The inventors of the violin wanted the instrument to imitate the human voice, music historians have claimed in a new study.

The violin is an ancient instrument and was initially developed in its modern form in northern Italy in the early 1500s.

Researchers at National Taiwan University have assessed that key design features of early violins were chosen to emulate the human voice.

Their study compared a professional violinist playing 15 antique instruments with 16 human vocalists, eight male and eight female.

The antique violins included one created in 1570 by Andrea Amati, the father of the modern four-string violin.

Amati's design would later be improved upon by Antonio Stradivari, who is believed to have produced just over 900 violins during his life.

Stradivarius violins are considered by many to be the finest stringed instruments ever created and have been purchased at auction for more than £11m.

A potential solution to the mystery of their beautiful sound was found by the researchers using the vocalists, who sang common English vowels for acoustic analysis.

The Amati violin from 1570 and a Gasparo da Salo violin dated from 1560 were found to mimick the basses and baritones of male singers.

This raises "the possibility that master violinmakers from this period may have designed violins to emulate male voices," according to the researchers.

"In contrast, Stradivari violins were marked by elevated formants, making them relatively more similar to female voices," such as altos, they added.

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"These properties may explain the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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