The viola dates from the same period as the violin - the early to mid 16th century. The viola was first called the 'alto-tenor' violin, because the name ‘viola’ was used to refer to any Western bowed stringed instrument. 



Facts and Features

  1. Violas are pitched one octave higher than cellos, and have the same strings - A, D, G and C. 
  2. Violas are measured in inches. The length of the body of a full sized viola is between 15.5 and 16.5 inches.
  3. Violists, or viola players, read music in the alto clef, and higher notes in the treble clef, like violinists.
  4. A viola bow is slightly shorter and heavier than a violin bow. It has a wider heel or frog for more hair to pull on the thicker strings.
  5. The viola is often nicknamed the ‘Cinderella of the orchestra’ as it has had less solo repertoire written for it and is often joked about more than any other instrument.

Famous Players

Carl Stamitz           (1745-1801)
Lionel Tertis          (1876-1975)
Rebecca Clarke     (1886-1979)
William Primrose   (1904-1982)
Yuri Bashmet         (1953 -)

Music to Listen to

Telemann – Viola Concerto in C major
Mozart -   Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364
Arnold Bax -Viola Sonata in G
Berlioz – Harold in Italy
Edward McGuire – Divertimento for 20 Violas

 Find Out

  1. What is a viola d’amore?
  2. What does the alto clef look like?