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An introduction to the Viola d'Amore,


In 1756 Leopold Mozart published A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing. In the introduction, he distinguishes many different kinds of fiddles, the eleventh of which is the Viola d'amore:

'It is a distinctive kind of fiddle which sounds especially charming in the stillness of the evening. Above, it is strung with six gut strings of which the lower three are covered (i.e., are wire-wound like most modern strings), while below the fingerboard are stretched six steel strings, which are neither plucked nor bowed but are there merely to duplicate and prolong the sound of the upper strings.'

While the presence of sympathetic strings for extra resonance has long been considered the defining feature of the viola d'amore, the earliest form of the viola d'amore seems to have had only five wire playing strings and no sympathetic strings at all. The English diarist, John Evelyn, writing in 1679, describes it as follows: '... but above all for its sweetness and novelty the viol d'Amore of 5 wyre strings, plaied on with a bow, being but an ordinary Violin play'd on Lyra way by a german, than which I never heard a sweeter instrument or more surprizing.' According to the German musicologist Kai Koepp, the viola d'amore without sympathetic strings existed long before the generally known type described above by Mozart. The two types co-existed for the first half of the 18th century. The sound of each type has been described as similar. Fuhrmann, writing in 1706, describes the sound of the viola d'amore with wire playing strings using the same words with which Mozart described the gut strung version: 'sounds most lovely in the quiet of the evening.' I tried out wire playing strings on my viola d'amore in a recent performance; the string players noticed the difference in sound of the wire strings and commented on it, the wind players did not.

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Copyright © 11 January 2001 Thomas Georgi, Toronto,Canada





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