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On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'

Joe Offer 30 Oct 07 - 04:49 PM
greg stephens 30 Oct 07 - 05:14 PM
peregrina 30 Oct 07 - 05:15 PM
peregrina 30 Oct 07 - 05:22 PM
greg stephens 30 Oct 07 - 05:29 PM
peregrina 30 Oct 07 - 05:35 PM
Stewart 30 Oct 07 - 06:00 PM
Stewart 30 Oct 07 - 06:12 PM
Ned Ludd 30 Oct 07 - 06:52 PM
McGrath of Harlow 30 Oct 07 - 07:10 PM
Ned Ludd 30 Oct 07 - 07:25 PM
peregrina 30 Oct 07 - 07:27 PM
peregrina 30 Oct 07 - 08:04 PM
Joe Offer 30 Oct 07 - 08:15 PM
McGrath of Harlow 30 Oct 07 - 08:51 PM
Wilfried Schaum 31 Oct 07 - 02:03 AM
Wilfried Schaum 31 Oct 07 - 02:18 AM
peregrina 31 Oct 07 - 03:16 AM
Wilfried Schaum 31 Oct 07 - 09:44 AM
GUEST,Ned at work 31 Oct 07 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,Truman Price 06 Nov 16 - 12:08 PM
Joe_F 06 Nov 16 - 10:26 PM
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Subject: In silvis viva silui
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 04:49 PM

After she performed in our local symphony concert Saturday night, our friend Lois showed us her "new" violin - which I htink is about 300 years old. The moment I saw it, my impression was that this insturment was something precious and wonderful. I have never seen such a beautiful and delicate instrument.

Inlaid on the back was this inscription:
    In silvis viva silui
    Suaviter
    Jam mortua cano
Which I translated as "In the forest, I lived in silence; now in death I sing sweetly."

Lois wondered about the genesis of this inscription, and whether it would give any hint as to the origin of the inscription. My research didn't lead to the exact wording of the inscription, but I found that a quote with one word different is found quite commonly on violins.

Google led me to the following excerpt from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1894)

Cremona
    Violins of the greatest excellence; so called from Cremona, where for many years lived some makers of them who have gained a world-wide notoriety, such as Andrea Amati and Antonio his son, Antonius Stradivarius his pupil, and Giuseppe Guarnerius the pupil of Stradivarius. Cremona has long since lost its reputation for this manufacture.
      "In silvis viva silui; canora jam mortua cano."
    A motto on a Cremona.
      Speechless, alive, I heard the feathered throng;
      Now, being dead, I emulate their song.
      E. C. B.
    Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

Literally, neither version of the Latin text says anything about birds. I'm not sure how exactly to translate "silui" and "canora," and I haven't found a word that gives an adequate translation for "suaviter" - but I think my translation is far closer to the Latin than Brewer's. Note that the Brewer book cites this as an inscription on just one violin from Cremona - I don't think that it's safe to assume that this is a particular trademark on violins from Cremona, but maybe that's the case.


Anyhow, can anybody tell us more about this passage and where it comes from, and can anybody attempt a more authoritative translation?

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: greg stephens
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 05:14 PM

There is a song on this subject, the very fine "Maple's Lament" by a blugrass singer whose name momentarily escapes me. I'm sure someone will oblige. Sorry, I can't help with the Latin.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: peregrina
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 05:15 PM

silui (from sileo, silere, to be silent) means 'I was silent'.
canora is an adjective used substantivally which means melody or charm.
The English translation is a free one, perhaps in order to include the rhyme.
More literally, this is: (while) alive in the woods I was silent; now, dead, I sing melodies.
I'd guess that there's something in Ovid's Metamorphoses that's relevant. This line reminds me of a very lovely song I heard Peta Webb sing at Whitby about the violin, its wood having been part of a tree in the forest, and then, cut down and dead, able to sing as a violin.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: peregrina
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 05:22 PM

the song that you referred to Greg-can it be Maple's Lament (Laurie Lewis)? (just heard a snippet of it in the itunes shop.)


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: greg stephens
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 05:29 PM

That was the name of it, though I don't remember the name of the original singer. Laurie Lewis sounds feasible. I first heard Kate Barfield singing it. Presume this is the same song Peta Webb sings.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: peregrina
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 05:35 PM

yes it was-great song.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Stewart
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 06:00 PM

The Maple's Lament - Laurie Lewis

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Stewart
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 06:12 PM

You can hear Laurie Lewis sing it here - it's her "song of the month" on her web site.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Ned Ludd
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 06:52 PM

I have one of these violins. Have you any more details ? Scroll? any other decorations etc. Mine is fairly elaborate and French. Made in the Mirecourt workshops. As I understand it is a copy of earier instruments, the inscription being difficult to make sense of as it is often not correct latin.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 07:10 PM

The English translation is a free one, That's over charitable.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Ned Ludd
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 07:25 PM

The inscription on mine is round the ribs.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: peregrina
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 07:27 PM

Yes, sure it is.
But I'm guessing that it might have been pulled off course by some still unidentified familiar-but-now-obscure-fiddle-lore or legend, emblem, tale or such with birds in it.    Anyone?


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: peregrina
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 08:04 PM

woops, my post was replying to McGrath of Harlow's, not Ned Ludd's--


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 08:15 PM

Ned, you have the same inscription? Is it the "suaviter" version, or the "canora"? What's the history of your instrument?
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 30 Oct 07 - 08:51 PM

I'd guess that there's something in Ovid's Metamorphoses that's relevant.

Perhaps the story of the nymph Syrinx who gets transformed into a reed, which is then used by Pan to make the first set of panpipes?


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 31 Oct 07 - 02:03 AM

McGrath - I do not think so; Syrinx would have been mute before the metamorphosis which she surely was not.

I think the inscription might be a new device, not a quotation, aiming to the violins wooden nature. When a tree the wood was mute, worked by man's genius it is now singing.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 31 Oct 07 - 02:18 AM

Canora: plural of canor, -oris, n.: song, melody.
Canorus, -a, -um is the adjective derived from it: containing to song.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: peregrina
Date: 31 Oct 07 - 03:16 AM

my dictionaries give canor, oris as m., so it cannot have an -a ending for accus. plural.
However, looking at the big one, I see that the long entry for the adjective canorus, a, um has a noun canorum, i, which is n.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 31 Oct 07 - 09:44 AM

Vere dixisti.
I'm afraid I have to visit my ophthalmologist for new glasses.

By the way, I prefer suaviter, canora sounds not so well as the classical cantus or canticum - if you find the whineing strings beautiful.
[All fiddlers of this world scratching their strings with all their force won't produce a sound of such majesty like a timpanist with a slight flick of his wrist.]


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: GUEST,Ned at work
Date: 31 Oct 07 - 11:48 AM

Couldn't swear to the exact words as it is out on loan at present. It's a mirecourt copy of a more well known maker. Some time ago it was translated as ' In the woodland I was silent in death I sing.'
It also has a beautifully carved head for the 'scroll' and marquetry panels on the back and sides, the main one depicting a church by a river.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: GUEST,Truman Price
Date: 06 Nov 16 - 12:08 PM

My fiddle also has the same motto inlaid on the back (in very fine workmanship):

   IN SILVIS
   VIVA SILUI

    CANORA

JAM MORTUA
    CANO

The professor I took it to, decades ago, said that is 16th century church Latin and translated thus:

"In the wood ('same word for forest or lumber') I lived, silent.
"Canora doesn't translate.
"Now that I am ['present perfect participle'] dead , I sing."


If Canora doesn't translate, and cano means I sing, then I consider Canora to be the name given to the fiddle, something like Songstress.

My fiddle is, incidentally, a Guarnerius, identical in shape to photos of Ole Bull's Guarneri, but with a single-piece front with the fine grain on the extreme right.


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Subject: RE: On a violin: 'In silvis viva silui'
From: Joe_F
Date: 06 Nov 16 - 10:26 PM

A shorter version is "Arbor viva tacui; mortua cano" (As a living tree I was silent; as a dead one I sing). Google sees it attributed to an "inscription found on an old violin".


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