> Instruments > Viola
The history of the viola goes back to the creation of the family of violins in the16th century in Italy. It is probable that its most direct ancestor was rather the Rebeck, a sort of flat cello with 3 chords, which accompanied the troubadours in their displacements. The oldest existing models are two relatively large violas, which were manufactured by the violin maker Gasparo da Salò.
It was very much used at the beginning of the 17th century. Initially, all the same, two instruments are distinguished: the tenor viola and the viola itself, which both together have created the final form of the viola as we know it today. The tenor viola will have disappeared by the 17th century for reasons of playing. Indeed, its weight and its volume are such that it cannot be played in a virtuoso way as the violin or the cello, thus creating constraints in writing, which are difficult to respect for the composer of string quartets.
Very much used for old works such as Orfeo (1607), the opera of Claudio Monteverdi, the viola became less popular at the end of the 17th century and in the 18th century, where smaller models were preferred. With the revival of the viola in compositions such as the symphony for the viola and the Harold orchestra in Italy (1834) of Hector Berlioz and solo works of Brahms and Schumann, the larger violas came back on the scene. But, from the 18th century, the viola was especially used in chamber orchestras and string quartets.
The viola is an instrument from the family of violin, which is played by resting the instrument on the left shoulder and wedged under the chin. It has four notes tuned to C, G and A (A underneath the fundamental C). It is from two to seven centimetres longer than the violin, tuned one fifth below and the sizes are more varied than those of the violin and the cello. The violas have a full velvety tonality with resonances in a lower register and a rich full tonality in the range from median and superior.
The teaching of the viola is maintained in the academies and schools under the same title as the violin, even if the use of the viola in various musical works proves less interesting : certain composeurs think that this mode of play does not benefit the viola, nor from the proximity of the violin, of which it does not have the same virtuosity, nor from its distance from the cello, from which it cannot produce the multiple-accoustics, and is therefore only employed for its richness of its timbre. Today, the academies and the schools of music teach the viola to all young children. Their apprenticeship cannot be carried out on a full-sized instrument. Teachers use instruments that have been reduced in size (1/', 1/2, or 3/4). Nevertheless, these instruments, which are imported, have a mediocre sonority.
Today, the viola is considered a grand instrument, even if its use is sometimes effected by the view of the composer because of its musical contribution in comparison with that of the violin and the cello. It remains, however, sufficiently unrecognized that its repertoire is extensive and that its warm sonority is greatly appreciated in chamber orchestras.