Today we look at the history of the viola, a musical instrument that belongs to the string family and is slightly larger than the violin but smaller than the cello. It has four strings, typically tuned to C, G, D, and A. The history of the viola is closely tied to the development of string instruments in general.
Origins of String Instruments:
The origins of string instruments can be traced back to ancient times. Instruments with strings stretched over a resonating body or soundbox have been found in various cultures across the world.
Development in the Renaissance:
The viola, as we know it today, evolved during the Renaissance (15th to 16th centuries). During this period, various sizes of violas da braccio (violas played on the arm) were developed. These instruments were part of the violin family, and the term "viola" was often used to describe instruments that were played on the arm rather than the shoulder.
In the Baroque era (17th to early 18th centuries), the violin family of instruments, including the viola, became more standardised. Composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel wrote music that featured the viola prominently.
The classical period saw further refinement of the viola's design and its role in orchestras. Composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven included the viola in their compositions, giving it a more prominent and independent role in the ensemble.
In the 19th century, the Romantic era, the viola continued to gain prominence. Composers such as Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner wrote expressive and challenging music for the instrument.
20th Century and Beyond:
The role of the viola continued to expand in the 20th century, with composers like Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Benjamin Britten writing significant works for the instrument. Viola concertos and solo pieces became more common.
Today, the viola is an integral part of orchestras, chamber ensembles, and various genres of music. Many notable violists have contributed to its development and popularity, and the instrument remains an essential component of classical and contemporary music.