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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MANDOLIN AND
In tracing the origin of the mandolin it is necessary to go back to the time when the plectrum was first used on a
stringed instrument (since the plectrum is the one distinguishing feature of the mandolin family, as compared with other
stringed instruments of the present day), a.id this takes us far back into antiquity.
The best authorities are agreed that practically all European instruments originated in various parts of Asia. An
Egyptian painting discovered a few years ago on a tomb on the Eastern bank of the Nile, is said by Sir Gardner Wilkinson
(an eminent authority on the customs of the Ancient Egyptians) to refer to the arrival of Jacob's family in Egypt. As one
of the figures in this painting is depicted playing on a plectral instrument, we must assume that the plectrum on the strings
was employed during the period of Joseph and Pharaoh, 1700 B.C. The Lyre, the first of the stringed species, was a
great favorite of the ancients. According to the pretty myth, its invention is attributed to Mercury. The oldest Lyre,
with three strings, was introduced into Greece from Egypt and was passed on to the Romans, by whom it was used as
extensively as in Greece. There is a celebrated fresc6 at Pompeii representing two Lyre players, one of whom has a
plectrum. The Roman testudo, the seven stringed Lyre, was used in Central and Western Europe at the commencement
of the Christian Era. The Anglo-Saxons also possessed a form of the' Lyre, which was generally or always played with
the plectrum. The word plectrum is derived from a Greek word which means "to strike." Without doubt, the world's
earliest inhabitants soon discovered that they could produce a louder tone by using a piece of wood, bone, or something
of the sort, instead of the fingers in vibrating the strings. It is said by Alexander, the historian, that Olympus brought
to Greece the practice of striking the strings with a quill. It has also been said by authorities that Sapho, the renowned
Grecian poetess, invented the more modern form of plectrum, having carved one from ivory for her own use.
The No/re, an interesting instrument, was a great favorite among the early Egyptians and Assyrians, some three
thousand years ago. This instrument was similar in construction to the Tamboura (the mandolin of the East at the present
It is shown in representations of concerts of the 18th dynasty (b.c. 1575 to 1289) The Nofre affords proof that the
Egyptians had made considerable progress in music at this period. The ancients knew and made use of the fact that
a fretted fingerboard enabled them to produce any number of tones from a single string—a decided advance over all
previous stringed instruments of the lyre and harp family. It is interesting to note in this connection that, so far as ancient
records show, the fretted fingerboard preceded the smooth fingerboard, as exemplified in the violin family, by many
The Nofre had two or four strings and was played with a plectrum, the body being generally oval in form, sometimes
with indented sides. This shows that thirty centuries ago man had already discovered that the tone of a musical instru-
ment was greatly increased by the assistance of a "resonance box," or air chamber.
The Tambour or Tamboura, the modern form of the Nofre, is the favorite instrument throughout Egypt, Syria,
Palestine, Turkey and other Oriental countries at the present time. The instrument has a long neck, with a fretted
fingerboard, the frets frequently being made of "cat gut," the body being small and entirely of wood.
The strings are of wire and it is played with a plectrum. This instrument is said to have made its advent into West-
ern Europe at the Moorish invasion of Spain, in A.D. 710—some form of it (most likely the Algerian Tambour, which
greatly resembles the modern mandolin) having being brought into Italy when the Spanish, under Gonsalvo de Cordova,
entered Naples about A.D. 1500. From this time, according to Italian authorities, the direct lineage of the modern Nea-
politan and Roman mandolins is traced, they being the direct descendants of the Tamboura.
The earliest form of the Neapolitan mandolin differs in several respects from its present day form. For example,
pegs were used to adjust the strings, in place of the machine-head, while the fingerboard ended at the twelfth fret, where
the neck joins the body of the instrument, the additional frets being laid in the top or sounding-board. The E and A
strings were of gut, while the D and G were practically the same as the modern strings.
For the perfected form of the Neapolitan mandolin we are indebted entirely to the inventive genius of Pasquale
Vinaccia (1806-1882), who gave us every point of difference between the antique and the modern forms. It was he
who remodelled and extended the fingerboard; introduced wire strings and substituted the machine-head. Italy is known
to the present day as the home of the mandolin, and it is to this country that we are indebted for many of the master-
pieces in its literature, as well as for many of its greatest virtuosi.
Strange as it may seem from the foregoing, the first instrument of the mandolin family to be introduced into America
was not the Neapolitan mandolin, which has come to be the recognized form in this country as well as abroad, but the
Spanish mandolin, known as the bandurria. This instrument was brought to this country in 1879 by a band of Spanish
musicians from Madrid, calling themselves the Figaro Spanish Students, under the management of the famous impressario
This band of musicians toured the country and created a furore by their playing, many people believing that they
played the mandolin. The bandurria or Spanish mandolin differs materially from the Neapolitan and flat-back models
used in America and most other countries at the present time.