Violin or Viola Sound?
these days there are some excellent violin technique videos on youtube by Max Baillie. He is clearly an outstanding violinist/musician (two separate things?) I was there fore ratherimpressed to find he records viola music such as the Bach Chromatic Fantasy.
Clearly the guy has the chops and is gracious enough to put out quality stuff on youtube to watch between ‘cat smack sleep farting dog,’ videos. However, as I was listening I got a slight impression of the voila being played as a violinist would play it (of course not that bad). I wondered if I was imagining it and did try listening to the Bach cello suites played on viola by career violists to try and see if my imagination wasn’t just running wild. I would be interested in any opinions from serious viola players or players such as Max who can do both as to any really subtle underlying differences or essential criteria.
I think in the old days it was compulsory to play both instruments in the Russian school (Heifetz/Oistrakh did) and Vengerov has carried on that tradition or whatever. Personally I would never have had the time at music college so I am not sure how that was worked out…
I think the upper strings do have a sort of violin timbre but the C string definitely sounds "viola." Different strings, bows and rosins do affect viola sound. The equipment recorded does seem to respond well and quickly to light bow pressure.
Maybe we are used to people playing the viola as they would be trained to play to fit into an orchestra? There is a difference between any instrument played as a soloist would and as an orchestra member would. The video you give us clearly has the viola played as a solo instrument, such as Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello. Mr. Baillie is not just chugging along here.
I did get the feeling of an instrument being forced into unfamiliar territory. I get a similar impression with the cello sometimes - is this actually a pleasant sound I'm hearing? Whether it's a problem with the viola, the player or the piece (maybe even the recording) I couldn't say.
In addition to the foregoing, I'm guessing that 90+% of pro violists started out as violinists and didn't switch to viola until they were pretty well along in their studies. And normally you can't really switch to viola until you're big enough to hold an actual viola that can make a sound on the C string that doesn't sound like a fart (sorry, Buri inspired me). And by that age, most kids who are bound to become pros have already licked the Paganini Caprices and most of the Romantic concerto literature on the violin. So I'm curious to learn the "process" by which such an individual becomes a "real violist" and to play with the correct viola sound and so forth, because presumably they're learning that from another violist who emerged from the same process, so the question becomes recursive.
Andrew I would disagree. In my experience with my own instruments, my viola sounds like a viola regardless of what string I am playing on. Its more obvious when my violinist friend and I play together and my viola G, D & A sound different to his
Jake, I was describing my impression of his viola sound, not yours or either of mine, which are different than each other.
That has a "small viola" sound to me - not in any derogatory sense...presence and tone. I wonder how much is technique and how much is the instrument. Sean Bishop in London has one by the same maker and year at
I think it really depends... violas do sound deeper and warmer overall but they can have a virtuosic and showy character too.
I don't think Yuri Bashmet has any shortage of ego. At that level of playing, ego is a primary virtue.
I haven't heard many violists solo (A wonderful player, whose name I don't know, played the Walton with our orchestra a million years ago, and I fell in love with the piece), but I did hear Antoine Tamestit play a recital a few years ago, and it was truly a magical experience to hear such a rich sound (the playing itself was very musical).
The recording by Primrose and Heifetz of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante is amazing.
I think Heifetz's chamber music recordings with Primrose, Piatigorsky, etc., show Heifetz at his best. The Cesar Franck piano quintet remains one of my favourite quintets.
Another incredible example is Heifetz et.al. playing the Schubert in C (op. 163). I'm not a Heifetz fan per se; but, that has to be one of the all time great chamber music recordings.
I took violin lessons with a violist who demonstrated everything on the viola instead of the violin. I learned a lot, especially around positioning the instrument and bowing. The Bartok duets sounded pretty good with a violin/viola combination.
Luosha Fang, winner of the 2018 Tokyo International Viola Competition, concertizes on both viola and violin. Her performances are available on YouTube.
I remember William Primrose as the violist who said that the last two Bach cello suites were not worth bothering with on the viola. I have his edition of the suites, and there is an introductory message written by him in which he issues this statement in entirely unambiguous and even colorful prose.
For my education, I just compared three performances of Paganini's Caprice No. 24 played by William Primrose on viola, Jascha Heifetz on violin, and Hillary Hahn with hula hoops.
That Primrose is excellent. It almost makes me think that they might be worthwhile compositions.
I have played both Violin and Viola most of my life. I never say which I prefer and I have not owned a quality instrument for either. For me the Viola is a stubborn mule with more inertia. Most every note requires extra persuasion from the bow arm. The Violin seems like it is in a delicate balance, too easy to over-play. I prefer a fat viola because increasing the air space resonance is the cheapest way to get a better C string sound, and I want the instrument to feel different from the violin. When younger I would sometimes start a practice session on viola, for the exercises, scales, etc., before switching to Violin, which would then feel like an easy toy. Doing my classical jobs on Viola and non-classical "fiddle" jobs on violin was a good combination.
This is maybe the place to bring up a question I have wondered about for a long time. Back in the day when I was young the violist Franz Hirschfeld, of the Tonhallequartett in Zurich (also voice leader in the orchestra) had an instrument with a distinctly nasal tone (reminding of the French "an" or "on" sounds). Other violas I heard also showed that feature but less distinctly. The instrument of the soloist in the Telemann concerto we played with the youth orchestra also had a nasal tone.
continued-- We Want the Viola A to sound different from the Violin A. Some of the different A string sounds between different Violas is because the Viola is not a standardized instrument; different body lengths, shapes, air volume. And there are the choices of A string; steel, synthetic, gut. I am using the steel A
Albrecht, I tried a violin once that had a very nasal quality and was told that the person speaking to me considered it a "French violin sound." I remain sceptical.
The A string on my viola sounds nothing like the A string on my violin.
When I took up viola, I first thought of it as a large violin. That got me going, but I soon realized that it's better to think of the viola as a separate instrument. You have to dig into the strings more, and give it time to respond. I found that compared to the violin I tend to creep too close to the bridge; I'm trying to counteract this, because it results in a thin sound full of harmonics.
Practicing viola strengthens my left hand; practicing violin refines my bowing. I like to play "the other instrument" at the end of a session.
Scott Slapin (look him up), who often has featured here on v.com, has repeatedly maintained that you *should* approach the viola more or less exactly as if it were a violin...
It works for him, and those with big hands and responsive, more "reedy" violas. My "mezzo" viola is less different from a violin than my "contralto" viola.
I also play both all the time and consider the difference in tone production to be one of the most important differences. For me, using arm weight properly is critical to playing both violin on viola except on viola it is more exaggerated. I guess violinists don't make quite as big of a deal about using arm weight properly as you don't need to exaggerate it as much but my teacher did make a pretty big deal out of it with me and I'm really happy about that because that certainly influenced my viola tone production. As far as left hand, yes it depends on your hand size and all. I do have small hands and admit that my left hand positioning on viola is different. It is more flexible and mobile, I tend to reach back with my index finger a lot more which means my whole hand is balanced more towards my fourth finger and my thumb is much more on the underside of the neck.
Thanks Ella and others, very interesting thread, it seems all viola players are in agreement here!
I would think the instrument being played is a big factor determining the "violin sound" or "viola sound". Violas are not as standardized as violins or cellos. This variation applies both to the dimensions and the timbre.
Compared to my mezzo and contralto 15.75" violas, I find you only get that more tenor/baritone quality in the longer instruments.
Same. I do agree larger violas tend to have a deeper, more tenor-like sound, but personally I do tend to gravitate a little more towards the more contralto/mezzo viola sound anyway being a violinist as well (maybe that has something to do with it). Plus, my arms are too short for anything over like 15.75" so...
If we go back to the first generation of the modern string family, c. 1550--1600, there were some very large Violas made, subsequently cut down.
Joel says: "If we go back to the first generation of the modern string family, c. 1550--1600, there were some very large Violas made, subsequently cut down.
There are a remaining handful of Stradivari's "contralto" violas, but only two of his giant "tenors". In The Way They Play, Paul Doktor is shown playing on the "Tuscan" tenor viola (on the shoulder!)
Violas held like a cello is certainly something that would've made life different if it were the case. That being said, I think it's historical reasons why the viola is held in the current position. Do keep in mind cellists can get injured too, but the types of injuries are different, predominantly arm and hand injuries, but that's another story. Also, on an unrelated note, many eastern bowed string instruments do appear to be held vertically
In many cultures even violins are held vertically, in the lap. So are 3-string lyras that are similar in size and played similarly.
..not to mention the entire viol family!