Vuillaume, Jean-Baptiste

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Vuillaume, Jean-Baptiste

Vuillaume, Jean-Baptiste, celebrated French violin maker; b. Mirecourt, Oct. 7,1798; d. Paris, March 19, 1875. He came from a family of violin makers, and learned the trade from his father, Claude Vuillaume (1772-1834). At 19 he went to Paris and worked with Chanot until 1821, and from 1821 to 1825 for Lete, with whom he then entered into partnership. After Lété’s retirement in 1828, Vuillaume worked alone and put his own name on several instruments which he had constructed with the greatest care and fine craftsmanship. Vuillaume, however, was unable to overcome the general distrust of the native product and began manufacturing imitations of Italian instruments. After long and patient labor he placed a “Stradivarius” violin on the market for 300 francs; it bore the master’s label and possessed a full, sonorous tone; he also built a cello priced at 500 francs. The sight of a Duiffoprugcar viola da gamba inspired him with the idea of further imitations, hence the hundreds of “Duiffoprugcar” violins and cellos with their quaint shape, carved scrolls, inlays, and the motto “viva fui in sylvis, etc.” By dint of indefatigable research and experiments, Vuillaume carried the construction of these various instruments to the highest perfection. His own inventions were numerous: in 1849 the huge “Octobasse,” a double bass four meters in length, three-stringed (CC-GG-C), with a special lever-mechanism to aid the left hand (an “octobasse” is in the Museum of the Paris Cons.); in 1855 a viola, which he called the “contre-alto,” with greater strength of tone, but clumsy to play; in 1867 a kind of mute, the “pédale sourdine”; also a machine for manufacturing gut strings of perfectly equal thickness. He also formulated the laws governing the tapering of the stick of the Tourte bow. His brother, Nicolas-François Vuillaume (b. May 21,1802; d. Jan. 16,1876), was also a violin maker. After receiving his training from Jean-Baptiste, he was active in Brussels (1842-76). A nephew, Sébastien Vuillaume (b. June 18, 1835; d. Nov. 17, 1875), was also a violin maker.


R. Millant, J.-B. V., Sa vie et son oeuvre (London, 1972; in Fr., Eng., and Ger.).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire