Viola d'amore

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The viola d'amore (Italian: love viol) is a 7- or 6-stringed musical instrument with sympathetic strings used chiefly in the baroque period. It is played under the chin in the same manner as the violin.


Structure and sound

The viola d'amore shares many features of the viol family. It looks like a thinner treble viol without frets and sometimes with sympathetic strings added. The 6 string viola d'amoure and the treble viol also have approxiomately the same ambitus or range of playable notes. Like viols, it has a flat back. Intricately carved head at the top of the peg box are common on both viols and viola d'amoures as well (allthough some viols lack them). Unlike viols, the head occurs often with blindfolded eyes to represent love. Its sound-holes are commonly in the shape of a flaming sword (suggesting a Middle Eastern influence in its development). This was one of the three usual sound hole shapes for viols as well. (The other two being f-holes for viols with "violin shape" and C-holes or flame holes on the "viol shaped" viols.) It is unfretted, and played much like a violin, being held horizontally under the chin. It is about the same size as the modern viola.

The viola d'amore usually has six or seven playing strings, which are sounded by drawing a bow across them, just as with a violin. In addition, it has an equal number of sympathetic strings located below the main strings and the fingerboard which are not played directly but vibrate in sympathy with the notes played. A common variation is six playing strings, and instruments exist with as many as fourteen sympathetic strings alone. Despite the fact that the sympathetic strings are now thought of as the most characteristic element of the instrument, early forms of the instrument almost uniformly lacked them. The first unambiguous reference to a viola d'amore without sympathetic strings does not occur until the 1730s. Both the types continued to be built and played through the 18th century. [1]

Largely thanks to the sympathetic strings, the viola d'amore has a particularly sweet and warm sound. Leopold Mozart, writing in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, said that the instrument sounded "especially charming in the stillness of the evening."

The first known mention of the name 'viol d'amore' appeared in John Evelyn's diary (20 November, 1679): "for its swetenesse & novelty the Viol d'Amore of 5 wyre-strings, plaid on with a bow, being but an ordinary violin, play'd on Lyra way by a German, than which I never heard a sweeter Instrument or more surprizing..."

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