapidityof executionon the violin, the frequentpassingfrom one
stringto anotherandthe good effectof doublestops[all]requirethatthebow
notencountera greaterresistenceon one stringthanon another,thatis, thatthe
work [required]to drawsoundfromeachof the fourstringsbe the same.To
thisend the ratioof tensionsbetweentwo adjacentstringsshouldbe equalto
the squarerootof the musicalintervalbetweenthem,i.e. V/2, giventhaton
the violinthisintervalis a fifth'?3UnlikeRiccati'srulethisdoes nottakeinto
accountthe intensityof soundof the individualstrings;accordingto Plessiard
the acousticalequilibriumof the instrumentshouldbe regulatedby adjusting
thesoundpostandthebar.Inpassingfromonestringto thenextlarger,thetwo
Plessiard Riccati
ratioof tensions: (2/3)1/2= 0.82 2/3 = 0.67
ratioof diameters: (3/2)3/4= 1.355 (3/2)1/2= 1.225
ThusPlessiard's ruleyieldsa greatervariationin the diametersforthe sakeof a
more uniformdistributionof tensionamongthe four strings.
Plessiardthencalculatedthetensionwhichone setof stringsansweringto his
rulewouldimposeuponviolinsof threedifferentmakers(p. 204).He gavethe
averagespecificweightof thegutwhichhe used(1300kg/m3),thefrequencyof
his a' (435 Hz) andthe soundinglengthof the strings,so I havebeen ableto
calculatethe stringdiameters:
violinbyJ.-B. Vuillaume(L= 329.5 mm): 4.50 5.51 6.75 8.26 kg
violin by Bergonzi(L = 326 mm): 4.39 5.38 6.58 8.06 kg
anonymousviolin (L = 333 mm): 4.57 5.61 6.87 8.41 kg
(diametersof the gut strings: - 1.20 0.89 0.65 mm)
These diametersapproximateto those in use at the time: Plessiardlater
specified(p. 209)that'gutE stringsvariedfrom0.40 to 0.55 grams'permetre,
whichcorresponds to a diameterof 0.63-0.73 mm.FortheG stringhe saidthat
violin makersusedan E stringoverspunwith 16-gaugesilveredcopperwire,
the weightof whichvaried,accordingto the brand,between0.110and0.139
g/m. Sincethe averagedensityof thiswire was, accordingto Plessiard,8880
kg/m3,its diametermusthave been some 0.13-0.14 mm.
Thesefiguresconfirmthat19th-century Frenchviolinistshadincreasedthe
thicknesses of theirstringsso thattheyapproximated morecloselyto thoseused
in the Veneto in the precedingcentury.Indeed the Frenchstringswere
probablyeventhickerby now, if we areto believewhatFetiswrotein 1856on
the basisof informationwhich he had obtainedfromJ.-B. Vuillaume,the
greatestFrenchviolin makerof the day: 'Twentyyears ago the E string
requireda tensionof 22 pounds[i.e. nearly11kg] to get up to pitch,andthe
otherstringsa littleless;thusthe totalweightwassome80 pounds[morethan
39 kg].Thepitchstandard hadgoneupa semitonesince1734;instruments were
equippedwith more robuststrings;and the anglewhich they made on the
bridgewas sharper:hence the necessityof changingthe violins'bar.'34The
datafurnishedin 1806by theAbbotSibirealsosuggestconsiderable diameters.?
In the followingtableI give the tensionsin poundsas Sibirefurnishedthem,
theirconversioninto kilograms(as done by Plessiard)andthe corresponding
diameters(which I have calculatedby assumingthat L = 33 cm and that
a' = 415-435 Hz):
lbs: 13 15 17 19 (total= 64)
kg: 6.36 7.34 8.32 9.30 (total= 31.32)
(mm: - 1.45-1.38 1.03-0.98 0.73-0.70)
Fetisalsoreported,on thebasisof informationfromVuillaume,that'Tartini

foundasa resultof experimentscarriedout in 1734thatthe tensionof the four
stringson hisinstrumentamountedto 63 pounds'?6Butasthisdoesnotspecify
the kindof pound,the distributionof the tensionamongthe fourstrings,and
their soundinglength,one cannotdrawfromit any secureconclusionsas to
their diameters.
One lastobservation:we haveseenthatat the timeof Brossardthe gut core
of the G stringhadaboutthe samediameterasthe D string,whereasa century
anda halflaterit hadbeen reducedto the thicknessof the E string.Thismust
have favouredthe adoptionof the overspunD string; indeed Plessiard
remarkedthatif the G stringaloneis overspun,thenthe D string'findsitself
betweentwo stringsthatarethinnerthanit and [hence]soundmorebrilliant.
One couldoverspinit like the G string,andthiswouldrenderthe soundof the
violin more homogenous.Variousisolatedattemptsto carryout this change
the precedingcenturyby BrossardandLaborde?8 Someperformerstodayas
well, forexampleSonyaMonosoff,feel it necessaryto useanoverspunD string
even when they are playinga baroque-styleviolin.

SerafinmoDi Colco's Rule for Violin Strings
Riccatiwas not the firstto workout a rule for violin strings:in 1690another
Venetian,SerafinoDi Colco, had tried to correctthe prevailingcustom
wherebyviolinistschosethe stringsfortheirinstruments by ear.He postulated
a perfectlyuniformdistributionof tension?9Thus,the diametersshouldvary
still more thanin Plessiard'scase:40
Di Colco Plessiard Riccati
ratioof tensions 1 0.82 0.67
ratio of diameters 3/2 1.355 1.225
Di Colco'sproposalappearsto be purelytheoretical,ashe doesnotprovideany
experimentaldata. TranslatedbyMarkLindley.

'Il piacere della musicami ha invogliato di spenderenon poche meditazioni
intorno alle corde solide, e fluide, colle quali essa compone la maggior partede'
suoi stromenti; ed avendo in varj tempi otto schediasmi distesi sopra questa
materia, li ho nuovamente ripigliati per mano, e ritoccati qua e la, onde con
meno di verecondia possano al pubblico presentarsi' (p. iii).
2 'Delle misure, che debbono
assegnarsialle corde d'uno stromento, ed alle
canne d'organo, acciocche rendano suoni del pari forti, ed aggradevoli'.
Horace Doursther, Dictionnaireuniverseldespoidset mesures... (Antwerp,
1840; facsimile ed. Amsterdam, 1965), p. 233. There was also a heavier
Venetian pound of 12 x 768 grani (= 477.05 g). Evidence that Doursther's
301.3-gram estimate applies here can be found in Riccati's article, 'Delle
vibrazioni sonore dei cilindri' (Memoriedi matematica efisicadellaSocietaiitaliana,
vol. 1, Verona,1782, pp. 515 and 519),which gives the exact weightsand
dimensionsof two cylinders,one of steel and the other of bronze.
4 Thesedensitiesaregivenby DijldaAbbotandEphraimSegerman in their
'Strings in the 16thand 17th centuries' GSJ xxvii, (1974),p. 58.
5 'In tuttii gravicembali, e le spinetteda me esaminati,posteal paragonele
cordegravicolleacute,le ho trovatealquantopii cortedi quelloche richiedela
proporzionedei tempidellelorovibrazioni.Da ci6 derivala conseguenza,che
le cordegravirispettoalle loro grossezzesono un po meno tese delle corde
acute.Io credo,che i praticicosisi adoperino,perchela trafila,percui si fanno
passarele corde,costipie rendatenacipiuile sottilidelle grosse,dimodoche
queste non possanotollerarela tensione di una forza alle loro grossezze
precisamenteproporzionale.Corrono inoltre pericolo le corde gravi di
scavezzarsi, mentresi attorcigliano perattaccarleallostromento,e si rivolgono
intornoal perno,col mezzodel qualesi stirano.Per altrosfuggitii descritti
rischj, e ridotte alla dovuta tensione, si conservanomolto tempo senza
spezzarsi.Le cordeacuteall'opposto,duranopoco, e si romponofacilmente.'
(pp. 137-38).
6 'Non e arbitrario l'armareunostrumentoconcordedi qualunque grossezza,
ed armatoche sial'usarforzea capriccioperfarsuonaressecorde.L'esperienza
uniformeallateoricahainsegnatoai praticile convenientigrossezzedellecorde
gravied acute,le qualisurrogandoil prossimoall'esatto,ponno stareentro
certidiscretilimiti.Applicateallo strumentodue cordedi congruagrossezza,
restal'altromezzodellaforzadellepenne,perinteramente pareggiare il vigore
dei suoni.Toccandogli accordatorinello stessotempodue corde,compren-
donoesattamente qualepennadebbaaccrescersi, o scemarsidi forza,acciocche
i duesuonigraveed acutofaccianonell'orecchioegualeimpressione.'(p. 139).
7 MichaelThomas,'Stringgaugesof old Italianharpsichords' GSJ xxiv,
(1971),pp. 72-3 and 78.
8 KennethBakeman,
'Stringingtechniquesof harpsichordbuilders'GSJ
xxvii, (1974),p. 99.
9 Accordingto MichaelThomas(note7, p. 71),Germanclavichord stringsin
the treblebecameno smallerthangauge7. Friedemann Hellwig has, in effect,
confirmedthis ('Stringsand stringing:contemporarydocuments',GSJ xxix,
1976, pp. 91-104). There were exceptions, however. An 18th-century
manuscript annotationwhichI havecome acrosson the next-to-lastpageof a
volumecontainingtwo worksof AndreaWerckmeister(Paris,Bibliotheque
Nationale,MusRes 1747)prescribesthe followinggaugesfor an unfretted
clavichordof rangeC-c'" (withoutCO):
C DO F GO c f d' g' d" a"-c"'
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9-9
•0 Pp. 20-22. Here are the data in the
(the lengths Parisian, weights in
Venetianunits):390 'lines'of brassstringweighed7.5 grani(1 ounce= 576
grani); sucha string(thediameterwas0.233mm)was'stretched firstby a weightof
two pounds;whentheweightwasincreasedby fourpounds(to six),the string
became13/s'lines'longer,andas muchagainby addinganotherfourpounds.

Accordingto Sauveur,stringsof steel, brassand copperbroke when
stretchedby weightsamountingto 12000,9000 and5000 times,respectively,
the weight of 40 inches(of the Parisianfoot) of the string.
12 See my 'I1lcoristabolognese,secondoil rilevamentodi V. F. Stancari'
L'Organo xviii, 1980,p. 25.
13 W. R. ThomasandJ. J. K. Rhodes,'Thestringscalesof Italiankeyboard
instruments' GSJ xx, (1967),p. 52; Abbottand Segerman,op.cit.,p. 61.
14 Christhard Mahrenholz,Thecalculation of organpipescales... (Oxford,
1975),pp. 64-66.
15A letterofJuly 2, 1753,fromFrancescantonio Vallottito Riccati(Udine,
BibliotecaComunale,MS. 1027)impliesthatMarcuzziwasby thentoo old to
playthe organ- whichin turnsuggeststhatRiccati'saccountwaswrittena
good manyyearsbefore its publication.
16 'Misuraidiligentissimamente coll'ajutodel Signor LiberaleMarcuzzi
valoroso organistadi questa Cattedralele circonferenzeproporzionaliai
diametridi due canne,che suonavanoF fa ut, e si corrispondevano in tripla
ottava.L'organodella nominataChiesae un'operaassaiperfettalavoratada
Urbano da Venezia l'anno 1420.' (p. 143). I believe Riccati'shistorical
informationwas inexact.RenatoLunelli,Studie documenti di storiaorganaria
veneta(Florence,1973),gives the followingaccountof the cathedralorganat
Treviso:in 1436Niccolo d'Allemagnagave the churcha new organ(p. 212);
AntonioDilmani,the sonof the organ-maker Bernardod'Allemagna, rebuiltit
ex novoin 1481-83, and carriedout furtherwork between 1493 and 1500
(p. 180);in 1773the instrument,afternumerousrestorations,was rebuiltby
GaetanoCallido(p. 135).Lunellialsosays(pp.227-28) thatUrbanoof Venice
diedbefore1518.It appearsthatRiccatimeasuredpipesforwhichDilmaniwas
most likely responsible.
17 Marenholz, op.cit.,pp. 41, 66 and69. The samescalingappearsto have
been used by the T6pfer'sRomancontemporary,FrancescoPasquetti,who
probablywould not have known Topfer'streatise;see my 'Rilievi tecnici
sull'organo"Franciscus PasquettiRomaefecitA.D.1836"', Quaderni umbri,xvi,
2 (Terni,March1983),p. 12.
18 'Colle bilancettedell'oro
pesaitre porzioniegualmentelunghepiedi 11/2
Venezianidelle tre cordedel Violino,che si chiamanoil tenore,il cantoe il
cantino.Tralasciai d'indagare il pesodellacordapiuigrave;perchequestanone
comel'altredi solaminugia,masuolecircondarsi conun sottilfilo di rame.'(p.
19GianrinaldoCarli,Delle Opere(Milan,1786),vol. xiv, pp. 338-343.
20 The New Grove,s.v. 'Violin',
p. 828. I imagine Boyden drew this
conclusionfromFran:oisRaguenet'sComparison betweenFrench andItalianmusic
(1702);see aproposBoyden'sThehistory of violinplaying
fromitsoriginsto 1761
(London,1965),p. 203.
21 For some
exceptionalviolin gaugenumberssee note 35.
'Methodesuiviea Naplespourla fabrication descordesde violon.... on
ne met que deux boyeauxensemblepourles petitescordesdes mandolines,
troispourla premierecordede violon,septpourla derniere.'Journal demusique
par une societed'amateurs (Paris,1777; facsimileed. Geneva, 1972),No. 1,
pp. 11-12.
23 'Si elle est simplement de boyeau,elle doit estredu moinsle doubleplus
grosseque la 3e, maissi elle est toutefilee d'argentelle n'estquetrespeuplus
grosseque la 3e.' Paris,BibliothequeNationale,MusRes Vm8c 1, fol. 12r.
24 See note 16.
25 ,... dalchesi potrebbono renderedel tuttoinutili,se nonfossecheancora
a questopareche si possarimediare,con accordaretuttoil sistemadelle corde
un quartodi tuono in circapiu acutodel sistemadelle canne,che cosi poi
riscaldata, che fossel'ariadalletorce,col caloreverrebbeallasuagiustavoce;e
se le corde acute, o per essere d'acciaio,o per avere mancomaterianon
calasserotanto, allora sarebbenecessarioritoccaremolti tasti, per ridurli
interamenteal suo sesto.' GiovanniBattistaDoni, 'Trattatodella musica
scenica',Opere,ii (Florence,1763),p. 112.Doni diedin 1647andthe 'Trattato'
was writtenbefore 1642.
26 ,. .. pratique de nozfaiseursde clavecins;lesquelsmettentd'ordinaire aux
dernieresvoix en bas quelquechordesde cuivrerouge,pourceque celles de
letonn'ontpasla mesureassezlonguepourrendrele ton requis.'Cornelisde
Waard,ed., Correspondance duP. MarinMersenne, vol. viii (Paris,1963),p. 20.
Theuseof brassin thebassof Romanharpsichords atthattimeis alsoconfirmed
by Pier FrancescoValentini:in one of his manuscripts (c. 1642-45) he gave
instructions for makinga monochordwith a brassstringsix Romanpalmilong,
and remarked,'qual corda sari della grossezzadei bassi di un cembalo
ordinario'(Monocordo di musica..., p. 23 - Biblioteca
et novacostitutione
ApostolicaVaticana,MS. Barberinilat. 4430).
27 RobertSmith,Harmonics...(London,1759),pp. 192-93:35.55 inchesof

copper wire weighed31 grainstroy (1 pound= 7000 grainstroy).

Bakeman,note 8, p. 99.
29 Op. cit.,p. 103.
30 CarloPellegrini,Museum historico-legale
bipartitum,i (Rome,1665),p. 15.
31 'Spinetta est instrumentunnotissimum,quodclauicymbalorum genusest,
totidemchordiscompositum,ac cymbalum,at nonex oricalcho,vt in cymbalo
sit,sedex aere,sei calybe,sonumedit,nontim sonorum,vt cymbalum,cumsit
alteriusfiguraeminoris.& aliquandopannorubeo chordaeoccupantur,ad
effectum,vt submissiussonumedat.' Op. cit.,pp. 26-27.
32 Plessiard, 'Des cordesdu violon',Association franCaisepourl'avancement des
sciences. Congres deLille,1874,2e Groupe(Sciences physiquesetchimiques),'Seance
du 21 aofit 1874,pp. 192-220. I have not been able to find Plessiard'sfirst
name; he is referredto as 'Ingenieuren chef des Ponts et Chausseesen
que la rapidited'executionsur le violon, que le frequentpassage
d'une cordea une autreet le jeu sur doublecorde exigentque l'archetne
rencontrepasplusde resistancesurune cordeque surune autre,c'est-a-dire
que le travailsoit le memepourobtenirle son des quatrecordes.Pourcela le
rapportdestensionsdedeuxcordescons6cutives doit treegala laracinecarrie
de leurintervallemusicalou / 2, puisquepourle violoncet intervalleest

unequinte.'Op.cit.,p. 196.Plessiard seemsnotto haveknownof Riccati'swork.
He foundhisruleby meansof a formulafortheworkQ of thebow:Q = kmtf,
wherek is a constantand m, t and f representthe string'smass,tensionand
3 'I1y a vingtans,la chanterelle a sonintonationqu'avecun poids
de 22 livres,et les autrescordesun peu moins;la chargeetaitdoncd'environ
80 livres.Le diapasons'etaiteleve d'undemi-tondepuis1734;on montaitles
instruments en cordesplusfortes,et l'anglequ'ellesfasaientsurle chevaletetait
plus aigu: de 1Ula necessitede rebarrerles violons.' Francois-Joseph Fetis,
AntoineStradivari luthiercelbre...(Paris,1856),p. 92. Theprefaceexplainsthat
theworkis basedon investigations whichVuillaumehadcarriedout (inItalyas
well as France):Vuillaumealso editedthe book. Fetis employedthe french
pound(= 489.5 grams:H. Doursther,note 2, p. 228).
3 Sebastien-Andre Sibire,Lachelonomie ouleparfaitluthier(Paris,1806),pp.
112-13.(Theviolinwas tuned'auton de la flute'.)Accordingto Plessiard(op.
cit.,p. 213),Sibire'sworkwas basedupon'notesof the luthierLupot'.Albert
Cohen,'A cacheof 18th-century strings'(GSJxxxvi,pp. 37-48), describesa
number3 gauge'Chanterellede Violonp. le C. en Gosseque'(i.e. Francois-
JosephGossec)of whichthe diameter,accordingto Cohen,is 0.70 mm. This
matchesthe evidencefrom Sibireand from Riccati.
36 'Tartinia trouve,par des experiencesfaitesen 1734,que la chargedes
quatrecordessur l'instrumentegalait63 livres.'Op. cit.,p. 92.
37 ,... se trouvealorsentredeuxcordesplusmincesqu'elleet qui sonnent
avecplusd'dclat.On pourraitla filercommela quatrieme,quirendraitles sons
duviolonplushomogenes.Diversessaisisolesde cettesubstitution ontdej' ete
faits.'Op. cit.,p. 197.
38 Brossard, loc.cit.:'if [theD string]is merelyof gutit mustbe atleasttwice
asthickastheA string,butif it is half-overspun with silver,asit almostalways
the casenowadays,it is no thickerthantheA string'.RegardingLaborde(Essai
surla musique, 1780),see EduardMelkus,II violino(Florence,1975),p. 27.
39 'Siano da proporzionarsi adunViolinole corde,comesi vedenellafigura.
Iconismo 2. figura2. A.b.c.d. distese, e distirateda pesi vguali E.f.g.h. Se
toccandole,6 suonandolecon l'arco formerannovn Violino benissimo
accordato,sarannobene proporzionate,altrimenticonuerramutarletante
volte,sintantochel'accordatura riescadi quintadue,perdue,che appuntotale
e l'accordatura del Violino.' SerafinoDi Colco, 'Letteraprima(Venezia,7
Gennaro1690)',Le vegghie di MinervanellaAccademia deFilareti:Per il mesedi
Gennaro1690(Venezia,1690),pp. 32-33. In the sameletterhe describesthe
'Modernaaccordatura di Clauicimbalo'(1/4-comma temperament, fromEbup
to G#).
40 Plessiard's ratiois the geometricmeanbetweenthose of Di Colco and