Dr. Carleen Maley Hutchins was an experimental violin maker, Creator and founder of the Hutchins Consort and cofounder of the Catgut Acoustical Society.

Experiments on Violas

Hutchins developed a acoustically balanced viola which she would later call the alto violin. Due to the traditional over the shoulder playing method of the viola there are major acoustic flaws with the instruments as the string length is shorter then ideal and the internal volume of the instrument is also smaller then ideal. Hutchins corrected both of these issues by developing a viola that is played upright and held between the legs much like the cello. Hutchins also tested many designs for an over the shoulder model of the instrument that were capable of greater acoustic balance, but none of the instrument shapes were ergonomic enough to act as good concert level instruments. The vertical viola developed by Hutchins is over 50centemeters long, making for a much taller instruments then is standard. 1)

Violin Octet

Early in her acoustic experiments Dr. Hutchins was inspired to build a set of instruments with various ranges that all had the acoustic balance found in the violin. She was led to this idea by recommendation by Henry Brant in 1957 when he mentioned that violins don't have a clear instrument family like those found in woodwinds. Hutchins saw the many flaws and uneven pitch distribution of the string family and sought to correct these issues by first making the distribution of instruments more even, adding a member between the cello and viola, redesigning the viola so that is is far more acoustically balanced, adding two members above the tuning of the violin and finally making two new members below the cello that take on the range of the contrabass. Taking influence from wind instrument families all of the instruments are evenly distributed two to an octave and all of them are tuned in half octave increments that repeat throughout the range. Her work on creating the violin octet represents the first time that there was a truly balanced consort of string instruments since the viol da gamba family.

The instruments in the Violin Octet are-

Treble Violin

Tuned to G4–D5–A5–E6
The treble violin is tuned one octave above the violin, is a new member tuned like the kit or pochette and is about the size of a 1/4 violin.

Soprano Violin

Tuned C4–G4–D5–A5
The soprano violin is tuned one octave above the viola, another new member somewhat like the violino piccolo and the size of a 3/4 violin.

Mezzo Violin

Tuned to G3–D4–A4–E5
The treble violin is tuned the same as the violin. The instrument has a longer body by 12-22mm with the same string length as a violin.

Alto Violin

Tuned to C3–G3–D4–A4
The Alto Violin has the same tuning as a viola but is played upright like a cello due to the larger body size.

Tenor Violin

Tuned to G2–D3–A3–E4
The tenor violin one tuned octave under the standard violin, and acts like as a similar instrument to the tenor violin or viola da spalla.

Baritone Violin

Tuned to C2–G2–D3–A3
The baritone violin is tuned the same as a cello but has a larger sized larger body.

Bass Violin

Tuned to G1–D2–A2–E3 or A1–D2–G2–C3
The bass violin acts as a new member between the standard tuning of the cello and the double bass with a body about the size of a double bass.

Contrabass Violin

Tuned to C1–G1–D2–A2 or E1–A1–D2–G2 (same as double bass tuning), with one 5 string instrument that is tuned to A0-C1–G1–D2–A2
The contabass violin is tuned like the double bass but with a far larger body to balance the instruments acoustics, notably the instrument stands at over 7 feet tall, and cannot be fully played by short players.


Octets in Use

Her first octet was first presented in 1965. Several further octets were built by Dr. Hutchins and there are currently six full octets and one partial octet in use today throughout the world. 2) Throughout her lifetime Dr. Hutchins made over 100 instruments that are members of the octet, with the majority of the instruments she built being Alto, Mezzo, and Treble violins. The only octet currently is continuous use is the Hutchins Consort located in San Diego, California.

Second Generation Instruments

Several of Dr. Hutchins students have continued to make instruments, including instruments from the octet. Bob Spear has built two full violin octets one of which is in use in New York. 3) Joris Wouters has also built a complete octet in Belgium. The research publish by Dr Hutchins and the Catgut Acoustical Society have also had a huge influence on the industry of violin making. Many of the advancements and improvements made on violins since the 1970s have had some influence from Dr. Hutchins work.

New Methods for Acoustic Tuning

Dr. Hutchins developed new methods for tuning the top and bottom plates of string instruments. This technique called plate tuning paid special attention to the resonate frequency to the top and bottom plate of string instruments in order to find the acoustically optimal behavior of the plates for communicating and amplifying sound into the body. The findings that Dr. Hutchins made were instrumental in creating acoustically balanced string instruments outside of the violin, and directly led to her re imagining of the viola and later her development of the violin octet.

Acoustic issues represented in Research

Three primary innovations of how to construct a string instrument are presented by Dr. Hutchins-

Size and resonant tuning of the front and back plates of an instrument. These plates are tuned in relationship to the playing range of the instruments strings and most of the plates are wider than their orchestral counterparts.
Construction of the internal chamber of the instrument to better match playing range, many of Hutchins' instruments have far wider fronts and backs but are less deep than their orchestral counterparts.
Adjustment of playing length of the strings to match the acoustic range, most of the violin octet have longer fingerboards and strings than their orchestral counterparts.

Academic Career

Hutchins published over 100 papers on acoustics and has authored over 5 books.

Catgut Acoustical Society

The Catgut Acoustical Society formed out of collaboration Dr. Hutchins and several other people who were working with the complex issues of instrument acoustics. Out of these collaborations the group decided to form a society to present their findings. The core principles were to unravel what makes a good string instrument good, with a specific focus on the violin. They wanted to demystify the various secretive practices of violin makers and find scientific principles about string instruments that would produce reliable and repeatable ways to construct well functioning musical instruments. The Catgut Society also had a huge focus on making research into acoustics and instrument making free and available to the public which was uncommon at the time as many of the most skilled aspects of violin making were deeply held trade secrets.


Plans are available for the violin octet on Joe McNalley's website 4)
Hutchins consort website- 5)
Biography on the Catgut Acoustical Society website- 6)
Other earlier attempts to create a more balanced string section include the work of Alfred Stelzner, and Fred L. Dautrich who both built missing members of the string ensemble.
All authentic Hutchins instruments are labelled with a SUS numbers inside of the sound body of the instrument. The SUS number means pig in Latin.
Joe McNalley is the director of the Hutchins Consort and also a scholar of Dr. Hutchins work.
The current Hutchins consort was founded in 1999 after Joe McNalley had a phone conversation with Dr. Hutchins and transported the octet from New Jersey to Southern California.

carleen_hutchins.txt · Last modified: 2023/01/13 12:38 by mete
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