MUSIC NEWBORN - Oliver Hirsh

concerts with viol


Italian Renaissance viols

The first prints of pieces using viols date from about 1500. By the middle of the 1500's, an impressive tradition of instrumental recercare had been established,- works of considerable length, often built around several musical subjects, which on account of the range involved could only be played by viols.

Practically no evidence has survived of the earliest viols, but a number of instruments do exist from approximately 1600. The chalk drawing of this Venetian model is dated 1591 - surely not before viols of this distinctive design were known! Our experience with instruments of this type, with roped gut on bass strings, and bows held as in iconography, show it especially apt at keeping polyphony clearly defined, and good for the quick passagework demanded by the practice of division, of embellishing melodic lines with shorter note values (as exemplified by Diego Ortiz).

English viols ±1600 

Perhaps the amplest repertoire for ensemble is that composed in England for consort of viols, which figured prominently in social gatherings and homelife. Also music for viol solo and duo was cultivated, with and without accompaniment. Simpson's instructions and illustrations point us in the right direction (holding the bow, posture, etc.), and thick but flexible bass strings (gut) round out sonority.

German viol Jahrgang 1700 

We are blessed with an original instrument by Tielke-associate Meinertzen, ideal for the performance of solo and chamber music by Händel, Hacquart, Bach, Telemann. (By this time, metal-covered strings had secured a foothold in the bass.)

Very occasionally we have offered demonstration of all of the above types.


the viol

full: viola da gamba,- held by the legs rather than arm (da braccio). Once the bowed vihuela had made its way from Spain to Naples towards the end of the 15th century, it soon gained recognition throughout Italy - and from there, the rest of the continent and England - as complement par excellence for voices, either accompanying a solo voice in shorter vocal genres (as frottole, strambotti, laude) or doubling/ replacing voices in madrigals, canzonette, etc. "Apt for voyalls and voyces" was the claim posted by numerous printed collections.

As other Renaissance instruments, the viol evolved into a family including at least three sizes to accommodate the full range of pitches needed for ensemble. Six strings, tuned in fourths and a third became the norm, and gave the instrument a potential for playing chords similar to its plucked counterparts. This was particularly useful in solo repertoire, mainly intended for the large viols (bass, sometimes termed tenor). From mid-century publications, a relatively high level of proficiency can be inferred.


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