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dessus de Viole (collection Orpheon)

Viola da gamba, Henry Jayes, London 17c ( J. Vazquez Collection ) -More Photos and documentsabout this collection : see Orpheon pages

playing the viola da gamba : notice the frets on the fingerboard

 

 

The viola da gamba is not a predecessor of the violin, but is a completely different family altogether. It first appeared in Valencia, ca. 1470 - 1480 and was in vogue until about the French Revolution, although some still played the viol until 1800. Unlike the violin, whose form was already firmly standardized by the middle of the 16th C., the viola da gamba was built in a wide variety of shapes and forms: no standard model was ever attained nor striven for. Indeed the divergences in construction principles during the period from 1480 to 1780 yielded remarkably different acoustical results, so that one cannot really speak of "the" viola da gamba. An Italian viol of the Renaissance has literally very few things in common with, say, an English Tudor viol or a French viol serving His Majesty in Versailles. Each instrument has thus to be examined individually. But this is the exciting thing about this multifaceted "family" of instruments which you are about to get to know…

The viol was an outspokenly aristocratic instrument; as it formed an integral part of the education of a gentleman, like lute, harpsichord, singing. It was used principally for serious music in cultured surroundings, as opposed to the violin, which in the beginning was used by professional musicians and minstrels for accompanying dancing and entertainment and thus was not considered suitable for persons of gentle breeding.

The Viola da gamba in Consort Music

In the Renaissance, all instruments were built in families, representing the ranges of the human voice: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass. The viol consort was made up of instruments of different sizes: treble, tenor and bass being the most common. Two trebles, two tenors and two basses constituted a "chest of viols", which would ideally have been built by the same maker, although the literature for consort counts works of from two to up to seven players. Due to its delicate, rich and finely nuanced tone, the viol was employed preferentially in polyphony, either in combination with voices (motets, madrigals, chansons) or in the instrumental forms derived from these vocal models (ricercare, canzona, tiento, fantasia). It is principally in the Fantasia - the polyphonic form par excellence - that the greatest English masters - Byrd, Ferrabosco, Coperario, Lawes, Gibbons, Purcell - excelled: the most erudite thoughts, the most sublime poetry found expression here. In quality, these works cannot only be favourably compared with the very best in the poetical and theatrical genres of their English contemporaries, but also with the best of chamber music of all periods.
When therefore Mersenne wished to demonstrate the style of music suitable for the viola da gamba, he chose to print a six-part fantasia by Alfonso Ferrabosco!

Like all instruments of the Renaissance, the viola da gamba came in all sizes, representing the different ranges of the human voice. These are called:

Treble viola da gamba (tuning: d",a',e',c',g,d)
Alto viola da gamba (historically very rarely used: c",g',d',b-flat,f,c)
Tenor viola da gamba (g',d',a,f,c,G)
Bass viola da gamba (d'.a,e,c,G,D)Great bass viola da gamba (g,d,A,F,C,GG)
Double bass viola da gamba (d,a,e,C,GG,DD)

In addition to this, a smaller member was added in France in the 18th Century, the pardessus de viole, tuned one octave higher that the tenor (g",d",a',f',c',g), but sometimes having only five strings

next page : the violin family >>>

les Batteries (le Sieur de Sainte Colombe) : José Vázquez et Lucia Krommer ,viola da gamba

about the William Turner viols : audioguide from the last exhibition in Froville la Romane

 

 

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