Viola d'amore

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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 [viˈɔːla d aˈmoːre] (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[edit]

The viola d'amore shares many features of the viol family. It looks like a thinner treble viol without frets and sometimes with sympathetic strings added. The six-string viola d'amore and the treble viol also have approximately the same ambitus or range of playable notes. Like all viols, it has a flat back. An intricately carved head at the top of the peg box is common on both viols and viole d'amore, although some viols lack one. 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 (suggesting a Middle Eastern influence in its development) but more likely representing the flame of love. This was one of the three usual sound hole shapes for viols as well.[1] 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.[2]

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

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".


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.[3] Sergei Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet features a viola d'amore as well.

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[edit]

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.

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 viole d'amore and basso continuo, from Harmonia artificiosa - ariosa, 1696.
6 Lessons for viola d'amore and continuo
15 Sonatas
used in 2 cantatas
used as an obbligato instrument in the opera, "Marte Placato"
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 D major for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 314
Concerto in F major for flute, viola d'amore, chalumeau, strings and continuo, GWV 327
Concerto in D major for flauto d'amore, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 333
Concerto in g minor for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 336
Concerto in A major for viola, viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 339
Concerto in B major for chalumeau, viola d'amore, oboe, strings and continuo, GWV 343
Ouverture in D major for oboe d'amore, viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 419
Ouverture in D minor for bassoon, viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 426
Ouverture in D major for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 427
Ouverture in E major for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 438
Ouverture in F major for flute, viola d'amore, chalumeau, strings and continuo, GWV 450
Ouverture in F major for flute, viola d'amore, 2 chalumeaux, strings and continuo, GWV 451
Ouverture in G major for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 459
Ouverture in G major for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 460
Ouverture in G major for viola d'amore, bassoon, strings and continuo, GWV 465
Ouverture in A major for viola d'amore, strings and continuo, GWV 476
Ouverture in A major for flute, viola d'amore, oboe, bassoon, strings and continuo, GWV 477
Sinfonia in F for soli viola d'amore, cello and bassoon, 3 violas and basso continuo
Graupner wrote extensively for the viola d'amore; he also used it in 13 of his cantatas, like "Wer die Wahrheit tut", GWV 1139/38, where it is used in the soprano aria as obbligato instrument on a background of pizzicato strings. He also wrote several trio sonatas for flute, viola d'amore and basso and one for chalumeau, viola d'amore and basso.
Concerto in E major for flute, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore, strings and continuo
Trio Sonata in D major for flute, viola d'amore and continuo
'Two Trio Sonatas (in F and c minor) for flute, viola d'amore and continuo
Pièces pour une viole d'amour avec basse
Pièces pour une viole d'amour, violon et basse
Trio en fa pour une viole d'amour, violon et basse
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 for oboe, violin, viola d'amore and cello
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
Offertorium, "In Festo Sta. Theresia" for Tenor, soli viola d'amore, cello, with strings and chorus
Modern works
Romance in D major for violin or viola d'amore and piano (1891)
Soir d'automne (Autumn Evening), Melody for viola d'amore or viola and piano or harp (1903)
La mort de Tintagiles, Symphonic poem for viola d'amore and orchestra, Op. 6 (1897–1900)
'The Lone Prairie" for tenor saxophone, viola d'amore and piano
Miscellaneous pieces for viola d'amore with other instruments and/or chorus.
Concerto for viola d'amore and strings
24 Préludes for viola d'amore and harpsichord, piano or harp (1931)
Sonata da chiesa for viola d'amore and organ or string orchestra (1952)
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)
Viola per viola sola (o viola d'amore) (1971)
Concerto for two viole d'amore and chamber orchestra (1994)
24/7:: freedom fried for viola d'amore and live electronics (2006)
Ritual for viola d'amore, real time composition and live electronics (2007)
Virelais for viola d'amore and voice (2001)
  • Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Quartet for quinton, viola d'amore, viola da gamba, basse de viole
Gadbad-Confusion for two viole d'amore, viola da gamba and cembalo (2012)
Bhalobasha-Love for viola d'amore and tape (2012)
Makbaraa-Tombeau for two viole d'amore, cello and cembalo (2014)
Stootch-Reflection for viola d'amore and tape (2014)
The viola d'amore is also used in 

Viola d'amore players[edit]

Louis van Waefelghem with viola d'amore


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.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The other two sound-hole shapes being f-holes for viols with "violin shape" and C-holes or flame holes on the "viol shaped" viols.
  2. ^ Kai Köpp: "Love without Sympathy", The Strad, vol. 112 no. 1333 (May 2001), 526-533.
  3. ^ Tyrrell, John (2006/7). 'Janáček: Years of a Life', Faber & Faber, London, Volume II at pages 264, 832, 881
  4. ^

External links[edit]