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GlennYorkPA

AMATI VIOLA

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Bruce or Roger should dump cold water on this if need be - the "broad" perception is that smaller, contralto violas (and smaller cellos) appear after the 1660s when covered strings allow for smaller and more versatile playing. If we process that logic then the Stauffer is really 40 or more years ahead of the game. There is also that oddly and uniquely small gaspar da salo http://www.orpheusmusicshop.com/posters/P130.html which is again decades ahead of its time, if we believe that "broad" perception. Contrawise, I go by the belief that the tenore made for the Medici by Strad in 1690 was simply to 'complete the set' and that it performed no necessary musical function.

Two things come to mind. The first is that lira da braccio in the sixteenth-century by Gaspar da Salo and Giovanni Maria of Brescia, and generally all the others that survive come in big and little viola sizes. I don't know why, but these are all Renaissance period as opposed to baroque.

Secondly, there is an enigmatic receipt for a violin from the English court violinist, John Woodington in the 1630s:

31 January 1637/8

Lord Chamberlain to Treasury of the Chamber: Warrant to pay £12 to Mr. John

Woodington for a Cremona violin to play to the organ, upon the certificate of Mr.

Nicholas Lanier.

One way in which this has been translated is to suggest that a smaller violin was needed in order to play at the higher "organ pitch". This certainly helps to explain the very small brothers Amati violin of 1618 in the Ashmolean, and indeed that the string scaling of Amati viols of this period is much shorter than on cellos when they should in theory be playing roughly the same compass (its increasingly apparent that viol consort playing was often accompanied by a chamber organ).

Roger Hargrave pointed out in an earlier post that the oddness about the Stauffer is that Amati just gave it violin-f-holes without redesigning them for the larger size. It makes me wonder if Amati knew it was a one-off, and decided to cut corners because it was a one-off?

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Thank you Ben H. I don't consider myself a historical authority concerning these early violas, and I was hoping Bruce or Roger may have noticed this thread, and took the "bait" I offered ("I'm not sure when the alto size first appeared or which city they appeared in."), but I'm very happy you took it. :)

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Thanks for that Ben C!

Maggini did it more or less consistently, and coming to think about it, Stainer used a slightly larger than violin f-hole for his violas. It looks OK on the Bromptons one, but on the two huge ones I've seen it has the same odd look as the Stauffer. Nevertheless, with Maggini and Stainer this seems to have been a conscious decision to have small (violinish - if not precisely violin) f-holes. What's interesting about the Stauffer is that it does seem to be a one off!

Stainer here http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/Violins/Before1800/Stainerviola.html

Another note about the Stainer is that the scroll also seems to be scaled to a violin, but then sweeps into a viola-sized pegbox. He was clearly psychologically disturbed at the prospect of making a viola, and firmly in denial! :blink:

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The very earliest reference to covered strings that I've come across is from Robert Boyle in 1659 in England... "Grotesky hath an Invention of Lute strings covered with Sylver wyer or

strings which makes a most admirable Musick", and there is a slightly more opaque reference from a couple of years earlier. Before then the accepted earliest (anywhere in Europe) is an advert in John Playford's An Introduction to the Skill of Musick in 1664:

There is a late Invention of Strings for the Basses of Viols and Violins, or Lutes, which sound

much better then the common Gut String, either under the Bow or Finger. It is Small Wire

twisted or gimp’d upon a gut string or upon Silk. I have made a tryal of both, but those upon

Silk do hold best and give as good a sound. The Best Choice of these strings are to be sold at

Mr. Richard Hunts Instrument-seller at the Lute in St. Pauls Alley Near Paternoster Row.

We know that the gut-string trade was incredibly international, so these sources neither mean that this process was invented in England, nor that anyone else was using it. It probably spread very very quickly around Europe. (If you're really bored here's something about common wood and string supplies - see particulalry Dowland's commentary on Lute string merchants http://www.academia.edu/149095/The_Common_Wood_Supply_for_London_and_Cremona). However, English viola da gamba definitely get shorter after this point, just as Cremonese contraltos seem to replace the Tenore.

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Ah, Ben C. - that's a copy of the da Salo in the Royal Academy. It's completely gone through the chop-shop. Was certainly wider, and certainly cut around the edges top and bottom, so all you've got left is the c-bouts, f-holes and a bit of varnish. Having said that its turned it into a really lovely instrument that properly works!

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Stainer here http://orgs.usd.edu/...ainerviola.html

Another note about the Stainer is that the scroll also seems to be scaled to a violin, but then sweeps into a viola-sized pegbox. He was clearly psychologically disturbed at the prospect of making a viola, and firmly in denial! :blink:

I think that the Strad article about this instrument said that the scroll was not original. I'll have to check on that when I get home.

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William - your right on the money the Strad article does say that... but (sorry to %£^&*2 on someone's parade) I don't know where the evidence for that comes from. I had a look at the instrument with the museum after that came out.

At some point, the pegbox was sawn off the neck, and it was presumably given an modern setup, but was later reverted to its "original" condition by reinstating the old neck and fingerboard. There is a graft and remnants of an earlier one, but all that was grafted on was a bit of neck to join up with the original one in a butt-joint, but this evidently didn't work, so there is an intermediary bit of wood between the grafted neck-stub and the neck itself. If your confused by that, don't worry... its a quadruple neck grafty thing. Ouch!

... nevertheless there is a perfectly good match between the neck wood and the scroll.

The Strad article also talks about the scroll being recut. Again, I am not sure how this could be, and looking at the varnish under UV didn't suggest that it was different from the body. Putting it up against the violin in the museum, they have a consistent affinity. More recently I've seen another Stainer tenor which has exactly the same idea in the scroll.

Because of the neck grafts its just really confusing. I'm not surprised about the confusion it caused, and on the assumption voiced by the museum that its "unique" its easy to think that the scroll is fundamentally wrong.

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Sorry Deans, I know that its not recorded, and frustratingly you'll just have to take my word for it. Its not cut down, its slightly smaller - but still a tenor, and has a violin, rather than a cello - type pegbox curiously. Wish I could be more useful.

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Regarding the Dolmetsch connection (this case came from my father's collection) - my parents were well acquainted with various members of the Dolmetsch family. both professionally and personally, which may explain their eclectic collection of instruments and cases. I still have a viola d'Amore (which definitely came from Haslemere), a quinton, and a number of Dolmetsch recorders that my father never did sell or give away. These instruments/cases have been stored, and not used for many years. It is nice to see them find a place. Thanks Glenn, for adopting the cases and giving them some meaning.

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Regarding the Dolmetsch connection (this case came from my father's collection) - my parents were well acquainted with various members of the Dolmetsch family. both professionally and personally, which may explain their eclectic collection of instruments and cases. I still have a viola d'Amore (which definitely came from Haslemere), a quinton, and a number of Dolmetsch recorders that my father never did sell or give away. These instruments/cases have been stored, and not used for many years. It is nice to see them find a place. Thanks Glenn, for adopting the cases and giving them some meaning.

Hi Una,

Please keep us updated if you find out any more about the Dolmetsch family connection and I'm sure members here would be fascinated to see pictures of the viola d'amore and the quinton. They sound as if the could be museum pieces.

Glenn

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Hello Ben, hello all,

I'm currently doing some research on wound strings, and while I already known of Playford's mentioning of the use of metal to cover string, I would be most grateful to know a bit more about this Richard Boyd!

Thanks a lot in advance,

Stéphane

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Roger Hargrave pointed out in an earlier post that the oddness about the Stauffer is that Amati just gave it violin-f-holes without redesigning them for the larger size. It makes me wonder if Amati knew it was a one-off, and decided to cut corners because it was a one-off?

Hi Ben,

Here are the 1615 and the 1620 side by side for comparison. Maybe it was a "two-off" as the contraltos, in Cremona at least, remain as rare as hens' teeth until Andrea Guarneri starts producing his spectacular contralto model, as you mentioned, in the 1660's. The 1615 could well be the first one or at least the oldest one documented from Cremona and appears to be all Gerolamo whereas the 1620 may have had a younger maker with the initials N.A. asserting himself in the workshop. In the 1620 it's easy to see the different corner treatment and changes to the soundholes.

Bruce

post-29446-0-73513300-1353965060_thumb.jpg post-29446-0-86326200-1353965073_thumb.jpg

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