Last weekend, together with some of the most respected violin makers in Europe, we set our focus on the most misunderstood instrument of the classical quartet: the VIOLA. From its place and function in the ensembles throughout the times, its confusing denominations during the renaissance and baroque eras, its golden periods, to the technique and transmission by the musicians today.

The violin is meant to play the soprano. The cello, formerly called bass or bass of violin, is meant to play the bass. That is easy to figure out. But what about the (often 3) median voices in between? That, we don’t know. Even today. What we know is that there are instruments of the violin family of very different dimensions (from 38 to 48 cm in length of back) that have been called different names (contra, tenor, quinte, taille, etc…). And there are instruments of other families that have been modified to fit with the use of modern violists.

From the first golden age of the viola, starting at the creation of the violin family (around 1550) and ending during the great plague of 1630, we are left with mainly very large violas (44 to 48 cm LOB) that we today call tenors. A second golden age starts around 1770 and this time, most luthiers used more manageable models measuring 40 to 42 cm long. Finally, from the 1970 to this day, violas are again well better considered and if the taste at that time was for “big” 42 cm long violas, the tendency is to slowly reduce the models as the expectations that rest on the player’s shoulders constantly grow.

For the annual Aladfi convention, we all met on our favourite beach near Marseilles to attend conferences, concerts and try-outs. And of course, to exchange our experiences on this beautiful but sometimes tricky instrument. Occasions like this of pushing back the boundaries of our knowledge are mandatory to stay up to date on our everyday tasks, but also to keep lit the sparkle of inspiration for new making.

Violas are on the bench!

#viola #musicians #luthiers #aladfi #colleguesandfriends