The early cello was unusually large, with a body length that exceeded 31 inches (79 cm) and was required to concentrate sound volume on the highly flexible С and G strings of roped Catline gut. With an overly long vibrating string length, fingering was difficult and a very heavy bow was required to achieve articulation. The viola also emerged as a large instrument, the tenor. With a body length of more than 18 inches (46 cm), the tenor viola had a short neck, a feature allowing the instrument to be held on the shoulder with the left arm almost completely extended. The instrument was tuned с g d' a', an octave above the cello.

Violin proportion became largely standardized as we know it today in the 17th century, with a body length of roughly 14 inches (35.5 cm). The viola and cello were, however, still in development. It was probably the brothers Amati who reduced the size of the tenor viola to the contralto, still with tenor tuning (c g d' a') but with a body length under 17 inches. Such an instrument from their hand emerged as early as 1616 and had a body 16% inches long. The small cello, destined to become a guide for the great Venetian makers in the late 17th and 18th centuries, was possibly created in the first quarter of the 17th century by Maggini in Brescia. The short body length (less than 30 inches) of the small cello was compensated with a broadening of the outline and higher ribs to retain interior volume. Maggini's violins were a strong influence on makers throughout Europe, but his death in 1632 marked the end of violin making in Brescia.

After Girolamo Amati's death in 1630, his son Nicolo (1596-1684) became the most prominent maker in Italy. Demand for Nicolo's violins forced the creation of a full shop with apprentices after 1640. His development of channeling and other arching details led to an improvement in musical quality, and his influence as a teacher created a new generation of gifted .makers, including Andrea Guarneri, Francesco Ru-geri, and Antonio Stradivari. Jacob Stainer may also have received his training in part from Nicolo Amati.

New richness of sound resulted in part from highly built archings of the table and back. Instruments of great reputation with such archings were made by Jacob Stainer (ca. 1617-83), of Absam in the Austrian Tyrol. His instruments of German model rivaled and in many ways surpassed the instruments of the brothers Amati in Cremona. Until the 19th century, Stainer violins were considered among the very best and were widely imitated throughout Europe.

It was Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), however, who refined and finalized the form, symmetry, and beauty of the violin. He is universally recognized as the greatest violin maker in history. After 1690, he departed from the popular Amati models, creating the "long-pattem" (145/i6 inches) violin. About the same time, string technology leapt forward as plain gut and Catline strings were covered with metal wire. Covered strings created quicker response and concentration of sound with increased mass and tension, allowing the lower register to become greatly focused with shorter vibrating length. With covered strings, the cello and tenor could be reduced in size without sacrifice of  musical quality. The tenor violin disappeared in favor of the smaller contralto viola; large cellos were also replaced with instruments of less than 30-inch body length.

Aware of the implications of concentrating sound with the new covered strings at higher tension, Stradivari abandoned the "long-pattern" after 1700, creating a new model of exactly 14 inches (35.5 cm), with strong, flatter archings. He also applied these proportions to a smaller cello of 297/e inches. Both models in this new form have remained the standard of excellence to the present. What has become known as Stradivari's golden period extended from 1700 until after 1724.

By 1675, makers were experimenting with instrument tension, finding that setting the neck back at an angle from the body and correspondingly increasing the bridge height were helpful in concentrating the sound of plain gut strings [Fig. 2b]. The neck also became longer to increase overall vibrating string length. The advent of covered strings by 1700 spurred further experimentation with neck angles and length of vibrating string. In Prague and Mittenwald, in the course of work on models influenced by Stainer, the neck length increased slowly to 12.8 cm, and the neck tilt continued to increase. The new string tensions created the need for longer and higher bass-bars and thicker sound posts. Makers experimented widely with bass-bar location and grain direction, seeking to amplify violin sound.

Paris in the 18th century exerted a strong influence on the development of violin sound. Claude Pierray, Jacques Boquay, and Jean Baptiste Salomon continued experiments with violin tension and neck placement and with others evolved a French neck that was by 1740 even longer (13.4 cm) than the established standard today [Fig. 2c], with an extended string length and thin body graduations producing unusual clarity, response, and brilliance. Louis Lagetto even attempted full-size tables with short backs (like a %-size violin) in hopes of increasing sound clarity and projection.

Despite change and innovation, the violins of Nicolo Amati and Jacob Stainer remained the most sought-after instruments until the end of the 18th century. Although golden-period Stradivari were acclaimed for their perfection of form, the increased projection of flatter archings on these and the violins of Giuseppe Guarneri ("del Gesu," 1698-1744) was not truly appreciated until the 19th century, when bigger sound and projection were required for larger concert halls and the new, demanding concerto literature.

The 19th century firmly established the basic violin in use today. The modern *bow had been invented by Francois Tourte (1747-1835) with a weight, length, and balance capable of achieving increased power on the higher tensions of the violin. Instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries were already being "modernized" with respect to neck and bass-bar by the great maker and connoisseur J. B. Vuillaume (1798-1875). Stradivari's reputation gained momentum through the musicianship of Viotti, and the playing of Paganini brought acclaim to the work of Guarneri.

The combined thickness of neck and fingerboard, difficult for the player to negotiate in the 17th century because it increased toward the body, had become virtually uniform on the modern instrument, and this, together with Spohr's invention of the chin rest around 1820, made holding the instrument and shifting positions with the left hand easier and cleared the way for modern playing technique. Beginning in the 20th century, the plain gut d' and a' have been wound with aluminum, and the e" has been fabricated of steel wire to provide clarity, power, and projection. The geometry of the neck [Fig. 2d] in relation to the height of the bridge, however, has remained largely unchanged. Although instruments by Stainer are no longer widely popular, their delicacy of sound is being sought after again by specialists in the re-creation of Baroque music, who use original instrumentation and Baroque performance practice.

Experimental improvements of violin acoustics by Francois Chanot and Felix Savart in the 19th century have proved to be unsuccessful. The Ritter viola in tenor size also has attracted little attention. Lionel Tertis developed a viola with improvements in playing ease in the 1950s; and in the 1960s and 70s, Car-leen Hutchins developed a new group of eight bowed stringed instruments designed to provide acoustic improvement over the entire musical range. Instruments by the Cremonese, and Stradivari in particular, remain the unchallenged masterpieces, however.


Tenor violin
The tenor-voiced instrument of the violin family, largely unknown today. The violin (treble), viola (alto), and cello (bass) with the double bass complete the modem bowed string ensemble. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the viola existed in two sizes, known as the tenor and the contralto. In its larger compass, the tenor violin was tuned in fifths upward from F or G, an octave below the violin, and was sometimes large enough to be placed vertically like a small cello.


By the 17th century, the tenor was simply a very large viola with a short neck, in contrast to the smaller viola alto; both were tuned in fifths from c, an octave above the cello. But the larger tenor usually played in a lower tessitura, because plain gut and Catline strings could not easily concentrate the sound of the c string on the contralto. An instrument grouping would have included two violins, a contralto, tenor, and cello. The tenor was so large that it was taxing to hold the instrument when playing in first position.

As late as 1690 in Cremona, Antonio Stradivari was constructing instruments in both sizes. Plans for a tenor viola, marked TV, were used in making several instruments, including the famous Tuscan or “Medi-cea” tenor, now in the City Museum of Florence, with a body length of 47.9 cm. In contrast is his plan for the smaller TA or contralto viola with a body length of 41.1 cm. It is clear that these two forms of the viola were in common usage as labeled by Stradivari in these plans from the Della Valle Collection, now in the Civic Museum of Cremona.

With the development of covered strings by the 18th century, the sound of the lower register in the viola contralto could be concentrated and focused to a greater extent with shortened string length. For the cello, improved string technology and players’ technique in upper registers allowed extension of its practical range into and through that of the tenor.

An experimental search for an enlarged viola sound continued into the 18th century. The tenor violin was revived by Johann Ritter in his viola-alto with versions having four or five strings, but again the extremely long body length made the instrument impractical. The idea of a balanced grouping of instrument sizes and proportions has been revived by the work of Carleen M. Hutchins of Montclair, New Jersey, who has introduced a violin family of eight instruments, including a tenor violin, held vertically and tuned as was its 16th-century counterpart, in G with ascending fifths, an octave below the violin. 

Violino piccolo
[It.; Ger. Quartgeige, Terzgeige]. A small violin with a body length of roughly 33 cm (13 in.), similar to a %-size child's instrument. It is known to have been used in the 16th and 17th centuries and was tuned a third or fourth higher than the normal violin. Such instruments have a clear, bright sound at higher tunings and allow comfortable playing in a higher register with lower left-hand positions and limited position-shifting technique. Bach wrote for one in the first Brandenburg Concerto, with the instrument tuned up a third. As techniques for playing in higher positions were developed, the violino piccolo fell out of use. The instrument is frequently difficult to identify because of its similarity to small violins intended for use by children.                                          

[Sp.]. (1) Bass viol, double bass viol. (2) An organ stop of flute scale with stopped pipes. 

[Ft]. See Tenor violin.

[It.]. A *tenor violin built by Alfred Stelzner beginning in 1891, measuring about 71 cm (28 in.) andtunedGdae'.


[Fr. violon; Ger. violine, Geige; It. violino; Sp. violin]. A bowed stringed instrument consisting of a hollow resonating wooden body with an attached neck and pegbox. Its four strings are tuned in fifths, g d' a' e". The body is distinguished by rounded shoulders where it joins the neck and by indented center bouts, which allow free bow clearance when playing on the outer strings. An extended, fretless fingerboard over the neck is used for stopping the strings with the fingers of the left hand. A bow, with its ribbon of rosined horsehair, sets the strings in motion, and this string vibration is transmitted through the bridge to the table (top, belly) and resonating body, thereby creating the instrument's characteristic sound [see Fig. 1].

Fig. 1. Violin: cross-section and front view.

I. Construction. The violin table is traditionally fashioned from European spruce, a soft wood similar to pine and grown in cool mountain elevations that produce trees with compact, fine, even grain. The violin back, ribs, and neck are usually of maple, less often of poplar or willow, and very rarely of ash, chestnut, or beech. One special element of beauty in the violin is the choice of figured (flame) wood for the back. The grain of the back, like the table, runs longitudinally, but the figure is more or less at right angles. Although similar figured maple is used for the ribs, maple of milder figure is often used for the neck, pegbox, and scroll, where string tension could cause warping in weaker, highly figured wood. Recognition of specifically figured maple or even-grained spruce can be helpful in instrument identification and dating.

The interior blocks and linings are usually of spruce or willow, chosen for lightness and resistance to splitting. Blocks strengthen the instrument at the rib corners and at areas of string tension in the bottom where the strings are fastened by the tailpiece and at the top with the joining of the neck. Linings (six) allow an increased gluing surface between the thin ribs (usually 1 mm in thickness), table, and back.

The table and back are carved and shaped to form archings and then hollowed inside to maximize vibrations, while retaining sufficient strength to sustain string tension. The edges extend slightly beyond the ribs to allow a delicate rounding of the form and to accentuate the shape of the body. Sound holes, called F holes, are cut in the spruce top both for beauty and for sound production. The body is ornamented with an inlay of purfling to emphasize the outline of the table and back and to aid in preventing cracks on the edges from continuing into the body of the instrument. Pur-fling also affects sound by increasing edge flexibility.

The spruce bass-bar is fitted longitudinally beneath the left or g-string side under the bridge foot and glued in place under mild tension. It influences sound while strengthening the table against string pressure exerted by the bridge. The sound post, also of spruce, is fitted between the table and back, near the right or treble bridge foot, and is held in place by string pressure. The sound post is readily movable, and its adjustment has a significant influence on musical quality and bow response, transmitting vibration of the strings to the maple back.

The bridge is fitted to the arching of the table between the inner notches of the F holes and is held in place by string tension. From the button (endpin), which is set into the bottom block for strength, a tail-gut of gut, nylon, or wire passes over a protective saddle and is secured to the tailpiece. The strings, fastened to the tailpiece, pass over the bridge, above the fingerboard, along fixed notches in the top-nut, and on to the four tuning pegs. Modern strings are usually of lamb gut wound with silver wire on the g and aluminum wire on the d' and a', and plain steel of considerable tension for brilliance of sound on the e". Pegs, button, and tailpiece are usually of ebony, rosewood, or boxwood. The fingerboard, top-nut, and saddle are of ebony.

Varnish preserves the wood and protects it from wear and dirt while providing a flexible penetrating "blanket" that has a profound influence on sound. Excessively hard and brittle varnishes tend to emphasize brightness of tone, whereas overly soft varnish inadequately resists wear and abrasion. During the 17th century in northern Italy, especially in Cremona, varnish was developed with a nearly perfect combination of flexibility, texture, and lustrous depth of color. The basic formula was common knowledge in the 17th and early 18th centuries, but by 1750 it was lost. Research and experimentation by makers and scientists since then have failed to rediscover the process and ingredients for making the classical varnish and to explain the exact means by which it influences sound.

II. History. It is unlikely that the violin was developed by a single craftsman. Its antecedents include the medieval fiddle, rebec, and lira da braccio. By at least 1520, the violin with only three strings was in existence, judging from iconography of the period. One is depicted in a painting of 1529 by Gaudenzio Ferrari. By 1550, the fourth string, the top e", had been added. Between 1520 and 1550, the viola and cello also emerged, completing the family of bowed stringed instruments still in use. There is no concrete evidence to support the popular theory that the viola was developed prior to the violin and cello.

The violin probably emerged in Cremona and Brescia. Andrea Amati (before 1511-before 1580), who founded violin making in Cremona and established its preeminence there, developed the basic proportions of the violin, viola, and cello. His sons Antonio (ca. 1540-?) and Girolamo (Hieronymous) (1561-1630) continued his work, refining the style of the body outline, F holes, purfling, and scroll. Antonio and Girolamo evidently worked together and often labeled their instruments jointly; they are believed to have developed the contralto viola, a small form of the tenor viola and still the standard of viola dimension.

In 1562, Gasparo da Salo (1540-1609) moved from Said to Brescia, where there already existed a tradition of lute, viol, and keyboard instrument making. Here Gasparo produced many fine tenor violas, violins, and double basses. His violas frequently bear double inlays of purfling and elaborate purfled geometric ornaments copied and modified by makers throughout Europe. Gasparo's student Giovanni Paolo Maggini (ca. 1580-ca. 1632) became the most famous Brescian maker of violins and cellos, and his work strongly influenced makers in the 17th century.

Before 1600, instruments with body lengths both larger and smaller than the eventual standard of 14 inches (35.5 cm) were being produced. Bridge placement and vibrating string length also varied as makers sought to improve the quality of sound produced by strings of plain gut. Although twisted plain gut worked reasonably well for the top two strings, e" and a', it was much too slack for the lower d' and g strings. Roped strings from multiple strands of twisted gut, called Catlines, were more successful than plain gut, but spoke slowly under the bow and lacked focus and concentration of sound . The violin neck was short and simply extended in a straight projection from the upper edge of the table. The fingerboard was also short and wedge-shaped to allow string elevation for a low bridge that exerted only gentle downward string pressure onto the table of the instrument [Fig. 2a]. Bass-bars were frequently small and short, and the sound post is believed to have been quite thin, probably less than 5 mm in diameter. Plain gut strings did not make heavier structuring necessary, and instruments tended to be warm and resonant in musical quality, though somewhat lacking in power and projection


1. Violoncello.   2. Violin.   3. Viola.   4. Double bass.

Fig. 2. Changing geometry of the violin.

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto E Minor OP.64 



[fr. It. viola da gamba; Fr. viole; Ger. Gambe; Sp. viola de gamba]. Any of a family of fretted, bowed stringed instruments in use from the 16th through much of the 18th century; also viola da gamba, gamba. The Italian term viola da gamba (leg viol) distinguishes the instruments of this family, which are played upright, resting on or between the legs, from instruments termed viola da braccio, which are played on the arm. In addition to its seven gut frets, the usual distinguishing features of the viol are sloping shoulders, a fiat back with a section that slopes toward the neck, deep ribs, sound holes in the shape of а с rather than an f six (or, in the case of the French basse de viole, seven) strings tuned in fourths except for a major third between the two middle strings, and relatively wide and flat bridge and fingerboard.


1. Viola da gamba (bass viol).   2. Viola d'amore.   3. Baryton.

The shape of the viol varied considerably, however. Like other instruments of its period, including the violin, its strings are lighter and under less tension than those of the modern violin family. The bow is held with the palm upward, and its stick curves slightly away from the hair.

Terminology and tunings were often inconsistent for the viol, especially in the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, however, there were in general three standard sizes: the treble [Fr. dessus de viole], tuned d g c' e' a' d" and supported on the knees; the tenor [Fr. tattle de viole], tuned G с f a d' g' and held between the legs; and the bass [Fr. basse de viole], tuned D G с e a d' or Ai D G с e a d' and also held between the legs. A chest of viols ordinarily included two of each type. The terms viola da gamba and gamba now usually refer to the bass. Other sizes and types included a smaller, higher-pitched instrument, often with five strings tuned gc'e'a' d", termed a descant or pardessus de viole; the double-bass viol [Fr. contre-basse de viole; It. violone], tuned an octave below the bass; the division viol [It. viola bastarda], a bass viol slightly smaller than the normal consort viol and used for playing divisions; and the lyra viol, a still smaller bass viol with a somewhat flatter bridge, played in a variety of tunings, and for which a considerable literature in a polyphonic style was composed in 17th-century England. More distant relatives include the viola d'amore and the baryton.

The viol originated in late 15th-century Spain under the influence of the playing technique of the Arabic rabab, which was held upright on the knee. Medieval fiddles played in this way and sometimes termed medieval viols died out in the 14th century and are thus not the ancestors of the Renaissance instrument. Although the viol therefore predates the violin by about half a century, the two instrumental families coexisted for nearly 250 years. The oft-asserted claim that the cello "evolved" from the bass viol is simply erroneous.

The first treatise on viol playing was Silvestro Ganassi's Regola rubertina (Venice, 1542; facs., BMB sez. 2, 18, 1970; trans. Bodig, 1981-82), which also includes the first published music for solo viol. Diego Ortiz's Trattado de glosas of 1553 is devoted to improvising divisions or ornaments, often on polyphonic vocal models, which constituted the principal repertory of 16th-century viol consorts. The end of the 16th century saw the viol lose ground to the violin, especially in Italy. But the viol was well established in England by this time and gave rise to a large and varied repertory there.

In the late 17th century and most of the 18th, French performers and composers of viol music were the most celebrated in Europe. These included Marin Marais (1656-1728), Antoine Forqueray (1671 or 1672-1745), Louis de Caix d'Hervelois (d. ca. 1760), and Jean-Baptiste Forqueray (1699-1782). Perhaps the last great performer and composer of viol music, however, was the German Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-87), active from 1758 in London (where he produced concerts jointly with J. C. Bach).

Other German composer-performers included August Kiihnel (1645-ca. 1700), Johannes Schenck (1660-ca. 1712), and Ernst Christian Hesse (1676-1762). J. S. Bach employed the viol as an obbligato instrument in a number of vocal works (including arias in the St. Matthew and St. John Passions) and composed three sonatas for viol and harpsichord (BWV 1027-29, ca. 1720).By the mid-18th century, the bass viol gave way to the cello in ensembles, and it soon ceased to be cultivated widely as a solo instrument. The extensive modern revival of the viol dates from the end of the 19th century and the work of Arnold Dolmetsch.


Telemann - Viola Concerto in G major

Viola. (1)
[It., Sp.; Fr. alto; Ger. Viola, Hole, Bratsche].The second-highest member of the violin family. Its four strings are tuned cgd'a',a fifth below those of the violin, and its music is normally notated in the alto clef. The viola varies in size, with a body length of from 38 to 44 cm (15 to 17% in.). It is thus larger than the violin (which has a normal body length of 35.5 cm), but not as much larger as would be necessary if the violin's ratio of size to pitch were to be maintained. This facilitates its being played on the shoulder but results in tonal characteristics different from the violin's, notably a less rich and powerful sound in the extreme low register. The viola is otherwise similar in construction to the violin.For the early history of the
viola and relatively recent designs of larger size, see Violin II, Tenor violin; see ill. under Violin.

In the orchestra, it is the second highest of the four bowed stringed instruments, and its part lies below the two violin parts and above the parts for the violoncello and double bass. In the string quartet, it has the second lowest part, lying below those of the two violins and above that of the violoncello. In the string trio, it has the middle part, between those for violin and violoncello. Although it has played an important role in orchestral and chamber music since the 18th century, its solo repertory remains limited. Orchestral works with solo viola include Mozart's Sinfonia concertante K. 364 (320d), Berlioz's Harold en Italie, and Richard Strauss's Don Quixote and concertos by Walton, Bartok (posthumous), Hindemith (himself a violist), and Piston.

Viola. (2)
[It.] In the 16th and 17th centuries, any bowed stringed instrument. If played on the arm, such an instrument was a
viola da braccio (whence the German Bratsche); if played on or between the legs, it was a viola da gamba.

Viola alta
[It.; Ger. Altgeige].A large viola (body length about 48 cm with the exact proportions of the violin) built by Karl Adam Horlein according to the specifications of the violist Hermann Ritter and exhibited in 1876. It was used in the orchestra at Bayreuth. In 1898, Ritter had a fifth string added, tuned e".

Viola bastarda
[It.]. Division viol. An English bass viol, smaller than the normal bass, but larger than the lyra viol, used in playing divisions.

Viola da braccio
[It. braccio, arm]. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a bowed stringed instrument played on the arm, as distinct from one played on or between the legs (viola da gamba); thus, any of several instruments of the violin family, as distinct from viols. See also Viola.

Viola da gamba
[It. gamba, leg]. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a bowed stringed instrument played on or between the legs, as distinct from one played on the arm (viola da braccio); thus, any of the members of the viol family. Since the 17th century, the term (now often abbreviated gamba) has most often designated the bass viol; see ill. under Viol.

Viola d'amore
[It.; Fr. viole d'amour; Ger. Liebes-geige]. A bowed stringed instrument prominent in the late 17th and 18th centuries, approximately the size of the viola and played on the shoulder, but with the body of a viol and most often provided with *sympathetic strings. The pegbox terminates in the figure of a head, the fingerboard is fretless, and the sound holes are in the shape of flaming swords [see ill. under Viol].

Typical 18th-century examples have six or seven gut playing strings and a corresponding number of metal sympathetic strings that pass through the bridge and under the fingerboard to the pegbox. Early in the century, tunings varied considerably. By the end of the century, a widely used tuning was A d a d' f#' a' d", the sympathetic strings being tuned in unison or at the octave with the playing strings. Music for the instrument was often notated in scordatura, as if the highest four strings were tuned like the four strings of the violin. A 17th-century type is slightly smaller and has metal playing strings and no sympathetic strings.

Composers who wrote for the instrument in the 18th century include Attilio Ariosti (a leading player of the first half of the century), Alessandro Scarlatti, Telemann, Bach (Cantatas 152 and 205 and the St. John Passion), Graupner (including nine concertos), Vivaldi (eight concertos), Carl Stamitz (a virtuoso of the second half of the century), Quantz, and Haydn. A much sparser repertory from the 19th and 20th centuries includes works by Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots), Puccini (Madama Butterfly), Charpentier (Louise), Richard Strauss (Sinfonia domestica), and Hindemith (a sonata op. 25 no. 2 and a concerto op. 46 no. 1).

Viola da spalla
[It., spalla, shoulder]. In the early 18th century, a small cello with four to six strings held against the chest by a shoulder strap. By mid-century, the term was synonymous with cello, in contradistinction to viola da gamba.

Viola di bordone, viola paradon
[It.]. Baryton. The baryton is a bowed string instrument similar to the viol, but distinguished by an extra set of plucked strings. It was in regular use in Europe until the end of the 18th century.

Viola di fagotto
[It.]. Fagottgeige.  [Ger.; It. viola difagotto]. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a viola tuned like a cello and played on the arm. Its name derived from its use of overspun strings that produced a buzzing sound similar to that of bassoon. 

Viola pomposa
[It.]. A viola of the mid-18th century, with five strings tuned either с g d' a' e" or perhaps d g d' g' c". The only surviving works for the instrument are two duets with flute by Telemann, a concerto by Graun, and a sonata by Cristiano Lidarti. Graun and Heinrich Koch also use the term violino pomposo. In the late 18th century, its invention was incorrectly attributed to Bach, perhaps because of confusion with the violoncello piccolo.

Viola tenore
[It.]. Tenor violin. The tenor-voiced instrument of the violin family, largely unknown today. The violin (treble), viola (alto), and cello (bass) with the double bass complete the modern bowed string ensemble. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the viola existed in two sizes, known as the tenor and the contralto. In its larger compass, the tenor violin was tuned in fifths upward from F or G, an octave below the violin, and was sometimes large enough to be placed vertically like a small cello.

By the 17th century, the tenor was simply a very large viola with a short neck, in contrast to the smaller viola alto; both were tuned in fifths from c, an octave above the cello. But the larger tenor usually played in a lower tessitura, because plain gut and Catline strings could not easily concentrate the sound of the с string on the contralto. An instrument grouping would have included two violins, a contralto, tenor, and cello. The tenor was so large that it was taxing to hold the instrument when playing in first position.

As late as 1690 in Cremona, Antonio Stradivari was constructing instruments in both sizes. Plans for a tenor viola, marked TV, were used in making several instruments, including the famous Tuscan or "Medicea" tenor, now in the City Museum of Florence, with a body length of 47.9 cm. In contrast is his plan for the smaller ТА or contralto viola with a body length of 41.1 cm. It is clear that these two forms of the viola were in common usage as labeled by Stradivari in these plans from the Delia Valle Collection, now in the Civic Museum of Cremona.

With the development of covered strings by the 18th century, the sound of the lower register in the viola contralto could be concentrated and focused to a greater extent with shortened string length. For the cello, improved string technology and players' technique in upper registers allowed extension of its practical range into and through that of the tenor.

An experimental search for an enlarged viola sound continued into the 18th century. The tenor violin was revived by Johann Ritter in his viola-alto with versions having four or five strings, but again the extremely long body length made the instrument impractical. The idea of a balanced grouping of instrument sizes and proportions has been revived by the work of Carleen M. Hutchins of Montclair, New Jersey, who has introduced a violin family of eight instruments, including a tenor violin, held vertically and tuned as was its 16th-century counterpart, in G with ascending fifths, an octave below the violin.

[Fr.]. Viol; viole d'amour, viola d'amore.

[dim. of viol]. In the 16th century, the violin. English violet. A type of  viola d'amore as having 14 sympathetic strings.

[Fr.]. A large viola, held like a cello, constructed by R. Parramon of Barcelona in 1930; also termed alto moderne.

[It]. Any of a variety of bowed stringed instruments. At the time of the emergence of the violin, Lanfranco in 1533 uses the term violetta to describe what is probably an early form of the violin, i.e., a three-string instrument without frets. Such an instrument is depicted in a painting by Gaudenzio Ferrari, ca. 1530, documenting the basic form of the instrument with corners and stylized F holes and with shallow ribs unlike those of instruments of the viol family. In the 17th and 18th centuries, violetta refers to the viola, particularly in Germany; violetta marina to the viola d'amore. The term English violet probably also derives from violetta.  




Violoncello, cello

[It., diminutive of violone; Ger.; Fr. violoncelle; Sp. violoncelo, violonchelo]. The bass instrument of the violin family. Its four strings are tuned C G d a, an octave below those of the viola. The cello has a body length of 74-76 cm (29-30 in.) and an overall length of ca. 120 cm (47 in.). It is played between the legs, its weight being supported on the floor by the endpin, and it is bowed with the palm downward. Except for its deeper ribs, it is similar in proportions and contruction to the violin [see ill. under Violin].


The cello emerged in the early 16th century along with the violin and viola and was first distinguished as the bass member of this family by terms such as basso di viola da braccio, Bass-Klein-Geig, and basse de violon. The terms violoncino and violoncello date from the mid- to late 17th century. In the 18th century in Austria and southern Germany, it was often termed Bassetl or Bassett. The modem tuning is described by 16th-century writers, as is a tuning a whole step lower that survived into the 18th century in England and France. Throughout the 17th century and into the early 18th, the cello sometimes had five strings tuned FjCGdaorCGdae' [see also Violoncello piccolo; for the early history of the cello, see Violin II]. In the late 18th and the 19th century, it underwent modifications similar to those of the violin to produce a larger, more powerful tone. The last step in the development of the modem instmment was the widespread adoption of the adjustable endpin in the second half of the 19th century.


In the symphony orchestra, the cello is the second-lowest of the bowed stringed instruments, its part lying just above that of the double bass. In music earlier than the symphonies of Beethoven, however, the cello often plays the same part as the double bass, sounding an octave higher. The cello is the lowest-sounding member of the string quartet, string trio, and string quintet (in which there may be two cellos), and it forms part of the piano trio along with the piano and violin.

Until the late 17th century, the cello was an ensemble instrument, often playing the bass line in thor-oughbass parts. The earliest known works for solo cello are ricercars by Domenico Gabrielli published ca. 1675. Since the beginning of the 18th century, however, there has been an extensive literature for the cello as a solo instmment with orchestra and in smaller ensembles. Cello concertos of the 18th century include works by Giuseppe Maria Jacchini (1701), Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco (1712), Leonardo
Leo (1737-38), Vivaldi, Tartini, C. P. E. Bach, Wagenseil, Monn, composers of the Mannheim school, and Flaydn (especially the Concerto in D major Hob. VIIb:2 of 1783, one of five that he is thought to have composed). Sonatas for cello in this period include works by Jacchini (some from before 1700), Gaetano Boni (1717), Giacobbe Basevi Cervetto (published 1741-61 in London, where he was active), Giovanni Bononcini, and Vivaldi. Among the most prolific of all composers for the cello was Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), whose works include numerous sonatas and concertos and more than 100 string quintets with two cellos. Among the best-known works of any period are Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello BWV 1007-12 (ca. 1720).


An important early method for the cello is Michel Corrette’s Methode theorique et pratique pour ap-prendre en peu de temps le violoncelle dans sa perfection (Paris, 1741; facs., MMML ser. 2, 85, 1972). The foundations of modem cello playing are laid down in the Essai sur le doigte du violoncelle etsur la conduite de Varchet (Paris, ca. 1813) by Jean-Louis Duport (1749-1819), a virtuoso performer and a composer of concertos, sonatas, and much chamber music for cello.

The best-known 19th- and 20th-century works for orchestra with solo cello include concertos or other compositions by Beethoven (concerto for piano, violin, and cello op. 56, 1808), Schumann (op. 129, 1850), Saint-Saens (op. 33, 1872, and 119, 1902), Tchaikovsky (Variations on a Rococo Theme op. 33, 1876), Lalo (1877), Bruch (Kol nidrei op. 47, 1881), Brahms (concerto for violin and cello op. 102, 1887), Dvorak (op. 104, 1895), Strauss (Don Quixote op. 35, 1897), Bloch Schelomo, 1916), Elgar (op. 85, 1919), Prokofiev (op. 58, 1938, and Symphony-Concerto op. 125, 1951), Walton (1956), and Shostakovich (op. 107, 1959, and op. 126, 1966). Sonatas and similar works include compositions by Beethoven (5), Brahms (2), Saint-Saens (2), Faure (2), Reger (4), Webern, Debussy, Hindemith (2), and Britten.

Violoncello piccolo
[It.]. A small cello, with either four or five strings, tuned C G d a, G d a e', or C G d a 
e'. Bach calls for an obbligato violoncello piccolo in a number of cantatas, and his Sixth Suite for unaccompanied cello was written for an instrument with five strings, but since five-string celli of normal size also existed (particularly in the 17th century), it is not known if the cantata solos and the Sixth Suite were intended for the same instrument. The four-string violoncello piccolo is frequently difficult to identify because of its similarity to small celli intended for use by children. In the case of Bach, confusion with the viola pomposa has also arisen surrounding a five-string instrument with an overall length of 76 cm built, supposedly to Bach’s specifications, by J. C. Hoffmann of Leipzig in 1732. 


[It.]. In the 17th century, violoncello.


[It.]. (1) Now usually the double-bass viol and thus the immediate ancestor of the double bass. The term has designated a variety of instruments, however. In the 16th century, it referred to any viol as distinct from a violin. From about 1600 onward, it was applied to bass or contrabass viols. In the first half of the 18th century, it could refer to an instrument tuned Gi C F (or E) A d g, to one tuned a fourth lower, or to a larger four-stringed instrument (violone grosso) tuned Ci G[ D A, among others. In Italian publications of the first half of the 18th century, it sometimes designated the violoncello. By the mid-18th century, it was falling out of use and referred increasingly to the double bass.


(2) An organ stop of open flue pipes of narrow scale, usually found in the Pedal; also violoncello.


[Fr.]. See Tenor violin.


Main parts of the cello

J.S. Bach - Cello Suite No.1 in G 


Double bass

Double bass

[Fr. contrebasse; Ger. Kontrabass; It. contrabbasso; Sp. contrabajo]. The lowest-pitched member of the family of bowed stringed instruments and a hybrid of the viol and violin families; also bass viol, contrabass, string bass, bass. Its four strings are tuned E1, A1 D G, notated one octave higher. Some instruments have a fifth string tuned C1 (in jazz and popular music more often c), and in orchestras, the E string of the four-stringed instrument is often fitted with an extension that, by means of levers along the fingerboard, permits playing down to Q. The highest pitch in orchestral works is rarely above a (notated a'). Tuning is by means of a mechanism incorporating worm gears. The overall length of instruments in current use ranges from 180 to 200 cm (71 to 79 in.), the length of the vibrating string being from 105 to 110 cm (41 to 43 in.). The sloping shoulders and flat back of most instruments testify to ancestry in the viol family, as does the tuning in fourths rather than fifths [see ill. under Violin], Two types of bow are used: the French type, held with the palm downward, and the German type, held with the palm upward.


Shape, size, number of strings, and tuning varied considerably into the 20th century. The instrument’s earliest ancestors were 16th-century members of the viol family, whence the term double-bass viol. The Italian term *violone was and is applied to some of these ancestors. As late as the late 18th century, the most common instrument of this general type in use in Austria seems to have been one with five strings, tuned F1 A1 D F# A, and frets, though writers of the period also mention four- and three-stringed instruments without frets. Three-stringed instruments, tuned A1 D G, G1 D G, or G1 D A, were well known in the 18th century and common throughout Europe in the 19th, persisting into the 20th. The modem tuning of the four-stringed instrument originated in the late 17th century but became standard only in the 19th as the four-stringed instrument itself began its rise to prominence. The first consistent extensions of the range down to Ci also took place in the 19th century.

The double bass has been a regular member of the orchestra since the 18th century, and a considerable solo literature emerged beginning in the late 18th century in the works of composers active in Austria. Although it does not belong to any of the most usual combinations found in chamber music, it has been employed in chamber music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Spohr, Hummel, and Dvorak. It is sometimes included in the symphonic band. One of the first and most celebrated virtuosos on the double bass was Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846). Later virtuosos include Giovanni Bottesini (1821-89), for whom the French style of bow is sometimes named, and Franz Simandl (1840-1912), whose name is sometimes given to the German style. Bottesini and Simandl were also composers and authors of influential methods.

Played pizzicato, the double bass has been an essential participant in jazz and much popular music. In these contexts, it is often amplified and is increasingly replaced by instruments more closely related to the electric guitar.

Serge Koussevitzky, Double Bass Concerto, Op.3

A violone or "great bass viol"; painting by Sir Peter Lely, Dutch-born English Baroque era painter, c. 1640, showing a large bass instrument of da braccio corpus form, but with a very wide fingerboard, played with underhand bow grip, and without an endpin


The octobass is an extremely large bowed string instrument that was first built around 1850 in Paris by the French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798–1875). It has three strings, and is essentially a larger version of the double bass (the specimen in the collection of the Musée de la Musique in Paris measures 3.48 meters in length, whereas a full size double bass is generally approximately 2 meters in length). 


Because of the extreme fingerboard length and string thickness, the musician plays it using a system of hand and foot-activated levers and pedals. The instrument is so large that, sometimes, two musicians work together to play it: one to bow and the other to control the levers and foot pedals. It has never been produced on a large scale or used much by composers (though Hector Berlioz wrote favorably about the instrument and proposed its widespread adoption). In addition to the Paris instrument, another octobass is in the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. In his edition of Berlioz's treatise (Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 318) Hugh Macdonald lists another in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. He also states that Adolphe Sax created an 'outsize double bass going down to C' with four strings tuned in fifths'. 

Octobass in a symphony orchestra


Berlioz writes in his Orchestration Treatise that its lowest string is tuned to C1 (32.7 Hz), equal to the lowest C on a piano, one octave below the lowest C of the cello (C2, 64.14 Hz). This note is the same as the lowest note of a modern double bass with a low C extension. The middle string is tuned to G1, a fifth above the lowest string. The uppermost string is tuned to C2, an octave above the instrument's lowest string. Berlioz quotes G2, a fifth above the top string, as the highest note playable on the instrument, giving it a compass of an octave and a fifth. However, Berlioz may have been mistaken because modern and surviving instruments are tuned C, G, C, with the low C string being 16.25 Hz (C0, one octave below the lowest C on the piano and two octaves below the lowest C of the cello). The modern technique of octobass playing includes the technique of fingering up to A, plus higher notes possible by extended technique.

A similar but more recent instrument, the triple contrabass viol, has appeared on a recording by the American composer Roscoe Mitchell.



[Fr. harpe; Ger. Harfe; It., Sp. arpa}. A chord-ophone in which the plane of the strings is perpendicular to the soundboard. Triangular in shape, all harps have three basic structural elements, a resonator, a neck, and strings. Some have a forepillar or column. The resonator is topped with a soundboard and string holder. Strings are attached to the neck directly with special knots, or indirectly through tuning pegs (usually movable). Buzzing mechanisms, attached near either end of the string on the neck or the soundboard, and activated by the plucked string, were used on Renaissance European harps and are found today on most African harps. Harps have from one to 47 strings. Tunings are pentatonic, tetratonic, heptatonic (including diatonic), or chromatic. Chromaticizing mechanisms range from manually operated hooks to complex pedal-activated systems. Strings are usually plucked, but may be strummed, struck by hand or with a plectrum, or slid upon. The resonator may also be used as a percussion instrument and struck by fingers, hand, or hooked rattles. The harp may be played with a single finger, with the thumb of one hand and the thumb and forefinger of the other, and with the thumb and first three fingers of both hands. The little fingers are usually not used.


I. Double-action harp.

The modem Western concert harp has 47 strings, 7 per octave, from Ci to g"". Each string (except Ci and D,) can be raised two semitones (double action) using a pedal-activated system. First patented by Sebastien Erard in 1810, the double action made the harp into an equal-tempered chromatic instrument.


1.  Construction. The triangular frame consists of a neck at the top (about 1.1m. long) and a slanting resonator or body (1.7 m. long) connected by an upright column (1.85 m. or about 6 ft. long); it is made of maple, beech, walnut, spmce, or ash. The strings are threaded through the soundboard and wound around tuning pegs on the neck. The lowest 12 strings are usually wound wire; the rest are gut or nylon. The C and F strings are made in different colors from the rest to orient the player.

At the foot or base of the harp are seven pedals, each with three positions. These allow each diatonic pitch to be played flat, natural, or shatp. From left to right, D, C, and B pedals are on the left side, with E, F, G, and A on the right. When a pedal is depressed, all strings of the same note-name are changed in all octaves. With pedals in flat or uppermost position, each string is free to vibrate over its entire sounding length. When the pedals are depressed to the natural or middle position, forks in the upper of two rows rotate to tighten and shorten the strings, raising their pitch a semitone. When the pedals are depressed to the sharp or lowest position, the lower forks act in a similar way, raising the pitch of the strings a second semitone.

2. Performance techniques and notation. Harpists balance the harp on the edge of its base, resting the upper back of the resonator on their right shoulder. They extend their arms around the resonator and play with the thumb and first three fingers of each hand. The right hand usually plays the higher strings, the left hand the lower. As a result, basic harp notation is similar to keyboard notation except that the fingering of the right hand is inverse, and the little fingers are not used. Strings are usually plucked at mid-length or near the soundboard, the latter producing a guitarlike timbre. A glissando (also termed glisse and sdruccio-lando) is produced by strumming across the strings with the fleshy part of the fingers or thumb. Pedals can be set for a particular glissando scale or chord, eliminating all dissonances or extraneous tones with enhar-monics. Harmonics, often played by placing the heel of the hand lightly against the midpoint of the string while plucking above with the thumb, are a regular feature of harp technique. Numerous modem harp techniques have been developed and a standard nota-tional system devised for them (Inglefield and Neill, 1984).

3. Repertory. There is comparatively little music identified as specifically for harp that predates the double-action harp of 1810. Although the harp was played in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, primarily as a solo instrument but also in ensembles, the earliest extant source is “Tiento IX para harpa u organo” from Tres libros de musica en cifra para vihuela (1546) by Alonso Mudarra. Pieces for “keyboard, harp, or lute” were typical of this period in Spain (Luis Venegas de Henestrosa, 1557; Antonio de Cabezon, 1578). There are a few works for harp among the keyboard compositions of the Neapolitan composers Ascanio Mayone (ca. 1565-1627) and Giovanni Maria Trabaci (ca. 1575-1647). The harp appears to have entered the orchestra through opera, notably in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607). Works for solo harp were composed by Jean-Baptiste Krumpholtz (1742-90), Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812), Marie-Martin Marcel Marin (1769— 1861), and Louis Spohr (1784-1859). A few works for the instrument were left by Handel (Esther, 1720), Gluck (Orfeo, 1762), Haydn (Orfeo, 1791), Mozart (Concerto for Flute and Harp K. 299/297c), and Beethoven (Prometheus, 1801). In the 19th century, the harp’s new chromatic capabilities stimulated composition for the instrument in all genres. Most works for solo harp were composed by virtuosos such as Elias Parish Alvars (1808-49), but the harp was also employed as a solo instrument and in ensembles by Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner (Das Rheingold, which calls for seven harps), Puccini, Richard Strauss, Saint-Saens, Debussy, and Ravel among many others. In the 20th century, experimentation with the harp’s timbre and with a variety of sound effects resulted in new performance techniques. These are called for in works by Berio, Ginastera, Henze, and Holliger. Harpists, such as Carlos Salzedo, Marcel Grandjany, and Nicanor Zabaleta, have also composed and arranged demanding solo works.


II. History and distribution.

The harp is an ancient and widely distributed instrument, and its usage ranges from religious ritual to pure entertainment and from solo to ensemble music to accompaniment played by singers of ballads and epic poetry. In the ancient world, solo harpists were usually men, ensemble harpists often women. In the Western world, professional harpists were men until the late 19th century; women took up the harp as a parlor instrument probably in the 17th century. Today, women harpists are still rare in African and Latin American folk traditions.


1. The East. The oldest extant harp, found at Ur in Sumer, dates from ca. 2600 b.c.e. and was already an elegant, sophisticated instrument. Depictions of harps from the same period have been found in the Cyclades and in Egypt, where they existed in a variety of forms and sizes for nearly 2,000 years. The harp appears in Babylonian art beginning in the second millennium b.c.e. and in Assyrian art of the first millennium b.c.e. It figures in Central Asian and Indian iconography from the 2nd century b.c.e. to the Persian and Moghul miniature paintings of the 13th- 17th centuries. One type of Indian harp appears in Javanese stone carvings from the 9th century c.e. The harp spread eastward to China during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-221 c.E.) and on to Korea and to Japan, which possesses the sole extant ancient Chinese harp. The last depiction of a harp in Far Eastern iconography dates from about the 10th century. During this same period it appeared among the Georgians of the Caucasus and the Voguls and Ostyaks of Siberia, continuing in use among them at least into the 1930s. Only three traditions are still practiced in Asia. Two of them, the Burmese Buddhist royal court tradition and that of the Pardhan epic singer-harpists in central India, share the common ancestry of harps first depicted in Indian iconography in the 2nd century b.c.e. In the third, which is practiced by the Karen of Burma near the Thai border, a different form of harp serves as a young man’s courting instrument,

2. The West. Presumed to have moved westward from Egypt in ancient times, and like Egyptian harps in structure, African harps are still used by nearly 50 distinct musical cultures. The harp is represented on vases in Greece and Italy from the 6th to the 4th century b.c.e. It first appears in medieval Europe in illuminated manuscripts and carvings from the 8th to the 10th century. The oldest extant single-rank European harp is from 14th-century Ireland. Related types, also usually tuned to a diatonic scale, are still manufactured and used in Ireland, Latin America, and the Philippines. They were introduced to the last two regions by Spaniards in the 16th-18th centuries. Many regional styles of harp have emerged in Latin America, and those of Mexico, Venezuela, and Paraguay have attained international renown. In the U.S., the single-rank remains popular because of a folk-harp revival and renewed interest in medieval and Renaissance music.

(i) Harps with two and three ranks of strings. Harps with two parallel rows or ranks of strings (arpa doppia), one diatonic, the other with some chromatic tones, were developed in Europe in the 16th century. These harps made possible the first published orchestral use of the harp, in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607). Some attempts at chromatic harps made in the 19th century were not accepted. These had two ranks of strings that crossed at midpoint. One rank corresponded to the white keys of the piano, the other to the black.

Very successful was the chromatic harp called a triple harp, with three parallel rows of strings. The outer two are diatonic; the inner, reachable by either hand, is chromatic. In the early 17th century, a triple harp nearly 2 m. tall quickly became a favorite, starting in Italy. In Wales it is still in limited use. Harps on the Continent were balanced on the right shoulder and had gut strings played with the fleshy part of the fingertips, the left hand playing the bass strings. British harps were balanced on the left shoulder and had wire strings played with the fingernails, the right hand playing the bass strings.

(ii) Hook harps. In late 17th-century Germany, manually operated metal hooks were inserted in the neck below the tuning pegs to raise each string a semitone. In the early 19th century, John Egan added these to Irish harps, some of which are still made in this way, as are the “Troubadour” harps of Lyon and Healy.

(iii) Single-action harps. About 1720, Jakob Hock-brucher, a Bavarian, invented a five-pedal (C, D, F, G, A) and later a seven-pedal mechanism to activate the hooks and raise all the strings a semitone. In 1792, Sebastien Erard of London replaced the hooks with the type of brass fork still in use.

(iv) Double-action harps. In 1782, the Cousineau family of harpmakers in Paris added a second row of pedals to raise the pitches of the strings a second semitone. But the 14 pedals proved cumbersome, firard’s 1810 patent established the basis for the present double-action harp. In the U.S., two firms, both in Chicago, have made harps: Lyon and Healy (1889-) and the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company (1909-36).

Handel - Harp Concerto in B flat Major Op. 4 No. 6

Giovanni Lanfranco

Venere suona l’Arpa (Allegoria della Musica)

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