Viola D’amore

Name: Viola D’Amore.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.71
Country: Many.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The viola d’amore, amore is the Italian word for love, as in “viol of love]. Having 6 or 7 bowed strings and additional sympathetic strings running right underneath the bowing strings strings. Sharing many features to related instruments in the viol family. The viola d’amore some what resembles a thinner treble viola with out frets. The six-string viola d’amore and the treble viol also have approximately the same ambitus or range of playable notes.

Tuning: As on the treble viol, the register above the octave [d] on the top string would seldom be used. 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”.

Scordatura: Scordatura notation was first used in the late seventeenth century as a way to quickly read music for violin with altered tunings. It was a natural choice for viola d’amore and other stringed instruments not tuned in the usual fifths, especially those whose intervals between strings are not uniform across their range.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Joseph Vilsmayr [a student of Biber] among others, wrote pieces for violin with one or more strings retuned to notes other than the usual fifths. Given that the viola d’amore was usually played by violinists and that 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 informs the player not about what note will sound but rather about where s/he should place his/her fingers; therefore, it may be referred to as a tablature or “finger” notation.

Construction: The bridge has multiple number of holes drilled according to the amount of sympathetic strings added. It is played under the chin in the same manner as the violin. As with all viols the viola d’amore has a flat back. An intricately carved head at the top of the peg box is common in viols and viola d’amore.

Unlike the carved heads on viols, the viola d’amore’s head occurs most often as Cupid blindfolded to represent the blindness of love. Its sound-holes are commonly in the shape of a flaming sword known as “The Flaming Sword of Islam”, suggesting the instrument’s development was influenced by the Islamic World.

Citations: Bibliography: The Modern Viole d’Amour Player, Systematically Arranged Material for the Study of the Viole d’Amour for the Violin Player by Walter Voigtlander [published before 1914] ; 42 Studies transcribed for the Viole d’Amour for the Violin Player, and Viola Studies for Self-Study by Walter Voigtlander ;

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