History of the Viola's Role in Part-Writing for Chamber Music

983 words 4 pages
Carolyn Hunter
Music 700
November 1, 2009
Mini-Research Paper #2

History of the Viola’s Role in Part-Writing for Chamber Music

There is considerable debate amongst scholars as to whether the birth of the viola preceded or succeeded that of the violin. However, iconographic and documentary evidence indicate that the violin, viola, and cello most likely evolved together as a family of instruments very early in the sixteenth century and almost certainly in northern Italy.
Part-writing for the viola in chamber music has changed dramatically over time. By the end of the seventeenth century, while the violin had remained popular in chamber music, the viola was very much neglected. It was not until the end of the eighteenth
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This is supported by the general sentiment in the music community that good viola players have always been scarce, and therefore in the early days of the quartet they must have been practically non-existent. Another possible reason, which is better supported, is that the viola lost favor because no parts of importance were written for it. Probably one of the chief factors in the viola’s advancement was the composer’s personal interest to take part in concerted music. Since composers did not want to spend much time learning the technique of a demanding instrument, they took up the viola. Therefore, it can be easily understood how the affection felt by a composer for his own instrument was reflected in the viola’s growing importance in chamber music.


Clarke, Rebecca. “The History of the Viola in Quartet Writing.” Music & Letters 4, no. 1 (1923): 6-17.
Boyden, David D., and Ann M. Woodward. “Viola.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/ music/29438.
Froggatt, Arthur. “The Viola.” The Musical Times 51, no. 812 (1910): 638-40.
Harvey, Brian. The Violin Family and Its Makers in the British Isles. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Montagu, Jeremy. “Viola.” In The Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online,


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