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The Viola

The viola is the alto member of the violin family and possesses a warm, dark tone compared to the lighter, more brilliant soprano sound of the violin. It is pitched a perfect fifth lower than the violin and an octave higher than the cello. The Viola primarily uses the alto clef, but also treble clef.

The viola came into being in northern Italy around the early 16th century, and since then has undergone many changes. Historically, it was an ‘instrument of the middle’, and was used to cover both the alto and tenor registers. Because of this violas historically and today, vary greatly in size.

The viola has a similar range to the human voice and acoustically blends well with other instruments.

Before 1740 the viola was seldom treated as a soloist, however this started to change during the lifetime of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and greater equality in partwriting and increased technical demands can be observed in the chamber music written during this period. By the 20th century, the presence of such outstanding players as Lionel Tertis and William Primrose, and composer/players including Paul Hindemith and Brett Dean, broadened the viola repertoire, realising the instrument’s potential of tone and technique.


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