What, more Telemann? Discovering the Double Viola Concerto

August 7, 2018, 10:59 AM · Do you ever get a sense of deja vu in music? Like you've been down this road before? And not just because of the repeats!


Much of my spring was occupied with preparing the Telemann viola concerto in G major for the South Bay Philharmonic's concert on May 11th. It was the first time I had played a solo concerto with an orchestra. (I had had a small concertmaster solo several years ago with the Arlington Philharmonic, which was technically my first solo with orchestra, but that wasn't a concerto).

After the performance I went on vacation to Europe for a month. My husband is German and we visited our friends and family there, as well as going on a British Isles cruise. I'm back now and looking forward to a summer chamber music concert this Sunday, in which I'll be playing . . . uh . . . a Telemann viola concerto in G major.

Yep. Did you know there was more than one? Telemann also wrote a double viola concerto, and it's quite charming and very different from the concerto for one viola that more people know. A friend from the viola section of the SBP and I have the same viola teacher, and she put us up to learning it this summer.

This is one of my favorite recordings of the piece on YouTube, for several reasons. I especially like the energy level of viola 1, but I also like viola 2's different, calmer approach. They are great foils for one another. Also, this version is only 7-and-a-half minutes long, all 4 movements. There is something about the essence of the concerto being distilled into less than 8 minutes that really appeals to me. You can try to blame modern attention spans, I suppose, but this piece was composed around 1740.

Interestingly, it was originally scored for two "violettas," and it was composed shortly after Telemann returned from France. At least two of the movements have French titles. Read this paper from the American Viola Society to learn more. We'll just be using two modern violas, with a cello continuo (my 15-yo son).




August 7, 2018 at 05:47 PM · There's quite a good double viola concerto by a friend and contemporary of Telemann's. When I first heard it, I thought the last movement had a quote from "The Gay Gordons".

August 7, 2018 at 05:51 PM · Who is the composer?

August 8, 2018 at 02:37 PM · Good luck with it! I found it on IMSLP and printed out the solo parts. Interestingly, what is on IMSLP appears to be slightly different from the one version I found as published sheet music, although the IMSLP version tracks the manuscript, which is also on IMSLP. Which version are you using? Thanks.

I think your next project should be Bach Brandenburg #6. I had an orch colleague with whom I used run the solo parts occasionally, but he moved away, unfortunately. It is a wonderful piece for viola(s).

August 8, 2018 at 03:26 PM · Hi Tom,

My teacher gave the Telemann music to me and my playing partner. I'm not sure where she got it. There is a Suzuki part, and a Suzuki recording, so it may be that version.

I just looked at the score for the Bach. The solo viola parts look fun! But there are no violins and the score also calls for two violas de gamba, a cello, and a "violone" which appears to be a bass clef/continuo instrument. How is this piece usually performed by modern ensembles? Four regular violas and two cellos, or a cello and bass?

August 8, 2018 at 05:44 PM · Right. It is difficult to gather the proper instruments for that one. Substituting modern Violas or Cellos for the Viol de Gamba parts creates balance problems. The Violone is the now uncommon double-bass viol de gamba, with frets and more than four strings. It sounds wonderful in baroque orchestras, but the modern bass is the usual substitute.

August 9, 2018 at 12:27 AM · Karen - the solo viola parts are wonderful! I have no idea how you would do this with a modern ensemble. I have only seen it done by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. The good news is that if you just do the two solo violas, it is still a great piece because the violas are going all the time. If I wanted to do it, I would not worry about getting the supporting cast of other folks together.

August 9, 2018 at 03:36 PM · I love viola!!!!!!

August 13, 2018 at 11:01 PM · I just saw this. It's a hoot!

" . . . He will turn out no better than "a clown, a tightrope walker or a marmot-trainer." "

--Puritan Lutherans to George Philip Telemann's mother


This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine