Front Page The Milward Viola Violas Available Work in Progress Photo Gallery Publications Viola Design Construction Featured Violas Articles Contact Links
End notes for ‘Why are there different sizes for the viola?

1. Richard Wagner. Comments regarding the poor standard of viola playing in European Orchestras at this time. 'Ueber das Dirigiren' (On Conducting), 1869.    

2. For an excellent recent study of Herman Ritter's Viola alta see Shaver-Gleason, Linda.  Ritter's Viola Alta: The Violas Nineteenth Century Identity Crisis.  Journal of the American Viola Society, Vol 21 No2 p19-25    

3. Main 16th Century and early 17th Century Treatise:
Johannes Tinctoris, 'De inventione et usu musicae’ (1481-83)
Martin Agricola, ‘Musica instrumentalis deudsch’ (Wittenberg 1529). 1969 English translation by William Herrick, Cambridge 1994
Giovani Maria Lanfranco, 'Scintille di musica', 1533
Sylvestro di Gnassi in, ‘Lettione seconda, Venice 1543.
Jambe de Fer, 'Epitome Musicale' 1556
Lodovicio Zacconi,  'Practticia di musica', Venice 1592
Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), 'Syntagma Musicum' (1618-20)
Daniel Hizler, Extract Auss der neuen Musica oder Singkunst... (Nuremberg, 1623)
Merck, ‘Compendium Musicae Instrumentalis Cheliae’  (1695)

4. For the violin family this represents the first significant development, a direct consequence of improvements in string manufacture, resulting in the emergence of the violins as a group of four string instruments each now having an increased individual range. This was first recorded in France some time before the middle of the 16th century, and was the direct result of an improved method of gut string manufacture. It is understood that this improvement was at first in the form of a high twist string and later one of a rope construction, or 'catline', this later form of string however was not to become generally available in Europe outside its region of origin, Catalonia, until later in the century, but it is clear that by the time Jambe de Fer  wrote 'Epitome Musicale' in 1556 , significant improvements in string technology had already taken place. Previously plain gut on the thickest lowest string  required a long string length to achieve sufficient flexibility necessary to attain any degree of acceptable sonority, and as such, a higher string tension was required to achieve pitch. The very thin gut that  would have been required for an instruments upper fourth string could not then sustain the higher tension necessary to achieve pitch at this extended string length. We do not see, therefore, the introduction of a fourth string extending an instruments range in either an upward, or downwards, direction, until either a higher tensile strength of the upper string could be achieved, or as was actually the case, a greater flexibility of the lowest string in order to gain an acceptable degree of sonority for a shorter string length and lower tension.  Achieving  such a flexible and sonorous lower string permitted a general reduction in string length, and as such, a lowering of the required tension necessary for the thinner upper strings to achieve pitch.    

5. Leopold Mozart, A Treatise on the Fundamental Principals of Violin Playing, Ausberg 1756 – 'The little fiddle is no longer needed, as everything is played on the ordinary violin in the upper registers'.    

6. This represents the second most important development in string manufacture for the violin family.    

7. A gut string over spun with a metal such as silver or copper gave a greater mass for a much smaller diameter than if a plain gut alone were to be used. A thick gut string, necessary for a lower pitch, had to be of sufficient length to achieve an acceptable sonority, and as a consequence would have had to have been brought to a higher tension to reach this desired pitch than a string of shorter length. The consequence of this development was that shorter strings could now be employed much more successfully, resulting in a possible reduction of the overall instrument size. It is of interest that this may have coincided with, or indeed have been a consequence of, the raising of the tuning of some instruments as a result of placing alternate instruments an octave apart instead of being based on a regime of separation by successive fifths. The greatest consequence was for the bass violins, the smallest of which also encompassed the tenor range, ultimately resulting in a single instrument known to us today as the violoncello.   

8. This smaller form of alto instrument was made possible by the wider availability in the later 16th Century of the more flexible rope constructed, or 'catline', strings. Used for the lowest string, the improved flexibility gained by its roped construction over plain or twisted gut, gave a better sonority for a given string length. This construction also resulted in a lower tensile strength and both these factors combined allowed for a shorter string length to be more effectively used, initiating a reduction in overall instrument size. The result of reducing the body length was of course to raise the natural body frequency of this middle instrument, favouring the upper range of the register.

9. Kory, Agnes . A wider role for the Tenor Violin? Galpin Society Journal 1994, p123-153

10.References to articles about the tenor violin:
Kory, Agnes . A wider role for the Tenor Violin? Galpin Society Journal 1994, p123-153
Smit, Lambert. Towards a More Consistent and More Historical View of Bach's Violoncello. Chelys. The Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society. Vol32, 2004  

11.String articles:
Abbot, Djilda and Segerman,Ephraim, ‘Gut Strings’ Early Music 4 (1976) pp.430-7
Bonata, Stephen ‘Catline strings revisited, Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 14 (1998) p38
Bonta, Stephen.   From Violone to Violoncello: A Question of Strings? JAMIS 3 (1977)
Segerman, Ephraim. 1.Strings Through the Ages  The Strad Jan 1988 Vol 99 No 1173 pp52-55  2.Highly Strung. The Strad March 1988 Vol 99 No1175 pp195-201  3.Deep Tensions. The Strad April 1988 Vol 99 No1176 pp295-299

[Back to main article]

End notes for ‘Why are there different sizes for the viola?