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Mendy Smith

Viola vs. Violin Repertoire

May 15, 2010 at 3:23 AM

I took a long-shot and asked my viola teacher if he would coach me on violin to help me prepare for another Dvorak quartet performance.  Not only did he agree (having played violin before college), but also admitted wanting to purchase a violin himself to explore the wider range of violin repertoire.

This response got me thinking about what music is available for violists.  As a violist, the first place to look for a comprehensive list of pieces written for viola is the Primrose International Library at  When reading through the introduction page, I learned that there were overr4,500 published scores of works for viola.  Looking through the PIVA list, you can find pieces written with Sax, trombone, harp, organ, choir, and mandolin.

If this is not a wide range of repertoire, I don't know what is! If one was to work though this list, it would surely take a life-time!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 2:19 PM

Are you included orchestral/chamber parts, or just solo stuff for viola?  While this is an impressive number, the problem remains that until the 20th century there is little of real note for solo viola, and the major composers, even though they were practically all violists by preference, did not really compose for it.  Hindemith is really the first great violist to compose for the instrument.  There are, of course, transcriptions of the Bach cello suites and s&ps, there is the Telemann concerto, some Mozart chamber works including his fabulous duos and his Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, the Arpeggione Sonata by Schubert (available in transcription to violin, viola and cello) and some Brahms sonatas.  Compared to the violin, there is not that much.  So, that's the issue for violists.  It is also the issue for cellists to some extent.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 12:52 AM


The PIVA archives includes chamber works that feature the viola.  I agree, until recently not many solo works were written.  However, the body of works that features the viola (including transcriptions) is much larger than many may have assumed. 

I'm enjoying exploring modern pieces at the moment.  Some are in the classical style, while others are, well, modern.  Viola Zombies is my favorite :)

From Tom Holzman
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 12:57 PM

If it works for you, go with it.   There is really no right answer to your ultimate question.

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