Viol De Gamba

Name: Viol De Gamba.
Type: Bowed > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322-71
Country: Many, Spain, Italy.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The viol / ˈvaɪəl / viola da gamba / [ˈvjɔːla da ˈɡamba] or informally gamba. It is a bowed instrument similar in profile to the cello or viol. It is played with a bow in while positioned in between the legs. Hence its name “Viol de gamba” literally ‘leg viol’]. While it is not a direct ancestor of the violin, there is some kinship between the two instrument families.

History: Viols first appeared in Spain in the mid to late 15th century and were most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque [1600-1750] periods. Early ancestors include the Arabic rebab and the medieval European vielle but later, more direct possible ancestors include the Venetian viole and the 15th and 16th century Spanish vihuela, a 6-course plucked instrument tuned like a lute (and also like a present-day viol that looked like but was quite distinct from (at that time) the 4-course guitar, an earlier chordophone.

Family: All members of the viol family are played upright (unlike the violin or the viola, which is held under the chin). All viol instruments are held between the legs like a modern cello, hence the Italian name viola da gamba [it. “viol for the leg”] was sometimes applied to the instruments of this family. This distinguishes the viol from the modern violin family, the viola da braccio (it. “viol for the arm”).

A player of the viol is commonly known as a gambist, violist / ˈvaɪəlɪst / or violist da gamba. “Violist” shares the spelling, but not the pronunciation, of the word commonly used since the mid-20th century to refer to a player of the viola. It can therefore cause confusion if used in print where context does not clearly indicate that a viol player is meant, though it is entirely unproblematic, and common, in speech.