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Violas are Fun!


nicolo
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In my years of violin wheeling and dealing, I bought and sold a few violas. I played with them a little while I had them, but never got too excited about it, maybe because they were not particularly good instruments. I just learned how much fun a real viola can be.

I bought a 16.5 inch Gliga. It will be a Christmas present for my son. He is really a cellist; he takes little interest in playing the violin, but has been bugging me for a viola for a long time. I was very impressed with this one right off, but even moreso after redoing the setup. Maybe not a great instrument, but it must meet real viola standards because it has really blown me away.

An enormous, deep, rich, passionate, lyrical voice. Actually, it is more than just sound. The viola a sensual experience. When playing double stops on the C and G strings, I can feel the vibrations all the way through my jaw and into my head. In playing combinations of double and triple stops, I sound like a one-man string trio, at least to myself. Playing slow gypsy violin stuff on the viola can practically bring tears to my own eyes. I love this thing!

I have suddenly quit making jokes about viola players and will start complaining right away that so little has been written for such a flat-out gorgeous instrument. Maybe I should start a transcription project.

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Hi Nicolo, you are right, good violas are difficult to find and difficult to make. Violas are an acid test for a maker. A viola sounds one octave above the cello, so it soundbox should be the half of that of cello, making the instrument unplayable. And you have the problem of sound taste, some prefer a more open sound, others a dark sound.

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I don't play viola very often, but after getting a good professional setup on mine and stringing them properly, the tonal feeling I get is of playing a cello under my chin.

In chamber music, this intimacy with such sound and vibrations makes me feel as though I am leading the sound and bowing style of the string quartet (at least when everyone else is playing well). Although the viola part may not be that different from the cello or 2nd violin in content, I do not get that same "control" feeling when playing those instruments. (I do know from experience that the first violin is really the one in charge and control, but even from that seat the control feeling is not as amazing as with viola - at least for me.

I have also tried some "lesser" violas and i know those would never give me those same feelings.

Andy

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I know what you mean! I felt the same way when I got my good viola ~20 years ago. Due to a violist glut in this area and a relative scarcity of violinists, I haven't played it a lot professionally since moving here, but when I do, I remember just why I haven't sold it. Like Andy, I especially like playing chamber music on viola.

My violist friends say that it's ok for me to enjoy and retell viola jokes since I'm a closet violist (I tell them fondly, not maliciously).

Nicolo, be grateful that you're discovering the viola now -- lots more transcriptions are available now than were 20 years ago. I'm convinced the trend will continue (still, compared to violin, the amount seems small).

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I mostly play violin, but I have a viola which I enjoy using occasionally. I find playing the Bach cello sonatas on viola very relaxing when I need to unwind. They are far easier to play than the Bach solo violin sonatas and partitas.

I love playing on the lower 3 strings on the viola. So resonant! The A string is another matter. It is so rare to hear a viola with a really pleasant sounding A.

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I can relate too...I bought myself a viola back in February or so...I find it more emotive than the violin (and in a totally different way). I only wish I had more time to play it...but it's a very different instrument to the violin and I can only really focus on one or the other and since I'm ahead on the violin and am needed as a 2nd violinist in our orchestra (we have LOTS of violas)...I'll just keep practicing and playing the viola whenever I can fit it in -all just for fun at this point in time - I'd likely need lessons if I continue - as I just said, it's very different to play...

...but yeah...I'm a convert!

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This post made me so happy to see! Violas are great. The sound can be so deep and mysterious. One thing I have noticed is that if you listen to a really great recording of a violist, just one well pulled bow stroke with a beautiful wide vibrato can take your breath away. I don't find the same thing happen when listening to recordings of violinists.

viola pride!

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Over the year I spent looking for my current violin, I played a few viola's, just for kicks. I thought they were quite nice too..

But remember nicolo... the jokes aren't at the instrument, so much as they are at the music that's written for them... I haven't seen the bulk of viola music... but my last teacher assured me that not nearly enough challenging, and interesting music had been written for the viola.

I still love the violin more though. Maybe it's my size... I just find it easier to relax, and get more out of the violin, than I'm able to with the viola(it makes me feel like I'm on one of the mideval tortue tables that stretches you out.... :-/

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Quote:

Your last teacher clearly knows little about the viola literature.
No, the solo viola literature will never approach that of the violin
, but it contains a lot more, and better, music than non-violists realize. And that's leaving out of account chamber music, where there's enough for many lifetimes.


The emphasized part in the above quote, was the point of the statement.

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Quote:

Hi Nicolo, you are right, good violas are difficult to find and difficult to make. Violas are an acid test for a maker. A viola sounds one octave above the cello, so it soundbox should be the half of that of cello, making the instrument unplayable. And you have the problem of sound taste, some prefer a more open sound, others a dark sound.


So how do I find one which goes through my head etc? I want one quick! Does it need to be something expensive?

And in general, are Gliga violins very special and value for money?

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Well some of my favorite pieces of the solo viola literature are:

Walton viola concerto

Bartok viola concerto

Brahms clarinet/viola sonatas

Shostakovich sonata

the 7 Hindemith sonatas

Mozart Sinfonia Concertante

Bruch concerto for viola and clarinet

And there are many great works for the viola that never get played, such as the Fricker and Milhaud concertos and an abundance of other 20th century compositions.

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Thanks for the McInness list - very interesting. Thanks also for the Clarke recommendation - I think I remember your recommending it before (and I still haven't listened to or looked at it -- I'll have to ask my violist friends if any of them have a copy I can borrow).

My general impression from when I was looking for viola music (in the early '80s) was that there wasn't a lot of it, and that most of what was available was pretty difficult (compared to the violin repertoire). I think that's somewhat less true now, which is a good thing.

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I don't know that I agree. I got my early foundation on the violin, and even played it professionally for years. Then I discovered the joys of viola, and I've found that's the instrument with which I best express myself musically. "Considerably harder"? They are different, for sure, but I think each one has things about it that are harder and easier than the other. I find it easier to pick up a viola and play it decently after many hours of violin playing than to pick up a violin and play it decently after many hours of viola playing. But that's just me. ;-)

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So how do I find one which goes through my head etc? I want one quick! Does it need to be something expensive?

And in general, are Gliga violins very special and value for money?


Not expensive. The Gliga I bought is a "Gems 1" model, Gems 1 being a modest price range two steps below "Maestro." This one was about $500, slightly higher than others in that categegory because it has a one-piece back. I was looking for something decent, but affordable for a person who is not primarily a violist. I actually got much more than I expected at that price.

Based on my experience with Gligas, I have developed the opinion that the Gems 1 instruments, while not the best of the Gligas, are the most for the money, and way more for the money than you can find anywhere else. I have a Gems 1 violin that has an incredibly beautiful voice, which is why I looked in the same place for a viola. www.violinslover.com

Every new Gliga I ever saw has needed some setup work. The bridges are soft and the sound posts are too tight, even dangerously tight. I don't like the tailpieces either. Too light.

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