A question for the Violists
Recently reading an article on symphonic strings I noted that the general theory is that a viola should have a 21 inch body to equal the violin. It turns out that a 1/8 Cello has a 21 inch body so it could, in theory, be tuned as a viola and played (baroque style) between the knees bowed like a cello.
The question comes up: Has any professional violist actually used a 1/8 cello as a Viola? If so what was the reaction as well as the sound quality?
It would then sound like a 1/8th cello and not a 'common' Viola.
I personally want a deep dark growl in a viola, usually not found in anything below 16.5', but there is also the issue of the bulk of a 1/8 cello.
It's a matter of personal preference. Some people like violas to sound like a deep violin with a C string (that's me, I don't like the G, D and A strings to be overly deep). Some people look for a middle-of-the-groud sound, and others prefer a more cello-like sound.
There's an instrument called "Alto violin", that is basically a 21" violin with viola tuning. It's held between the knees, like a cello. I personally consider that both violas and altos sound really nice. They could be used for different kind of roles; the viola could play more melancolic pieces, and the alto could play more heroic or bright works.
I used to tune my daughter'so 1/8 cello on my shoulder like a violin.
The small cello would sound like a small cello, and not like a viola.
A 21" viola is just too cumbersome! (Although, if I remember correctly, violist extraordinaire, tiny little Lillian Fuchs, who was less than 5' tall, played a 20" viola and made the beast obey her every whim! and beautifully!!!!!) The difference between a viola and a cello of the same belly size is that the ribs are far deeper in the cello, making a far deeper (more resonant) sound. The question you pose has been nagging at luthiers ever since the viola came into existence.
@Joel: Fuchs' viola was a 15 5/8', but she was about 5'0". :)
If Memory serves, Yoyo Ma played the Bartok on an upright alto and said it was definitely not cello technique. I don't know of him playing it since.
If your arm is stretched out to its full length to play a large viola then you are stymied. The elbow must be bent, as it always is on the violin, or tension and other problems are made apparent. You need a viola tailored to your arm length and body size, not the other way around.
Getting round a giant viola can be fun, but one can't stop and rest or stretch in the middle of a 3-hour rehearsal, let alone a concert (nor a 5- hour Wagner opera unless physiotherapists were available in the intervals...)
You would have to be at least 10 feet tall to stand any chance of playing an 18 inch viola. M Monroe would probably have fancied you though ...
The maker of one of my violins, the late Henry Meisner, made himself an 18 inch viola that he played to get a big and deep sound. Since it was for himself alone he didn't even bother to add purfling. I only saw it once, when we played in the support orchestra for Blomstedt's conducting master class - before he became music director of the San Francisco Symphony.
@Peter: No, you are fine on a 19' if about 6'6", so a 21' would fit basketball players perfectly fine. :)
Vertical viola is a fun idea, but it's so unpopular.
As violists often hold their violas lower on the chest than violinists, why not use the Da Spalla technique, with a guitar-type strap, but still keeping the scroll low to allow nearly "normal" bowing? The tail button would be near the right shoulder (hence the name). One could open the left hand and the fingers would come in perpendicular to the neck like a guitarist.
The theory that a bigger viola would produce a deeper sound isn't necessarily true. An instrument with a greater surface area produces more output than a similar small instrument, but the perception of tonal depth is also greatly influenced by the air in the body of the instrument.
It's easy to enlargen the air cavity (high ribs and arching, wide bouts, moderate f-holes) and bring that resonance down from Bb on the G-string to F on th C-string, as in the Tertis model violas, but the main wood resonance, F-F# on the D-string is difficult to lower by the same amount without a body over 20" long: hence the New Octet Alto Violin.
Yes, but as a result of lower ribs, they still do not support the G string, they simply have darker tones in general. :)
That's not what I hear in the demos. As far as I can see, all the New Octet instruments have lower ribs but larger plates than their traditional counterparts. Their lowest strings are fabulous, and they are well balanced across their ranges.