Through the centuries, the viola has always been relegated to the backseat – but without good reason, I’m afraid. Its tinier brother, the violin, has always been hogging more than its fair share of the limelight… a shame, considering how amazing the instrument really is once you get to know it better.
Even with all its innate badassery, the viola has always been a constant target of ridicule from other orchestral sections (have you heard a viola joke lately?). The world is naturally mean to everyone, but none so meaner as it is to the viola.
That said, the viola – warts and all – is an awesome instrument that deserves more respect than it’s currently being given. Here’s why:
1. Sounds like a cello but closer to a violin in size, the viola’s got the best of both worlds.
Think of it as a cello in a much smaller package, which is a relief because you don’t have to worry about airport security smashing it to smithereens.
Apparently it also sounds like a low violin (if there ever was one).
2. Some of history’s greatest composers loved the viola.
JS Bach, according to his own son CPE Bach, “As the greatest expert and judge of harmony, he liked best to play the viola, with appropriate loudness and softness.” If Bach ever had the misfortune to hear the viola jokes of today, he’d totally flip.
Other composers who also played the viola were Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, and Paganini. One does wonder why history books leave out this important bit of music history.
3. The alto clef.
So this one’s actually both boon and bane – like who ever prayed that they would have to read music in the alto clef for the rest of their lives? But at the same time, this imbues violists with a sense of exclusivity. Violists OWN the alto clef – don’t you even dare question that fact (because for pretend, other instrumentalists are just envious. Tch.)
4. Violists can pick up their instrument and play pizzicato pieces like a guitarist.
Watch how badass this guy looks while ripping his viola.
Now let’s see a cellist do the exact same thing.
5. Intense moments can get really intense during a viola performance.
With the viola’s deeper sound and larger girth, it’s easily understandable why a viola performance can get this impassioned.
6. Face it – an orchestra or a string quartet just won’t sound the same without the viola.
More often than not, violas get the weird parts, but that doesn’t make them less important in a particular harmony.
Seriously though, try playing through Holst’s Jupiter without the viola… like reassign this part to the horns, perhaps?
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