Viola and viola da gamba

August 24, 2019, 5:26 PM · If you are transcribing for viola a piece written for viola da gamba, how much do you need to change the notes? Is it up and octave like of you are transcribing cello music for viola, or is it some other interval? Thanks

Replies (20)

August 24, 2019, 6:01 PM · The tuning system of a gamba is very different from any modern strings.
Just get yourself a viola and try and figure which key would make the music the simplest to play. All par for the course when it comes to transcription.
August 24, 2019, 6:20 PM · Cotton - I understand that the tuning system is different. I have seen an alto clef on gamba music which is a third above where the alto clef sits for viola. What note does that clef designate? Is it middle C? Or some other note? Or is most gamba music written on bass clef as with cello?
August 24, 2019, 6:45 PM · Middle C is always the line or space going right through the middle of that clef.

I don't play gamba, so I dunno which clef gamb-ists read usually. I doubt they transpose, though.

August 24, 2019, 8:26 PM · ok, thanks. That's helpful.
August 24, 2019, 11:50 PM · Or not.
Edited: August 25, 2019, 4:52 AM · I have adapted many pieces of gamba music for viola especially those of Marin Marais.

Some pieces by Abel can be played directly on the viola, but we often get fast passages on the low strings which just grumble and grunt!

Up one octave takes us too high on the relatively strident viola A-string, and I find momentary octave shifts ruin the balance of the piece.

So I often transpose up one fourth, (or one octave for the violin) and this seems to make best use of the four viola strings: plaintive high range, warm middle, and weight in the bass. Apart from re-voicing double stops and a few bass notes I find I can respect the original layout quite well.

Music for two viols can be up one octave for violin and viola, or up one fourth for viola and 'cello. Or two violas, of course.

Exceptions? Marais' Folia variations come out well in C minor i.e. up a seventh. His Les Voix Humaines in G minor sound well up in C minor, or D minor for easier double stops. His Badinage in F# minor sounds well in B minor, getting many of the open-string bariolages, or in C minor with different open strings.

BTW Cotton, viol music also uses the C-clef on the fourth line ("tenor clef" to us) as 'cellists do...
With home made cramped staves, clefs shifted about to avoid too many leger-lines.

Edited: August 25, 2019, 6:56 AM · Adrian - thanks. That's interesting. I happen to be playing a Suite in D Major (not the one which you can find on youtube and IMSLP but another) which has been transcribed for viola, and I assume the original instrument was gamba but do not know. So, I got curious.
August 25, 2019, 8:24 AM · Most publishers prefer to keep their original keyboard accompaniment.
The Telemann suite in D with strings is for bass viol, but even this would sound better transpose up to G. The Marin Marais suite also.

I spend a little time copying stuff into Sibelius, then transposing it by different amounts to choose what plays and sounds best.

Edited: August 26, 2019, 9:15 AM · Much cello and "gamba" music fits very well into viola range. The only thing necessary is to write the music in a clef familiar to the player of that instrument. Only the cello's lowest octave is inaccessible to the viola.

Published transcriptions of Elgar's Cello Concerto and F. Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata are very accessible on viola (much easier to play than on the cello).

August 26, 2019, 8:10 AM · True, Victor.

For the Arpeggione sonata, I use Paul Doktor's edtion, which avoids too much A-string squealing, and makes the frequent octave displacements convincing.

The Elgar is a problem for those of us brought up on the Du Pré/Barbirolli disc! (Or even the Rostropovich-like Du Pré/Barenboim one..)

I want, one day, to adapt Kodaly's solo sonata. Quite apart from the scordatura, a simple octave transposition would be unplayable in the high passages, and not very nice!

August 26, 2019, 8:25 AM · Andrew - I have done the Arpegionne on the viola using the Barenreiter edition. Normally, all you have to do to transcribe cello music for viola is write it up an octave. Of course, the Arpegionne was not really a cello, and while all of the string instruments could play some of it as originally written, none of them has the range to play all of it as written.
Edited: August 26, 2019, 12:33 PM · Tom, can we be sure how the original really was written. It seems to me when I watched Rostropovich play it seems there were differences from the cello music I had purchased.

I've got a couple of recordings of performances on modern-made Arpeggione instruments but have not watched.

What I like about it on viola is that it loses most of that virtuosic difficulty.

August 26, 2019, 11:32 AM · Adrian, I imagine that when you were studying the Elgar, the Du Pré/Barbirolli disc would have just been made. When I was being taught it (Tertis's arrangement, which recogized that those solo pizzicato chords, as such, just don't work on the viola), I hadn't heard of Jacqueline Du Pré!
Edited: August 26, 2019, 11:47 AM · John, I'm still struggling with your Melancholy Galliard arrangement!! Lots of weird shifts and stretches. It works better if we don't try to sustain so many "voices": more arpeggios and Bach-like sketched polyphony (poly-phoney?) But I'm determined to do it before re-voicing or transposing..
Or the Kodaly.
Edited: August 26, 2019, 6:07 PM · Andrew - IMSLP has it as written, as far as I can tell. Take a look.

I really agree that the viola version eases the task somewhat for us violists.

August 26, 2019, 2:51 PM · The piano part often has the original, treble clef an octave higher, as for the guitar.
Edited: August 28, 2019, 9:04 AM · Adrian, I'm not surprised - I haven't succeeded in playing it in such a way that I'd want to listen to it in a concert.
I think I did a little better with my arrangement of "Es Ist Vollbracht" for contralto, viola and piano (In orchestra Norrington uses a gamba to start with and then a 'cello for slightly slower reprise - I read Bach's speed markings as requiring it the opposite way round, also reckoning that there's more of a note of victory following the Hero Of Judah's fighting the fight than before, so the reprise should be faster). I'm not sure where my manuscript for that would be, should anyone ever want to see it. One might also want to scrub the quotations from the middle section that I, in anachronistic Romantic manner, inserted into the piano part of the last section.
August 28, 2019, 9:34 AM · Oh dear, if it's not Jacqueline Du Pré in my mind's ear it's Kathleen Ferrier!
September 2, 2019, 5:12 AM · Yes, Adrian, the interpretation I tried to put on the Brahms songs rather mirrored that of her violist (Max Gilbert) - whether that was me spontaneously or I had listened to them in my teenage years when hearing her recording of the Vier ernste Gesänge and subconsciously imbibed it so effectively as to wipe out any influence of Cecil Aronowitz's, I don't know.
September 2, 2019, 5:48 PM · I just purchased the Bach sonatas for Gamba and continuo (Barenreiter ed.). There is a part for gamba and a part for viola. Both are alto clef. I compared them and found that a couple of notes in the Gamba part go below the range of the viola, and the editor transcribed some of the notes around those places an octave higher, but almost everything is within the viola range.


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