Designed to be plucked, struck or bowed the lute can be traced back to Mesopotamia and records indicate it appeared in Spain, ala the Moors around 711 AD.
As we know it today, the mandolin of Italy evolved from the 14th century mandora, a miniature lute that had frets. The mandora – also known as mandolina- was often referred to as the Baroque mandoline or cat-banjo (strung with cat guts). Over time the instrument spread around Europe and continued to be modified, as is the nature of folklore that is adapted by the folk who use it.
The Neapolitan mandolin which originated in Naples, for example was distinguished by an almond-shaped body with a bowled back constructed from curved strips of wood and often bore a tortoise shell strike plate. The Neapolitan style of mandolin construction was adopted and developed by others, notably in Rome, giving two distinct but similar types of mandolin — Neapolitan and Roman.
By the twentieth century the mandolin was a staple of Celtic, bluegrass and jazz. In fact, in America it was thought to be a fad instrument from the turn of the 20th century to the mid-1920s, and was marketed by music teacher-dealers as featured in the popular musical “The Music Man.”
In the United Kingdom it has been a cornerstone of traditional English and Scottish music and has found its way into the British Rock music scene.
The mandolin, now the center of select orchestras that play bluegrass as well as light classical music, has found its place on the folk music landscape and continues to increase in popularity.
Want to hear some mandolin music?