Contrabass Violin

Carleen M. Hutchins American
Assisted by Donald Blatter American
Assisted by Thomas Coleman American

Not on view

Carleen Maley Hutchins was a teacher, luthier, and scientist who is best known for her acoustical studies of the violin. Among her contributions, Hutchins developed a technique for tuning the top and backs of violins. Known as free-plate tuning, this process allows for the precise refinement of these critical acoustical elements before an instrument is assembled.

Hutchins acoustical studies also led her to create a so-called "New Violin Family." Aided by numerous colleagues, Hutchins introduced a set of eight violins of different sizes based on the proportions of a violin. The traditional violin family—consisting of violin, viola, cello, and bass—have acoustic characteristics and construction that differ from one another. The new family of instruments attempted to create acoustically matched models of these instruments, and to fill perceived gaps above, below, and between the traditional instruments. This work built upon experimental ideas introduced by Fred Dautrich in the 1920s, and furthered by Harvard physicist Frederick A. Saunders in the 1930s and 1940s.

The impetus to create the new family of violins came from the composer Henry Brant, who approached Hutchins with a request to build a finely matched consort of violins. Based on her own acoustical experiments, Hutchins expanded the string section to eight instruments ranging in size from the double bass violin to a tiny treble violin, tuned one octave above the traditional instrument. Brant was so impressed with the new ensemble that he composed a special piece for the instruments that was premiered in New York as part of Max Pollikoff’s 1965 program "Music in Our Time." Subsequent composers have written music for individual, small groups, and the entire Hutchins ensemble.

The contrabass violin is the largest member of the violin octet. It is larger than a traditional double bass. The serial number of this instrument is SUS 177.

Contrabass Violin, Carleen M. Hutchins (Springfield, Massachusetts, 1911–2007 Wolfeboro, New Hampshire), Spruce, maple, American

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