ⓘ Kit violin


ⓘ Kit violin

The pochette is a small stringed instrument of the bowed variety. It is essentially a very small violinlike wood instrument designed to fit in a pocket, hence its common name, the "pochette".

Also known as a pocket fiddle it was developed to be used by dance masters in royal courts and other places of nobility, and by street musicians, from about the 15th century until around the 19th century, with it being esspecially popular in the 1800s. In the past the rebec was used in a similar same way.

A common misconception is that pochettes were intended for children. They were actually conceived for adults; their small size allowed them to be used where the larger violins were too cumbersome to carry, or too expensive to own. The instruments body is very small, but its fingerboard is long relative to the instruments overall size, to preserve as much of the instruments melodic range as possible. Pochettes come in many shapes, with the narrow boat shaped ones called "sardinos" being one of the most common, along with the pear-shaped type. A pochette shaped like a violin is called a "kit violin".


1. Etymology

Trichet is said to have described the pochettes leather carrying case as a poche. Similarly, Mersenne wrote that it was common practice among pochette players such as traveling minstrels or dance teachers to carry the instrument in a pocket. The word "kit" possibly arose from an abbreviation of the word "pocket" to "-cket" and subsequently "kit"; alternatively, it may be a corruption of "cittern" Greek: κιθάρα. The word "Kit" is believed to have first been used in the first quarter of the 16th century England where it was mentioned in Interlude of the Four Elements, c. 1517. It is possible that the word "kit" originally referred to a small rebec, which was used in the same maner at the time in England, but came to belong to the violin shaped pochettes later on as it replaced the rebec.


2. History

Many fiddlers in the eighteenth century used pochettes because of their portability. The pochette or pocket fiddle was used by dance masters not only during dances, but when teaching as well.

The great luthier Antonio Stradivari is known to have made a few pochettes in his career, two are known to have survived to modern times, one possibly in bad shape, and the other on display at the Paris Conservatoire Museum.


3. Sound

The pochette tends to be tuned one octave above a violin. The three string variant specifically tends to be tuned the highest.

Claudio Monteverdi used the "chirp" sound of the pochette to infer bird song in his aria "Ecco pur cha voi ritorno" from the 1607 opera LOrfeo. In the opera they are called violini piccoli alla francese "small French violins".

The Fellowship of Makers and Restorers of Historical Instruments has expressed that a even with a soundpost a violin can not imitate the sound of a pochette enough for the two to be considered the same.


4. Notable players

  • Niel Gow is known to have played a pochette, and reportedly carried one in his pocket whenever he walked from his house in Inver to Blair Castle, where he worked.
  • Thomas Jefferson owned at least two pochettes.

5. Design

Due to being an essental feature of court entertaintment and dance pochettes were often made of expensive materials such as exotic woods, tortis shells or ivory, as well as being decorated with elaborate carvings.

A pochette shaped like a boat is called a sardino or Tanzmeistergeige in Germany, while a violin-shaped one is called a kit.

In general pochettes have a narrower body and longer neck in overall relation to its size compared to other bowed string instruments, they also often lack frets and either have four or three strings. They also often have a distinctly vaulted and arched back. A pochette is distinguishable from the rest of the violin family due to the fact that the neck is an prolongation of the body, instead of simply being attached to it.

The Fellowship of Makers and Restorers of Historical Instruments has expressed that a pochettes strings ought not to be longer than ten inches.


6. Playing

Due to their small size, pochettes cannot be played resting on the chin or shoulder like a violin, and are instead pressed against the chest or along the upper arm, being played with a short bow.