Mutes, or sordini, are used on many instruments to alter the timbre and reduce volume by blocking some of the overtones. For bowed string instruments, mutes are typically objects that are attached to the bridge. These may be made from rubber, leather, wood or metal.
Figure 24.1 – mutes, from left to right, made of leather, boxwood, ebony and rubber
Practice mutes, which cut out even more overtones, are usually made of metal.
Figure 24.2 – practice mutes made of metal, from left to right, to sit on top of the bridge, and to screw onto the bridge
Mutes were used on the baroque violin during the Baroque era, as early as the 17th century, and have remained in regular use since that time. Since the latter half of the 20th century, composers have frequently used variations on mutes, such as Giacinto Scelsi’s mutes, which operate more as a rattling device rather than as a method for making the sound quieter. For further discussion of the use of mutes in contemporary repertoire, see the entry entitled 4. Mute in the Bowing on the wood section of this Catalogue.
Mutes on the baroque violin:
As with modern violinists, baroque violinists in the 21st century may own a variety of mutes, usually made from materials that were available in the Baroque era. On the baroque violin, I usually employ mutes made from leather, boxwood or ebony, depending on which timbre is preferable in the acoustic space in which I am performing. For a particularly hollow sound, a heavy metal practice mute may be suitable.
The following is an example of a G major scale played senza sordino (without a mute) on the baroque violin.
Video 24.1 – G major scale senza sordino
The following is an example of a G major scale with a leather mute on the baroque violin.
Video 24.2 – G major scale with leather mute
The following is an example of a G major scale with a boxwood mute on the baroque violin.
Video 24.3 – G major scale with boxwood mute
The following is an example of a G major scale with an ebony mute on the baroque violin.
Video 24.4 – G major scale with ebony mute
The following is an example of a G major scale with a modern, rubber mute on the baroque violin.
Video 24.5– G major scale with rubber mute
The following is an example of a G major scale with a modern, metal practice mute on the baroque violin.
Video 24.6– G major scale with metal practice mute
“Con sordino” or “con sord.” printed above the relevant passages. If a mute of a specific material, or a metal practice mute, is required, this should be detailed in the legend.
 For an interesting discussion on the development of these mutes, see http://www.uitti.org/scelsi-uitti_resonators.html