A tenor violin (or tenor viola) is an instrument with a range between those of the cello and the viola. An earlier development of the evolution of the violin family of instruments, the instrument is not standard in the modern symphony orchestra. Its tuning, typically G2 D3 A3 E4 - an octave below the traditional violin, places the range between the cello and viola and thus is sometimes confused with the modern baritone violin which has the same tuning on the standard violin body. As a formal development, the 17th century tenor violin existed as an instrument with a body larger than a viola but with a short neck. In earlier designs, the tenor was played upright in the musician's lap. Tenor violin parts were written in tenor clef (4th line C-clef).
Improvements in string technology in the 18th century led to greater focus of sound coming from the viola and cello ranges leading to a diminished role for tenor violins and violin makers constructed fewer of these instruments. It is known that Antonio Stradivari constructed two different models of tenor violin as well as tenor variations of violas.
In the modern new violin family or violin octet, the tenor violin exists as an instrument tuned an octave below the violin and approximately the same size as a 3/4 cello. The baritone violin in the same is an enlarged version of the cello.
By analogy with the vocal quartet of soprano-alto-tenor-bass, a few composers featured the tenor violin as the voice between the alto of the viola and bass of the cello (e.g. Felix Draeseke or Sergei Taneyev. In contemporary musical improvisation these instruments are again finding a place.
Classic tenor violins
Modern makers of tenor violins
- Tenor violins played at the shoulder like a violin or viola:
- Tenor violins played vertically like a cello: