Suggestions for 2 violins, viola

November 30, 2019, 7:50 PM · I recently got myself a viola, and so now of course I want occasions to play it. I'd appreciate suggestions of what we might play.

At church we have three other violinists (one of whom doesn't play that regularly, so I am just counting two of them here). I think I'm the only one who doubles on viola, and not only do we not have a cellist but probably wouldn't know where to find one if we needed one.

I've been having a look around for pieces for two violins and viola (with piano/continuo is fine and perhaps even preferable), but I find there's not as much out there as I'd think for this particular instrumentation. And wading through IMSLP is exhausting!

We're all about intermediate level; probably we don't want anything that will take tons of preparation (especially as one of our violinists is blind so has to memorize everything, and she's usually pretty busy all the time so she will appreciate it if she does not have to stuff too much into her head, lol) so it would probably be best to keep it at the intermediate level. I don't think we have any interest in hymn arrangements, show/popular tunes, etc.; I'm looking for classical music.

I'm fine with trios originally written for other instruments (for example, I've found a couple for flute + violin + viola that I think would sound fine substituting another violin for the flute; found a Handel trio I liked for two oboes + basso continuo where in the recording they had added a bassoon playing part of the continuo part along with the harpsichord and I'd be all right with arranging in a viola part the same way, etc.).

Two questions on the "adaptation" front:

1. I've found trios for two violins and cello; would it sound weird to adapt the cello part to viola? Of course, it depends on the piece in question, but in general, is this an idea that's just not going to work? (I'm sure it's not going to be as simple as "play it an octave up," but that's a place to start and adapt from there.)

2. Would it sound weird if we took a string quartet piece and used piano as the cello part and pretend it's just a basso continuo (this too, I'm sure, is dependent on the particular piece)? That would, of course, make the music search much easier.


Thank you in advance for any help!

Replies (18)

November 30, 2019, 8:12 PM · There are 3 pieces I know of for your combination. There is Kodaly's trio and Dvorak's Terzetto and Drobnasti. I don't know their difficulty though
November 30, 2019, 8:56 PM · The Dvorak Miniatures for two violins and viola aren't too hard. They were composed because the Terzetto was too difficult for one of the two violinists it was composed for.

There's a Martinu serenade for two violins and viola that I quite like.

November 30, 2019, 9:22 PM · I'm trying to avoid the Dvorak and the Kodaly; I can't say I'm that fond of them (and I'm not sure my cohorts will be, either). Sorry; I should have stated that in my initial post.

I'll check out the Martinu, though, thanks!

Edited: November 30, 2019, 9:38 PM · Yeah, there isn't too much there for 2 violins and viola. You could try playing the cello part on viola, but it'll be a bit weird, although that's depending on the piece. My suggestion is to only transpose notes that the viola can't play up at octave. As for the second possibility, it's possible but the pianist/continuo would be bored to death playing with only one hand (or a bit of two hands). Check IMSLP's categoy "for two violins and viola". If you can use the category filter, filter out anything that's not in the public domain as most of it is self-published contemporary works. IMSLP isn't the easiest to use, though. The other possibility would be to use a clarinet or saxophone part as a viola since the range of the clarinet and saxophone is similar to that of the viola.

I just checked. There isn't a ton of stuff for 2 violins and viola, and there is somewhat more for 2 violins, viola and continuo. Just skip anything that has a composition date of something like 2010 as it's a self-published, modernist work that you probably won't like.

November 30, 2019, 9:50 PM · Try Last Resort Music. They do gig-book arrangements for mixed instrumentation. There are classical arrangements that are suitable for intermediate-level players without too much preparation (and are sight-readable by advanced players).
November 30, 2019, 10:44 PM · Thanks, Ella and Lydia.

Ella, you're right, I did have to sort some contemporary stuff on both of the IMSLP pages for 2 violins/viola but it wasn't too bad. Mostly I just didn't look that much at stuff from composers I hadn't heard of (figured it might be hard to find recordings to vet, or sometimes even the sheet music-- I find the handwritten manuscripts difficult to read and in some cases, that's all IMSLP has available and if it seems obscure enough, I'm not sure if I could even find it to buy it. That was part of the reason I started browsing other categories on IMSLP and then was overwhelmed, lol. Some of the Telemann stuff they have is nice, though.

Lydia, I'll look for Last Resort, thanks! That might be just what I need.

(I mean, I could go contemporary and write my own, but I'm terrible at finishing what I start. I'd love to get anything done on an idea I have for a canon with 2 or 3 violins and continuo-- or in this case, make it 2 violins/viola instead-- but I've been stuck for years without being able to get past the initial theme and get the parts working with each other.)

Edited: November 30, 2019, 11:56 PM · I have a collection called "Das Unkomplette Streichquartett" edited by Walter Hockner, which was designed for reading when not every member of a casual string quartet can show up. It contains one piece for every combination of two or three instruments in a string quartet. I believe the whole collection is now on IMSLP.

The piece in there for two violins and cello is by Franz Benda. I can look it up when I get home later tonight.

December 1, 2019, 12:21 AM · I haven't succeeded at finding that on IMSLP, Andrew. Could you link please?
December 1, 2019, 12:37 AM · Go ahead and research the obscure stuff. Often it's great material that should be more widely played and you'd be surprised at this, but there are recordings on YouTube of pretty obscure pieces.
Edited: December 1, 2019, 3:45 AM · I assume you've called up this page of IMSLP
https://imslp.org/index.php?title=Category:For_2_violins%2C_viola&transclude=Template:Catintro
I'd recommend the String Trio by George Templeman Strong. The first two movements are fairly straightforward, the finale is a hoot but would be very hard to get together, and there's a recording of sorts to vet (someone had to do it). But how can anyone not like the Dvorak Terzetto?
December 1, 2019, 8:53 AM · There's an arrangement of a Beethoven trio for 2 oboes and cor anglais (I think), I performed it many years ago. Not too demanding technically. I don't have an Opus number, or any idea where to start looking for parts.
December 1, 2019, 10:49 AM · If you play in an orchestra, or have connections with one, the oboist there may be able to help you with that Beethoven trio.
Edited: December 1, 2019, 11:00 AM · Andrew-- thanks, I'll look it up. Sounds pretty flexible.

Steve, I'll take a look at the Strong. For the Dvorak, it's mostly that the Larghetto/Adagio movements would be too slow (mostly it's that my vibrato has never been good and I don't want to put it to the test in a performance situation, and I've always been uncertain of my tone on longer notes as well), and they'd probably find the faster movements too fast (and nobody would be ecstatic about the pizzicato in the third movement, lol). Parts of it might also be a little more dramatic than a church-service audience will be prepared for!

Peter, I can have a look for the Beethoven... was the arrangement you played someone's arrangement, and the original instrumentation was different? (ETA: a search found me the trio in C, Op. 87? That's for oboe/oboe/English horn. Off to listen to it. Oh, and someone has already put an arrangement on IMSLP for violin/violin/viola.)


(LOL. So here I am on Youtube, listening to Dvorak-- the Miniatures, which I'd not listened to before-- and the ad Youtube decides to interrupt it with is for High School Musical. I guess they figure, it's all music, right?)

Edited: December 1, 2019, 12:10 PM · Looks like I'm mistaken about Das Unkomplette Streichquartett -- I thought I saw it on IMSLP a year or two ago, but probably just saw a different collection of easy string quartets edited by Hockner, titled Das Streichquartett. Nonetheless the entire collection is worth buying. It doesn't cost much, and I've found it useful to bring to reading quartets in case someone arrives late, leaves early, or doesn't show up.

The Benda trio in it may be an arrangement or a piece spuriously attributed to him, because it doesn't seem to appear in his catalog, either as a trio or as a trio sonata.

December 1, 2019, 4:24 PM · Perhaps arrange Bach inventions?
December 1, 2019, 4:42 PM · I think baroque music might be the best bet. I was just yesterday playing some great Handel trio sonatas for two violins + basso continuo (can't remember which ones but they were lovely and pretty straightforward to read). Explore IMSLP and see what you can find.
December 2, 2019, 9:12 PM · 1. I do not see any reason not to transpose the cello part for viola (or seeing if IMSLP has done that). My trio consisting of piano, clarinet and viola played the Beethoven opus 11 trio when I found a viola version of the cello part. It works quite well with viola, so I assume the pieces you have found for two violins and cello would work equally well for two violins and viola.

Looking on IMSLP is always a good strategy. And, remember that a violin can play any flute or oboe part, and the viola can play a cello part if it is transposed. Finally, it is important to be aware that there are some excellent pieces for violin and viola (Mozart K.423 and 424 and Michael Haydn), so you can play those with one or the other violinist.

Have fun!

December 3, 2019, 2:14 AM · So I was confused and apparently thought you were looking for two violins and cello by the time I mentioned the piece supposedly by Benda.

The incomplete string quartet collection contains something for two violins and viola by J.C. Bach (I think it may be one of his trio sonatas transcribed for two violins and viola), as well as a string quartet by Simon Sechter in which both the first violin part and the cello part are optional.

Here's the Sechter quartet on IMSLP:
https://imslp.org/wiki/String_Quartet_in_G_major_(Sechter%2C_Simon)


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