A brief history of the Mandolin
The mandolin is a descendent of a small lute, an instrument common in Renaissance times.
It first appears in French literature in 1585, and Italy in 1589 to describe a lute-like instrument. Some of the oldest surviving mandolins were made by the famous violin maker Stradivarius in the late 1600s.
The mandolino, or Baroque mandolin was a part of the lute family. It usually had six courses, or pairs of strings.The modern mandolin has four courses.
Baroque mandolins played along with lutes, harpsichords and harps as well as bowed strings.
During Baroque times – around 1600 to 1750 – the mandolino was a relatively common instrument and many composers wrote for it.
The best known composer for the Baroque mandolin is Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Vivaldi composed a single and a double mandolin concerto.
The roundback Neapolitan mandolin first appeared in Naples from the 1744 onwards.
In 1835 Pasquale Vinaccia designed a round back mandolin more suited to steel string (thus allowing a stronger sound). This instrument was tuned like a violin and that has remained the standard tuning to this day. The metal strings are plucked with a plectrum.
Some of the most famous composers for mandolin include Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet, Bizet and Mahler who included mandolin in some of his symphonies as well as 'Dos Lied von Die Erde'.
Italian immigration brought the mandolin to the USA in the late 1800's and other European mandolin groups and players also toured the USA.
The Gibson company, in Kalamazoo, Michigan popularised the mandolin in the U.S. In the 1920s,Gibson and Lloyd Loar produced The F style models which have F holes like a violin. These instruments are used extensively to this day by bluegrass and folk musicians as well as classical players.
They have a larger resonating chamber than the round backs and are generally louder, stronger instruments.