Elbphilharmonie explains: The mandolin
mit Avi Avital
Origin: Italy (17th century). The type of construction common in Naples established itself as the »classic« mandolin.
Type of instrument: Plucked instrument, subdivision of the lute family.
Material: The mandolin is about 60 cm long and consists of a pear-shaped body, with a short neck featuring frets. It has four courses of doubled strings, which are tuned like those of a violin.
How it is played: Unlike the lute, the mandolin is strummed with a plectrum the size of a coin. To prolong the note artificially, the plectrum is moved to and fro at great speed between the double strings, thus producing the instrument's typical tremolo sound.
Evolution: We don't know exactly where the classic mandolin originated. As long ago as 3000 B.C., the Assyrians and the Arabs were already using lute-like instruments. In Italy as well, the lute was played in ensembles and as an accompaniment, but not until the 17th century. The mandolin in common use today can be traced back to the 15th century. Spreading from Naples, it had its first heyday in Italy from 1700 on, and travelling virtuosi subsequently circulated it in France, Austria, Germany and England, where it fell into disuse, but made a comeback from 1900 onwards. Nowadays there are many mandolin orchestras in Germany.
World-class mandolin playing: Avi Avital in the ElbphilharmonieWatch video