…and those that got it just right!

Right or wrong… depending on what we want to see! But for sure all these personalities were no fools!

Even if we still didn’t find the perfect tutorial from 1724, explaining us how to play Violoncello da Spalla the correct way, there are some treatises that come to comfort us.

The first that comes to mind is Mattheson.

Johann Mattheson was a singer and composer who also played violin, and in his “Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre”, Hamburg 1713, writes:

The excellent violoncello, the bass viol and the viola da spalla are small violin basses (when compared with the bigger 5 or 6 stringed instruments) on which it is possible to obtain, with less fatigue than on the bigger instruments, fast notes, variations and mannerisms.

The viola da spalla in particular is very effective in accompaniment because it can speak clearly and purely. A bass cannot be expressed in a way more distinct and clear than on this instrument.

It is tight on the chest with a strap and at the same time thrown on the right shoulder. This way, there is nothing that limits or prevent its resonance.

This is quite a good description of how it is played, and of its use in the continuo group. Coming from a composer who had his operas published and performed, and who was also close friend with G. F. Händel.

In 1741, Joseph Friedrich Bernhardt Caspar Majer publishes in Nuremberg his “Neu-eröffneter theoretisch- und pracktischer Music-Saal”:

A bassoon viola is hold on the arm and handled like a viola, even the tuning is in the same way but all one octave lower, so with stronger (bigger) strings. Its range, fingerings and sillabation (notes) is like the French bass violin, or violoncello.

And, to stick to that bassoon definition, here is Leopold Mozart in his Violinschule 1756:

The bassoon violin is someway different from viola in size and tuning, and it is common use employing it in the bass parts.

The violoncello is today also played between legs

1758, in Erfurt, Jakob Adlung, “Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit”:

The violoncello is also called viola da spalla

This, just to close the circle.

Ta-daaa! Bassoon violin, bassoon viola, fagott geige, viola da spalla… many names, all differentiating from the simple and yet describing “bratsche”. Difficult to deny there was something different in the pot…

In this little tour, one may be surprised that we never encountered the therm viola pomposa. Or, maybe you heard that viola apomposa was a later invention. In fact, both of this statements are truth! But we’ll get in it another time.

Further readings

Violoncello da Spalla
Sources that mess it up
Let’s admit it: we research in the hope to find a source telling us precisely what we are looking for. What a dream to find a treatise or even better a tutorial book that explains how the violoncello is played resting it on the chest, with the help of a strap, and how the left hand is pushing a bit forward so that the body of the instrument is firm towa…
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Violoncello da Spalla
Interview with Fernandez violons
During the past pandemic, I discovered videos on YouTube by François Fernandez and Yun Kim Fernandez, and I was caught from their elegance and their joyful playing. They now enthusiastically agreed to share with us their story with Violoncello da Spalla. This interview came out packing more information than I could imagine, so I am equally enthusiastic …
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Violoncello da Spalla
The Violoncello da Spalla, a 21st-century aberration?
In March 2020, Mark Vanscheeuwijck published an interesting article titled: “Violoncello and other Bass Violins in Baroque Italy” I highly recommend it; it’s a good account of the birth of the modern violoncello and its influences in Europe. You will find good ideas of repertoire suitable for da Spalla and a clear exposition of what was probably not da S…
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Updates from our workshop

This week was all about gluing linings and cleaning up the outline, bringing the ribs to the desired heights, just after having decided which the desired height is checking on the monochord. So not a lot to show, but work is going on.

In our workshop in Meltina we are keeping busy making two violoncellos da spalla. I’m preparing online talks, and I am missing traveling! I see pagodas everywhere, don’t you?

I’m busy preparing a talk I will give for the Women in Lutherie Conference, at the end of this month. Check it out, you can book your seat at this link.


Featured video of the week

I’m not sure this sharing is authorized, but here are the 6 Bach Suites by Sigiswald Kuijken. The first recording ever on Violoncello da Spalla.