The viola d’amore is played under the chin like a violin. The tuning varies from composition to composition, but it typically has between 5 and 7 strings that are bowed. The viola d’amore has a silvery sound created by a series of sympathetic strings running under the finger-board and through the bridge. These are not bowed, but vibrate in sympathy with the playing strings – similar to the Indian sitar. The viola d’amore is closer in shape to the viol family, with a deeper larger body than the violin. It often has characteristic ‘flame’-shaped soundholes and a carved blindfolded cupid instead of a scroll. It was popular mainly during the Baroque period, with music written for it by Vivaldi, Telemann, J.S. Bach and Haydn.
Photograph shows a Viola d’amore or Treble viol, 7 strings. Probably Germany, c 1720 333).
The viola da gamba, or viol as it is called in Britain, is typically made in three sizes, treble, tenor and bass. As they are all played held between the knees, their generic name is viola da gamba (viols of the leg). Their tuning is similar to that of the guitar, six strings being the most usual number. Like lutes of the period, viols have frets, which are made from gut strings and tied round the neck. The viol was normally played as part of a consort. The viol developed alongside the violin throughout the 16th century, with its main early development in Spain and Italy. In the hands of professional musicians it travelled across Europe to royal courts and wealthy households, and often travelled with ambassadors on political visits to neighbouring countries. Playing in consorts of up to six viols was a favourite pastime of those with leisure, particularly in England in the Tudor period. The bass viol was also used to provide accompaniment in mixed groups and as a virtuoso solo instrument; it survived longest.
Audio: Mark Summers plays and discusses a bass viola da Gamba by Matthias and Augustinus Kaiser, Dusseldorf, c 1700 (2878).