Viola d'amore: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Viola d'amore
Viola d'amore.jpg
Viola d'Amore from 1760
String instrument
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 321.322-71
(Composite chordophone sounded by a bow)
Playing range
Range viola damore.png
Related instruments

The viola d'amore (Italian: love viol) is a 7- or 6-stringed musical instrument with sympathetic strings used chiefly in the baroque period. It is played under the chin in the same manner as the violin.


Structure and sound

The viola d'amore shares many features of the viol family. Like viols, it has a flat back and intricately carved head at the top of the peg box, but unlike viols, the head occurs often with blindfolded eyes to represent love , and its sound-holes are commonly in the shape of a flaming sword (suggesting a Middle Eastern influence in its development). It is unfretted, and played much like a violin, being held horizontally under the chin. It is about the same size as the modern viola.

The viola d'amore usually has six or seven playing strings, which are sounded by drawing a bow across them, just as with a violin. In addition, it has an equal number of sympathetic strings located below the main strings and the fingerboard which are not played directly but vibrate in sympathy with the notes played. A common variation is six playing strings, and instruments exist with as many as fourteen sympathetic strings alone. Despite the fact that the sympathetic strings are now thought of as the most characteristic element of the instrument, early forms of the instrument almost uniformly lacked them. The first unambiguous reference to a viola d'amore without sympathetic strings does not occur until the 1730s. Both the types continued to be built and played through the 18th century. [1]

Largely thanks to the sympathetic strings, the viola d'amore has a particularly sweet and warm sound. Leopold Mozart, writing in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, said that the instrument sounded "especially charming in the stillness of the evening."

The first known mention of the name 'viol d'amore' appeared in John Evelyn's diary (20 November, 1679): "for its swetenesse & novelty the Viol d'Amore of 5 wyre-strings, plaid on with a bow, being but an ordinary violin, play'd on Lyra way by a German, than which I never heard a sweeter Instrument or more surprizing..."

The bridge on an early 18th-century instrument, showing both sets of strings.
The head of the same instrument, featuring blindfolded Love.


Range viola damore.png

The viola d'amore was normally tuned specifically for the piece it was to play - cf. scordatura. Towards the end of the 18th century the standard tuning became: A, d, a, d', f', a', d".


The instrument was especially popular in the late 17th century, although a specialised viola d'amore player would have been highly unusual, since it was customary for professional musicians to play a number of instruments, especially within the family of the musician's main instrument. Later, the instrument fell from use, as the volume and power of the violin family became preferred over the delicacy and sweetness of the viol family. However, there has been renewed interest in the viola d'amore in the last century. The viola players Henri Casadesus and Paul Hindemith both played the viola d'amore in the early 20th century, and the film composer Bernard Herrmann made use of it in several scores. It may be noted that, like instruments of the violin family, the modern viola d'amore was altered slightly in structure from the baroque version, mainly to support the extra tension of steel wound strings.

Leoš Janáček originally planned to use the viola d'amore in his second string quartet, "Intimate Letters". The use of the instrument was symbolic of the nature of his relationship with Kamila Stösslová, a relationship that inspired the work. However, the version with viola d'amore was found in rehearsal to be impracticable, and Janáček re-cast the part for a conventional viola.[2]

The viola d'amore can regularly be heard today in musical ensembles that specialise in historically accurate performances of Baroque music on authentic instruments.

Scordatura notation

Scordatura notation was first used in the late seventeenth century as a way to quickly read music for violin with altered tunings and viola d'amore where the tuning is not in the usual fifths. Biber and Vivaldi notably wrote pieces for violin with one or more strings retuned to notes other than the usual fifths. The viola d’amore was usually played by violinists. As many different tunings were used, scordatura notation made it easier for a violinist to read the music. Scordatura notation exists in a number of different types. Treble clef, alto clef and soprano clefs are all used by different composers. Bass clef is typically used for notes on the lower two or three strings (6 or 7 string instruments) and usually sounds an octave higher than written. In scordatura, one imagines that one is playing a violin (or in some cases a viola, where alto clef is used) tuned in the normal fifths. Scordatura notation does not necessarily tell you what note will sound, but rather, where to place the fingers and is sometimes referred to as a ‘finger’ notation.

In Biber’s Harmonia Artificiosa no. VII, a different version of scordatura notation is used. Biber uses a nine line staff. The clefs used are based on alto clef (imagining that you are playing a viola). The piece is written for a six stringed instrument. The upper part of the staff supposes that you are playing on the upper four strings and the lower part that you are playing on the lower four strings (still imagining that you are reading the four strings of a viola in alto clef). This does mean that there are two ways of notating notes on the middle two strings but it quickly becomes apparent, when playing, what the correct reading should be.


Baroque period
Partita VII for two violas d'amore and basso continuo, from Harmonia artificiosa - ariosa, 1696.
6 Lessons for viola d'amore and continuo
15 Sonatas
used in 2 cantatas
Concerto in D major, RV 392, P.166
Concerto in D minor, RV 393, P.289
Concerto in D minor, RV 394, P.288
Concerto in D minor, RV 395, P.287
Concerto in A major, RV 396, P.233
Concerto in A minor, RV 397, P.37
Vivaldi was particularly well known for using the viola d'amore in his music. In addition to the six solo concertos, there is one with lute (RV 540), and one Concerto da camera (RV 97). He also inserted viola d'amore cadenzas in his other works and repertoire. In both versions of the psalm Nisi Dominus that he wrote (RV 608 and RV 803), a cadenza is apparent in the movement Gloria Patri. Other cadenzas are found in the aria Tu dormi in tante pene of the opera Tito Manlio and in the aria Quanto magis generosa of the oratorio Juditha triumphans.
Concerto in E major for flute, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore, strings and continuo
Trio Sonata for flute, viola d'amore and continuo
  • Carlo Martinides (c.1731–1794)
Divertimento in D major for viola d'amore, violin, viola and cello
Divertimento for viola d'amore, violin and cello; This is an arrangement of a work by Haydn, but made in the 18th century.
3 solo Concertos
Sonata in D major for viola d'amore and violin or viola
various other sonatas
Quartet in E major (D major) for viola d'amore, 2 violins and cello
Quintet No.1 in D major for viola d'amore, violin, viola, cello and violone
Quintet No.2 in D major for viola d'amore, violin, viola, cello and violone
Modern works
Concerto for viola d'amore and strings
24 Préludes for viola d'amore and harpsichord, piano or harp (1931)
Kleine Sonate (Small Sonata) for viola d'amore and piano, Op.25 No.2 (1922)
Kammermusik No. 6 for viola d'amore and chamber orchestra, Op. 46 No. 1 (1927)
Sonata da chiesa for viola d'amore and organ or string orchestra (1952)
  • Paul Rosenbloom (b.1952)
Concerto for two violas d'amore and chamber orchestra (1994)
The viola d'amore is also used in 

Viola d'amore players


The sînekemani ("breast fiddle") is one of the members of the viol family, which was very popular in Western Europe, and known in almost all the countries of Europe by its Italian name, viola d'amore, meaning "love fiddle." It was most likely brought to Istanbul by European diplomats. Until its arrival, the single bowed instrument in Turkish classical music was the kemân (or kemânçe). Because the viola d'amore was played resting against the breast, the Turks called it the sînekemani.[3]


  1. ^ Kai Köpp: ‘Love without Sympathy’, The Strad, vol. 112 no. 1333 (May 2001), 526-533.
  2. ^ Tyrrell, John (2006/7). 'Janáček: Years of a Life', Faber & Faber, London, Volume II at pages 264, 832, 881
  3. ^

External links

Simple English

File:Viola d'
A viola d'amore

The viola d'amore is a string instrument which was popular in the 17th and 18th century. It is a kind of viola. The name is Italian and means “viola of love”. It can have 6 or 7 strings. It is held under the chin and bowed like a violin. Sometimes it is used today to play music from the 17th and 18th centuries. Occasionally some modern composers have also written music for it.


Structure and sound

The viola d'amore is about the same size as a modern viola. However, the shape is more like the shape of a viol. Like viols, it has a flat back, a wide rib (the sides), sloping shoulders and a carved head at the top of the peg box. It does not have any frets (markings on the fingerboard) like a viol or a guitar. The sound-holes are often in the shape of a flaming sword.

The viola d'amore usually has six or seven playing strings which are played with the bow, just as with a violin. In addition, it has the same number of sympathetic strings. These are strings which vibrate when the other strings are played, making the sound richer and sweeter. .

The notes it can play

File:Range viola

The viola d'amore was often tuned to whatever notes were best for the piece it was to going to play. This is a kind of scordatura (changing the way the strings are tuned). Towards the end of the 18th century the usual tuning became: A, d, a, d', f#', a', d'' (see music example. Notice the example uses the "viola clef")


File:Viola Amore
A viola d'amore being played, accompanied by a harpsichord.

The viola d’amore became very popular during the 17th century. However, after a time it became less popular because the instruments of the viol family were not used much while the instruments of the violin family took over. The viola d’amore was too quiet and sweet to play with the modern violin family. However, in the 20th century some composers have written for the instrument again, e.g. Paul Hindemith.

The viola d'amore can regularly be heard today in groups who play Baroque music on period instruments. It can be heard, for example in Bach’s St John Passion.


  • Grove Music Online (subscription)

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address