Music Study – The Viola

Every violinist who would like to play the VIOLA can learn it very easily in a few months, without any need of a professor. He has the same experience as that of the child who has begun on a little instrument, and afterwards takes up a violin of the normal size ; he has to accustom himself to a greater stretching of the fingers. For, as far as its handling is concerned, it is simply a very much larger violin ; and the use of the bow, although demanding a little more strength, is practically the same.

The viola does not offer that marvellous variety of timbres which has made the violin the universal interpreter of sentiment. We must not ask of it ” the brilliant and passionate note ; placed within the con-fines of the male and female voice, the viola has an undecided and mixed character. Its veiled sonority, of an elegiac melancholy, is suited to everything expressive of suffering, sadness, and depressed feeling.”

However, we can obtain tonal shadings of captivating effect : ” The two highest strings have a penetrating vibration approaching harshness. On the two lower strings the timbre of the viola assumes a sombre and austere colour sometimes verging on the sinister.”

Such are the various effects that we may seek in studying this beautiful instrument, being sure of finding use for it in the practice of chamber-music as well as in the modern orchestra, where it plays an important part.

To play the viola, it is well to have quite a solid physique, for the instrument is much more fatiguing than the violin. For the same reason, it is necessary to wait until the growth is developed, till about fifteen years of age, and up to that time to study the violin exclusively. Then, it is excellent to carry the two studies along side by side, playing the two instruments alternately ; this will give rapidity and virtuosity, and the two instruments complement one another without the slightest harm to either: Paganini, Vieuxtemps, Sivori, Alard, etc., were admirable viola-players.

Four hours of daily study are amply sufficient.