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Viola Bashing


Shunyata
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On 2/13/2019 at 8:58 PM, Shunyata said:

There seems to be a tongue-in-cheek practice of bashing Viola construction and violas in general on this site. I think there's an inside joke there that I don't understand. Can somebody explain?

Michael Tree took me to the dark side of lutherie, I am a viola maker. I remember that about 30 years ago, sometimes there was no "prima scelta" (first choice) for viola wood or fittings, they were offered only for violins and celli.

 

 

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He has reconstructed "the" violin version of 1052.   For half a century scholars have said 1053 was originally a concerto for some other instrument, in fact every other instrument.  It's dishonest to imply scholarship leads you to it being a viola concerto.  There's no actual evidence it was originally this or that.  There's a lack of string figuration that implies it wasn't originally for a string instrument.  What you would need is to discover an autograph fragment of it for another instrument and justify a reconstruction based on the evidence that a version of it for that instrument did formerly exist/

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To get back to your original question about viola bashing, I play the two least ergonomic and compromised instruments in the string section- bass which is almost always played at th 3/4 size by everyone but professional classical bassists, and viola.

The viola was developed in two primary versions- a smaller more agile one closer to Hutchins’ physics ideal violin resonance length of about 15.5”ish and a larger one which should be about 21” to match the viola’s frequencies. For most average human hands, it gets much harder to play in tune using violin style fingerings on an instrument larger than 16”. Many top professional section players play instruments around 17-18” with great success.

The smaller one often sounds brighter like a big violin. The larger ones can have that big chocolate saxophone-like sound. As a consequence, there is often a wide variety of tambre coming from most amateur sections.

Part of the compromise in size also restricts playing much above fourth position for many instruments. For some, it’s ergonomics, for others the sound chokes on the g and c strings up there without devices like slanted tailpieces.

Another issue is the nature of the part writing. Violists often get hypnotized by simple repetitive first position parts and get startled by sporadic intricate solo violinistic phrases.

As a consequence, viola sections are often called out in rehearsal for intonation or uncoordinated ensemble playing leading to yet-another-viola joke syndrome.

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On 2/16/2019 at 3:43 PM, Etorgerson said:

 

 Many top professional section players play instruments around 17-18” with great success.

This is simply untrue. Yes, some players will play a 17" until their bodies get exhausted, but I've never seen an 18" one. It would take someone the size of Gregor Piatigorsky to play an 18" instrument, and even then, it's doubtful he'd work his way around the Bartok concerto with such an instrument.

A recent soloist I've heard (admittedly one of the few) is a "normal" size man who happens to be the head of the Curtis Institute, and former Principal of Philly Orch. His instrument was no larger than 16 1/2", and he projected perfectly well.

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On 2/13/2019 at 5:58 PM, Shunyata said:

There seems to be a tongue-in-cheek practice of bashing Viola construction and violas in general on this site. I think there's an inside joke there that I don't understand. Can somebody explain?

It is one of the many respected long-standing traditions in the music trade. :)

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16 hours ago, AtlVcl said:

This is simply untrue. Yes, some players will play a 17" until their bodies get exhausted, but I've never seen an 18" one. It would take someone the size of Gregor Piatigorsky to play an 18" instrument, and even then, it's doubtful he'd work his way around the Bartok concerto with such an instrument.

A recent soloist I've heard (admittedly one of the few) is a "normal" size man who happens to be the head of the Curtis Institute, and former Principal of Philly Orch. His instrument was no larger than 16 1/2", and he projected perfectly well.

I'm hearing many players saying the same thing.  Some like the sound of big instruments but  end up using something smaller and easier to hold.

The largest stress on a player's shoulder is proportional to the longest distance the left hand is extended times the instrument weight it has to support (torque).

Viola proportions aren't standardized so there are many combinations of body, neck, and string lengths.  Therefore a more accurate measurement of instrument comfort is the distance between the nut and the saddle's edge.

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17 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I'm hearing many players saying the same thing.  Some like the sound of big instruments but  end up using something smaller and easier to hold.

The largest stress on a player's shoulder is proportional to the longest distance the left hand is extended times the instrument weight it has to support (torque).

Brightly colored helium balloon tied to the scroll to counter the weight. Makes the viola section look festive, too. Can also be emptied into the viola to make it sound like a violin.

The high-tech people may want to use a drone instead for vertical lift.

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18 hours ago, AtlVcl said:

A recent soloist I've heard (admittedly one of the few) is a "normal" size man who happens to be the head of the Curtis Institute, and former Principal of Philly Orch. His instrument was no larger than 16 1/2", and he projected perfectly well.

I believe his main axe is the ex-Primrose bros. Amati... I believe Primrose prefered it to his Guarneri for recording.  if he was playing that, it's a good deal smaller than 16 1/2".

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3 hours ago, Felefar said:

I figure that since my 5'4" stepdaughter can comfortably play a 4/4 violin, I should at 6'4" be equally comfortable with an 18" viola. Since I can't find a decent one to try, I have decided to make one. And THEN maybe find a decent one to play. :)

I think the maths would suggest you would be equally comfortable with a 16 1/2" viola. Assuming your arms and hands and fingers are also 1.18 times bigger than hers ... and that your muscles are 1.18 times stronger.

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As for famous composers playing or liking the viola, how about Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak?  Mozart played the viola part in the "composer's quartet" including Haydn (vl i), Didderstorf (vl 2), and Vanhal (c).  Beethoven played viola in an orchestra, as, I think, Dvorak did.  And we can't forget Hindemith.

Not at all in the same level of support, in the community orchestra in which I play viola the violin sections are more often prompted to play better in tune.

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8 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I believe his main axe is the ex-Primrose bros. Amati... I believe Primrose prefered it to his Guarneri for recording.  if he was playing that, it's a good deal smaller than 16 1/2".

You may very well be correct in that, Jeffrey. Most certainly it was nothing at all outsized.

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17 hours ago, martin swan said:

I think the maths would suggest you would be equally comfortable with a 16 1/2" viola. Assuming your arms and hands and fingers are also 1.18 times bigger than hers ... and that your muscles are 1.18 times stronger.

Math doesn't know that my arms are extra long for my height. Or maybe I'm short for my arm length? My Wulf-fidel would be fine except that it is too thick to play under the chin. :)

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Love the Viola Cam! That about sums it up for much of Baroque and Classical accompaniment parts.

BTW don't forget the absolutely gorgeous and equal (to the violin part) viola solo part to Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante!

As a 6'1" violist, I want to chime in here about instrument size. When I was growing up in the '80s, it seemed that large violas were in demand, and there was something "manly" about playing them. I had a 16-7/8" instrument that sounded great, but ended up being one of the reasons I quit playing after I got my degree. The strain and pain was just too much. When I started up again 14 years later, I was fortunate enough to borrow a 15-1/4" Gagliano viola made in 1775. It had a lovely sound but did not really project all that well. Later, I bought the Yoshikai viola I have now - 16-3/8" and fits like a glove, and has a really big, clear sound. I believe it is a Guarneri pattern instrument. I friend of mine played for years on a 1790s Cuijpers viola that was (I think) 15". It sounded tremendous in his hands - fantastic projection and tone. 

How do you get a violist to play a downbow staccatto? Write a whole note and indicate "solo". 

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19 hours ago, gowan said:

Hiroshi Iizuka makes a large but accessible model viola in which the two upper bouts are reduced.  This type of viola is used by  famous players such as the late Michael Tree.  This link to violinist .com gives more information: https://www.violinist.com/blog/scottslapin/201610/20808/

Michael Tree owned a number of different instruments, including one of mine.

David Soyer performed on a Suzuki cello for a while, because he got tired of people saying, "Your instrument sounds so wonderful. What is it?"  :lol:

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