Attention!: We have more recent articles about Travel Violins. Better still - See the Travel and Backpacker Fiddle category at the Don Rickert Musician Shop.
If it is Baroque pochettes, violins or violoncellos da spalla you want to see, go to the Baroque Instruments Category at the Don Rickert Musician Shop.
D. Rickert Musical Instruments makes some of the world’s finest Modern Travel Violins (aka Backpacker Fiddles) and more models (6 models currently; one a 5-string). We also make two Pochette models; one a Baroque (early to mid-1700s) and one a Pre-Modern (1780s). All of these instruments are available at the Don Rickert Musician Shop. The article is about the pochettes, and some of the lore associated with them.
These are the 18th Century instruments whose popularity was primarily from the 1750s through the 1780s. The pochette (French for “pocket”) was a small violin. They are also known as “pocket fiddles” and “kit fiddles” (as kitten, implying small). The pochette’s development was driven in large part by itinerant Dancing Masters (private dance instructors), who preferred very portable violins that could be carried, with its short bow, in a sleeve (called a pocket or “pochette”, as many were French) sewn onto the Dancing Master’s coat.
This was the origin of pockets in many items of modern clothing. The Baroque pochette is inspiration for the modern travel violins and fiddles by Don Rickert Musical Instruments.
The Historical-Political Events that Gave Rise to the Profession of Dancing Master (and Indirectly, the Pochette) in the 18th Century.
The Union of Scotland, England (including Wales) and Ireland as Britain occurred in 1707. Queen Anne, who had already acceded to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, became the first monarch of Britain (and last Stuart monarch), as Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland when the Treaty of Union took effect in 1707.
As soon as the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments took place, it became a great priority of most Scottish aristocrats, merchants and any other Scot with even a modicum of wealth to become, well, British. This translated to losing one’s Scottish accent (or at least not requiring a translator; despite the fact that Lowland Scots already spoke a dialect of English) and learning the dance steps of the popular dances in England.
So, in major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, there became a sudden need for elocution (i.e. diction, pronunciation) coaches and dance instructors. The profession of “Dancing Master” was born. Italian and French music teachers who knew anything at all about English dancing dominated the Dancing Master ranks. So now you know what a Dancing Master was.
Dancing Masters typically visited clients’ homes. The successful ones were booked from morning to night. Carrying a full-size violin from appointment to appointment was a real chore, especially given the heft of a case capable of protecting a violin and bow from the Scottish Lowland weather (not pleasant much of the time). Note: There were Dancing Masters in places besides Scotland; however, Scotland after the Treaty of Union was the epicenter, at least during the Baroque and pre-Modern periods.
While small violins that would be identified as pochettes today had been around for many years prior to the era of the Dancing Masters, a dancing master needed an instrument with more volume, a playable string length close to that of a full size violin, and with a small enough girth that it could be carried in a pocket (i.e. pochette) sewn onto the Dancing Master’s coat, along with its bow. These real Dancing Master’s pochettes were about 22 inches long. The bow was usually about the same length, which was rather short, even for the Baroque period.
Famous Players of Pochettes
The two most famous players of pochettes were:
- Niel (aka Neil) Gow (1727–1807), one of the founding fathers of Scottish fiddling
- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), a principle author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd President of the United States
There are very interesting stories related to the pochettes owned by both Gow and Jefferson, but that is the topic of another article.
The 18th Pochette Reproductions Made by D. Rickert Musical Instruments
Glasgow Baroque Pochette
While pochettes came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, this one is based on one with skinny oblong shaped body just a bit shorter than a full size violin, but with a full scale playable string length of about 13 inches. Because there are existing instruments in Scotland of the same basic type, we call this a “Scottish Style” pochette.
This instrument has a thin and raspy sound typical of Baroque pochettes. Such a sound can even be heard emanating from some modern travel violins, which I shall not name). To some, this sound has a certain unique charm. The sound is not unlike that of a Renaissance rebec, which has a very “early music” type of sound.
Some customers desire this earlier Baroque sound in a pochette, which were not known for sounding sweet, powerful or loud. While some pochettes of the late 18th Century had a more or less modern bass bar and sound post, the earlier ones, which our Glasgow Baroque Pochette replicates, has neither. Rather, it and others like it, has a single crude (by today’s standards) bass bar centered under the bridge and NO sound post. The sound holes are also much smaller than later models (like our Neil Gow Pochette), which has a proper bass bar and a sound post. The accompanying images show these differences. The Glasgow Pochette has a period-appropriate surface-mounted neck with some taper (tilt). The default neck for the Glassgow Pochette is modern. A Baroque neck and fingerboard can be fitted (additional charge)
Neil Gow Pochette (aka Dancing Master's Kit, Travel fiddle)
Unlike the purely Baroque Glasgow Pochette, the Neil Gow is based on a high-end 1770s-1780s instrument. It has a bass bar and a sound post. It is strung with period gut strings by Gamut. Its sound is sonorous and sweet, with good mid and low frequency overtones for such a small instrument. Please see the video that accompanies this product listing to here how it sounds and see one way of playing it. It would have generally been played resting on the left arm rather than under the chin as in the video.
It is most likely that Jefferson played the more advanced pre-modern type. It is not known whether Gow played an old instrument or one of the better sounding later models.