Violin fairy godmother (favorite old instrument)

Edited: May 23, 2021, 5:49 AM · Hi everyone, just a violin-geeky thread for fun. :-)
Which of the old Master violins is your favorite (not best, as there is no such thing - but favorite)? So if the magical violin fairy godmother (yes, of course she exists!) could make any instrument appear for you, which one would you choose?

I'll make a start: for me it would be the 1707 Stradivarius "Rivaz-Baron Gutmann". Played until recently by Janine Jansen, now played by Eldbjørg Hemsing. Fantastic tone! Almost like a cello in the lower registers (slight exaggeration!), with the typical Stradivarius sunny brightness on the upper strings.
You can listen to it here:

Oh, and of course, we're not robbing anyone of their voice. The violin fairy godmother is magically creating an identical, second instrument for you, so the current owner still gets to keep using their instrument ;-)
Looking forward to your responses! :-)

Replies (21)

May 23, 2021, 9:09 AM · I'm looking forward to a viola d'amore in the next few years. Rather than fantasize about the impossible, this is something just as wonderful but within my reach if I can just heal up and get back to work.

I've identified a few luthiers who make them. For now I'm leaning towards a $3Grand piece by the Charlie Ogle workshop in China. That's because I adore the baroque-style violin and the bass viol I've already bought from him through the Boulder Early Music Shop online. Instead of a chest of viols by one maker, it looks like I'm headed towards a Charlie Ogle broken consort.

May 23, 2021, 10:20 AM · There is a video on YouTube of the 3rd movement of Brahms' piano quintet with Shlomo Mintz, Hagai Shaham and others. I want the viola Shlomo plays there. It is so loud and powerful. I don't know what it is though sadly
Edited: May 23, 2021, 10:53 AM · I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here but, I think there’s a pretty good reason why the population of viola d’amore’s (and hardanger fiddles) tends to be low. It’s because they’re such a PITA to get/keep in tune, and people who acquire them eventually find themselves wondering why they went down that rabbit hole. (And think about how hard they would be to resell, something that’s always worth bearing in mind.) I would try hard to get one of these on loan to try it out for a while before committing to buy one. Find out if that’s really where you want to go.
May 23, 2021, 11:01 AM · What is Hemsing playing?
Edited: May 23, 2021, 12:31 PM · Thanks for the tip Mark. I've heard the same thing about lutes, theorbos, lirones and other many-stringed instruments, especially of early music style. There must be something to it, though I only hear it from people who themselves don't play early instruments, perhaps because they fear exactly what you describe. But I take so much joy from hearing these instruments played by local early music ensembles, I can only be grateful to the players for persisting against the challenges of their instruments. As a late-starting adult aspiring-amateur who must work full time outside of music, I don't expect to ever approach their fineness. But I take inspiration from them and enjoy the journey every day.

As I noted in my above comment, I have been very happy with the quality of the affordable instruments I get from the Boulder Early Music Shop. I expect higher quality includes better tunability and better holding of the tune. The (6 or 7) sympathetic strings of the viola d'amore will be of metal wire, and the (6 or 7) bowed strings will be gut. Although tempting on an emotional level, I refuse to buy any of the cheap viola d'amores I see on Amazon, often less than $1,000 and with fantastic carved heads. I will, however, eventually put my faith in a luthier of repute or of my direct experience.

Edited: May 23, 2021, 1:10 PM · Il Cannone, because the history is cool.

You know what, I've always wanted to try a viola da gamba, or a lirone. I've never heard an original one played though—only recreations. Does that count?

May 23, 2021, 1:21 PM · HH’s Vuilluame (to hand to the 12 year old, if I could do afford the insurance.)
May 23, 2021, 1:39 PM · Will, I admire your sense of adventure.
May 23, 2021, 2:30 PM · @Will: I have a beautiful d'amore that I don't play as often as it would deserve. Getting one on loan to test it for a while is a good idea, or if you want to buy one, I'd recommend a d'amore with just 5 strings (plus 5 sympathetic strings). The lowest two strings on a 7-string instrument are never used anyway, and they also make it so much harder to always bow the right string.
The instrument I'd love to have is Gérard Caussé's Gasparo da Salo viola from 1563. 458 years old and sounds like a living creature
Edited: May 23, 2021, 3:45 PM · A humble Mittenwald viola around anno 1800 with a repaired soundpost crack (and a handful of additional top plate repairs, not all of them went too well) and replaced neck and scroll.
Nothing "special" but still too good to be true. With it's 39,6 cm LOB, slender neck and, if I can remember correctly, 35,8 cm vibrating string length (not completely certain about that last one) it almost feels like a violin, but sounds and plays like the best 42 in terms of tone and complexity (as far as I can judge), ease of playing and lively C-string.
In private possession of a healthy fellow hobbyist violist nearby and not expected to be available for the next few decades though. One day I'll probably commission a copy. Wondering whether this might work...
Edited: May 23, 2021, 3:47 PM · Adding that I couldn't be happier with what I already own. Lucky me. Now it's up to myself to regain my previously bad shape after a too long almost complete hiatus... Mazas and Kreutzer, I'm coming!
May 23, 2021, 9:01 PM · I'm afraid to say because my "Hildie" might become jealous, but the Stradivarius played by Yehudi Menuhin. But then in my less than competent hands it would sound like my Hildie. Poor Hildie, what she puts up with.
Edited: May 23, 2021, 11:23 PM · Hello Ann, I sense from a few of your comments that you might be a little like me, including either being a late-starter (adult learner) or maybe just recently returning to violin. It does indeed feel like an adventure to me, and requires a combination of humility (I don't expect to become a great player) and also ambition (but dammit I am going to make real music someday!). My adventures in early instruments so far include a bass viol that has been the best experience because either it is easier to play or else it is just more natural for me. Not to mention I've had over 20 lessons in under 3 years, and I play it almost every day. I absolutely LOVE my gamba! So as Nuuska says above, "I couldn't be happier with what I already own," that is a beautiful attitude of gratitude I share!

To Cotton Mather, regarding your comment above about always wishing you'd tried one, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that you still can! I admire your decades of playing various string instruments, and I enjoy your recounting relevant experiences in these discussions. I'm sure you'd grow into it very quickly. As you must know, it is not as comparable to the cello as people might think based on superficial similarities of register and size, since it has frets and is not normally played with vibrato and is held by the legs rather than supported on a post-stand, but the biggest difference is in how the bow is held, in an underhanded way with the middle finger pulling the hair tighter or looser as dynamics and chords require. Those are all huge differences to me that make me intimidated by the cello and not seriously ever considering picking up that gorgeous instrument, because all these differences I've described seem to me to make the viola da gamba easier. Though that is not why I chose the gamba, rather I adore its resonant sound and the repertoire itself.

So far my least successful early music adventure has been with a lira da braccio, an instrument I had never heard of until I stumbled across it while browsing the Etsy website for unusual instruments. I admire the work of the luthier, who makes all kinds of medieval-style instruments, often from just his own interpretations of iconography of instruments where no historic specimens are known to exist. I paid him about $1,000 for the instrument, including a few extra hundreds just so he could carve a face into and crucifix atop the pegbox, and a naked lady (he imitated Botticelli's Birth of Venus) on the tailpiece. I've had trouble tuning that instrument because there are several pinch points in the indirect path from nut thru holes into peg box, so I've brought that one to my luthier here in Connecticut (he makes violins and cellos but has been very versatile and patient as I bring him less common instruments) who will try to smooth out those string paths AND replace the flat fingerboard with something a little curved so I can play one string at a time. That instrument is probably comparable to a continuo instrument in the sense that it is meant to play chords (the bridge is just a little curved) and only 5 of the strings run over the fingerboard, the other 2 are on the side (like a theorbo) and are just drone strings. I can't do a thing on that instrument yet, but I've committed to giving my luthier up to $1,000 without any further discussion ("call me if we have to go higher") but I don't think the new fingerboard will have much curve because this is not a melody instrument anyway. I found exactly 1 book in English on the instrument, and bought a second copy as a gift for my brave luthier, and the book has some various tuning suggestions based on research into accounts from the time (before 1620s). Reentrant tunings are what historians find there, meaning that the strings do not always go higher as you move from one to the next. So once I get that instrument back, I will choose a tuning and make a chord chart so I can start to learn fingerings --my violin and gamba experience just don't get me anywhere with the lira da braccio! Also there is hardly any repertoire for the lira da braccio, which seems to have mainly been an improvisational instrument for accompanying the voice. Hence I think of it as a continuo instrument, a little like the harpsichord in recitatives in baroque opera. But before opera. Supposedly Leonardo da Vinci loved the lira da braccio most of all the instruments, and played one himself.

Edited: May 23, 2021, 11:33 PM · Sebastion, interesting that you mention Gasparo da Salo, as one of the very few existing original lira da braccios is attributed to him, from around 1560.

As for the viola d'amore, I have been thinking about getting the 6-string version, which at least resembles my gamba of 6 strings that I've learned how to hit the right string on. But 7 seems more romantic! We'll see as I get closer, right now I'm quite busy learning the instruments I already have, and I don't have the money for a viola d'amore this year anyway. I'm curious: what kinds of sheet music do you find for it? Who made yours and about how much did you pay and are you satisfied with the quality. And, as Mark Bouquet warns me it might be hard to keep it in tune...what do you say about that?

Edited: May 24, 2021, 12:01 AM · Will, Yes, I'm a retiree returnee, as you can gather from my profile. It sounds like you can become an authority on the lira de braccio which would be nice. Feel free to contact me.

I look at it as an adventure too, having weird health problems that affect my processing and coordination. I am blessed with a very patient teacher who accepts that I won't be applying to Juilliard anytime soon. We've had 27 lessons and we fit comfortably. He pushes me but not to the point of brain damage. When I get frustrated I go do something else until the urge to throw Hildie in the dumpster subsides. What was I thinking when I started this?

May 24, 2021, 2:50 PM · Will, my d'amore was made in 2008 by Bastian Muthesius, a German luthier who specializes in Baroque instruments. It's a beautiful instrument and I like the sound a lot but I haven't had the chance to compare it with lots of other d'amores. They are really few and far between. It was more expensive than the price range you mentioned - but if you bought good instruments at a reasonable price from the Boulder Early Music Shop in the past, it's definitely a good idea to get your d'amore from them as well. As to tuning stability, the sympathetic strings on mine don't cause any problems, nor do the bowed strings as long as I play at home. If I wanted to perform in public, e.g. in a cold church, I would probably use Dominants for the two top strings (yes, Thomastik also produces Dominants for the d'amore). That wouldn't be 100% authentic but at least it would work.

The repertoire is not infinite, but there's still quite a lot you might want to play: 8 concertos by Vivaldi, a sonata for 2 d'amores and b.c. by Biber, lots of concertos, suites and ouvertures by a German baroque composer called Christoph Graupner, 2 partitas for solo d'amore by Christian Pezold, a concerto by Martinelli, an Italian baroque compiser, and literally dozens of sonatas by another Italian, Attilio Ariosti. Plus a few sonatas by Friedrich Wilhelm Rust. Some musicologists also believe that Bach originally wrote his harpsichord concerto in A major for the d'amore. And I read somewhere that the Stamitz viola concerto (never liked it) was actually written for the d'amore, which would explain all the arpeggios, octaves and double stops. You'll find quite a lot on

Sorry for the long off-topic, didn't want to hijack this thread. I'll shut up now.

May 24, 2021, 7:15 PM · To the Fairy Godmother -- I'm happy with what I've got, but wouldn't mind a couple of weeks trying out the Leduc Del Gesu, formerly played by Henryk Szeryng and now by Augustin Hadelich. If the Fairy Godmother would pay the insurance. . .
Edited: May 26, 2021, 10:47 PM · Thank you Sebastian for all your viola d'amore insights! I looked up your luthier and he is presently advertising a gorgeous bass viol he made (in 1969?). Maybe his father made it (credit is to Ingo Muthesius)? Anyway I have saved your list of repertoire in my viola d'amore folder for future reference. Christoph Graupner has actually become a preferred composer in my house lately, based on some harpsichord CDs I have and my son teaching himself some Graupner pieces on a piano. One he played on the pipe organ for his teacher who promptly recorded it and used it as prelude music for the following Sunday's online worship service. Also I have a Rachel Barton Pine CD of the Vivaldi
concertos for viola d'amore, which are unmistakably Vivaldi!

Your IMSLP link is also a great eye-opener for me. So cool how Elaine Fine is a living composer writing for the instrument. I'm finding contemporary composers writing for gamba too. Maybe next year after taxes I will get one of these highly romantic and beautiful viola d'amore, something that will motivate me to retire early so I can learn to play it!

May 26, 2021, 11:04 PM · I'd want the chance to try out a whole pile of instruments. :-)

But the 1716 ex-Milstein would be my first pick to try.

May 27, 2021, 3:43 AM · On his website, Nate Cole also tells the story of how he played Milstein's violin. The title is "Speed-dating a Strad: one week with Milstein's ex". Very interesting.

@Will: yes, Ingo is the father and Bastian and Tilman are the sons.

May 27, 2021, 4:28 AM · I was going to suggest Jake listen to Bashmet, but they seem to have removed his Telemann concerto from Youtube.

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