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81-04 THE VIOLA DA GAMBA
Today on Micrologus we explore music written especially for the viola da gamba. The name viola da gamba means "viol of the leg," in reference to the fact that the instrument was held between the legs of the performer. Obviously that makes it somewhat like a cello, but it differs from a cello in a number of ways. First of all, it comes in a family of sizes, like most Renaissance instruments. The bass is about the size of a cello, and then there is a tenor which is a little smaller, and a treble which is exactly half the size of a bass. Also, the viol has six, or sometimes even seven, strings, as opposed to four for modern string instruments; it has frets on the fingerboard; and it is bowed in a manner which is said to be "under-handed," that is, the palm of the hand holding the bow faces upwards rather than downwards. The viol, or viola da gamba, first makes its appearance in the late 15th century in paintings, but we do not have any music preserved for it until about the year 1542, when an Italian by the name of Sylvestro Ganassi wrote a treatise on how to play. He included a number of pieces and we will hear the first of these, which I suppose makes it the earliest piece, at least printed, for the viola da gamba, if not written for the viola da gamba: the "Ricercare Primo." It is performed by Sterling Jones of the Early Music Quartet.
[MUSIC]
In the decade after Ganassi’s work appeared another treatise on viol playing, the Tratado de Glosas, treatise on ornamentation by Diego Ortiz, a Spaniard. For the most part, Ortiz's work consists of ornamentations of well-known chansons and madrigals from the mid-16th century. We are going to listen to his version of "Doulce memoire," a chanson by the French composer Pierre Sandrin. In this arrangement, the viol plays an ornamented version of the upper part and the lower three parts are played by the lute. Here are Jordi Savall, viola da gamba, and Anthony Bailes, lute.
[MUSIC]
Besides use in such solo situations, the viol was also noted for its use in consorts, and above all other countries, England was known for its music for consorts of viols. We are going to listen to a dance by Anthony Holborne from his publication of 1599 with the rather contradictory title, Pavans, Galliards, Almains, and Other short Airs, both Grave and Light, in Five Parts for Viols, Violins, or Other Musical Wind Instruments. We will hear the Almain entitled "The Honeysuckle." The performance is by the Brüggen Consort.
[MUSIC]
Around the same time these pieces were published—that is, the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century—there appeared a number of rather strange names which were qualifiers to the word "viol." One of these was the viola bastarda (the bastard viol), which turns out to be a viol which was half-way in size between the bass and the tenor, and which had a very special repertory of elaborately ornamented pieces. Another was the lyra viol. This was primarily an English phenomenon and consisted of a small bass viol which, again, had a number of unusual tunings. Nowadays we call this scordatura and consider it fairly rare, but unusual tunings were standard fare for lyra viol players. A number of solos were written and also some duets. We will hear one of these duets now, by Thomas Ford, a piece with an unforgettable title: “Forget Me Not." The performance is by Oliver Brooks and James Tyler of the Early Music Consort of London.
[MUSIC]
In spite of the popularity of the lyra viol, consort music for viols flourished in England on through the 17th century, and this culminated in the fantasias for viols by Henry Purcell. Purcell’s own predilection towards the viol is revealed in the text of one of the songs that he wrote: "of all the instruments that are, none with the viol can compare." Perhaps the finest of all Purcell’s viol fantasies is No. 8 in D minor. The performance is by the Concentus Musicus of Vienna, directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
[MUSIC]
Charles II of England was King when Purcell wrote those fantasies 300 years ago; he was a professed lover of music, but had an utter destestation of fantasies, or "fancies," as he called them. He much preferred the French style with its highly ornamented movements and exploitation of the chordal possibilities of the instrument. Indeed, it is clear that the viol is quite well-suited to playing chords, even without the lyra viol tunings. The normal tuning of the viol is in fourths and thirds, somewhat like the modern guitar. The two most famous viol virtuosos in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in France were Monsieur de Ste.-Colombe and Marin Marais. Marais was a pupil of Ste.-Colombe for a mere six months, after which time the teacher had nothing further to offer to his pupil. We are going to listen to the "Caprice," which is the opening movement from Marais's Second Suite for Three Viols and Continuo, and, in view of Marais's connection with Ste.-Colombe, it is perhaps appropriate that we hear it performed by an American group which has taken the name Les Filles de Ste.-Colombe (the Daughters of Ste.-Colombe). They are: Sarah Cunningham, Wendy Gillespie, and Mary Springfels. In this performance they are assisted by Lucy Cross, lute.
[MUSIC]
At the same time that Marais published that suite for viols, that is, in the second decade of the 18th century, J. S. Bach was writing his collection of music for the viola da gamba, the Three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord. Unlike the lute, which played continuo in the movement which we've just heard, the harpsichord in these sonatas is a full partner in the musical fabric. We are going to listen to the joyful second movement of Sonata No. 1 in G Major and the partners in joy are Catharina Meints, viola da gamba, and Doris Ornstein, harpsichord.
[MUSIC]
One would think, having reached J. S. Bach, that we had exhausted the possibilities for viola da gamba music, but, in fact, that is not true. There are at least two other composers who wrote virtuoso music for the viola da gamba and who were younger than J. S. Bach. Johann Gottlieb Graun is one, Carl Friedrich Abel is another. In fact, Abel was the son of the viol player for whom J. S. Bach wrote his three sonatas. Unfortunately, the viol music of these two composers has not yet been recorded, to my knowledge, and so, regretfully, at least for now, our survey of the music for the viola da gamba must stop here.
Series
Micrologus
Episode
The Viola da Gamba
Producing Organization
CWRU
Contributing Organization
Ross W. Duffin (Pasadena, California)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip-3235bbb8c31
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Description
Episode Description
Today on Micrologus we explore music written especially for the viola da gamba. The name viola da gamba means "viol of the leg," in reference to the fact that the instrument was held between the legs of the performer. Obviously that makes it somewhat like a cello, but it differs from a cello in a number of ways. First of all, it comes in a family of sizes, like most Renaissance instruments. The bass is about the size of a cello, and then there is a tenor which is a little smaller, and a treble which is exactly half the size of a bass. Also, the viol has six, or sometimes even seven, strings, as opposed to four for modern string instruments; it has frets on the fingerboard; and it is bowed in a manner which is said to be "under-handed," that is, the palm of the hand holding the bow faces upwards rather than downwards. The viol, or viola da gamba, first makes its appearance in the late 15th century in paintings, but we do not have any music preserved for it until about the year 1542, when an Italian by the name of Sylvestro Ganassi wrote a treatise on how to play.
Segment Description
"Ricercare primo" by Ganassi, Sylvestro (Telefunken 6.35067) | "ornamentation of Doulce memoire" by Sandrin/Ortiz (EMI-Reflexe IC 063-30 116) | "The Honeysuckle Almain" by Holborne, Anthony (Telefunken 6.41074) | "Forget me not" by Ford, Thomas (Angel SB2-3810) | "Fantasia No. 8 in d" by Purcell, Henry (MHS 1767) | "Second Suite for 3 viols & b.c. (excerpt): Caprice" by Marais, Marin (private tape)
Created Date
1981
Asset type
Episode
Genres
Talk Show
Topics
History
Music
Media type
Sound
Duration
00:28:08.664
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Credits
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Host: Duffin, Ross
Producing Organization: CWRU
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Ross W. Duffin
Identifier: cpb-aacip-78188f2fb54 (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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Citations
Chicago: “Micrologus; The Viola da Gamba,” 1981, Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 19, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3235bbb8c31.
MLA: “Micrologus; The Viola da Gamba.” 1981. Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 19, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3235bbb8c31>.
APA: Micrologus; The Viola da Gamba. Boston, MA: Ross W. Duffin, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3235bbb8c31