A viola shown from the front and the side
String instrument
Other namesFrench: alto; German: Bratsche
Hornbostel–Sachs classification321.322-71
(Composite chordophone sounded by a bow)
Playing range
Range viola 3.png
Related instruments

The viola (ə/;[1] Italian pronunciation: [viˈɔːla]) is a string instrument that is bowed or played with varying techniques. It is slightly larger than a violin and has a lower and deeper sound. Since the 18th century, it has been the middle or alto voice of the violin family, between the violin (which is tuned a perfect fifth above) and the cello (which is tuned an octave below).[2] The strings from low to high are typically tuned to C3, G3, D4, and A4.

In the past, the viola varied in size and style as did its names. The word viola originates from Italian. The Italians often used the term: "viola da braccio" meaning literally: 'of the arm'. "Brazzo" was another Italian word for the viola, which the Germans adopted as Bratsche. The French had their own names: cinquiesme was a small viola, haute contre was a large viola, and taile was a tenor. Today, the French use the term alto, a reference to its range.

The viola was popular in the heyday of five-part harmony, up until the eighteenth century, taking three lines of the harmony and occasionally playing the melody line. Music for the viola differs from most other instruments in that it primarily uses the alto clef. When viola music has substantial sections in a higher register, it switches to the treble clef to make it easier to read.

The viola often plays the "inner voices" in string quartets and symphonic writing, and it is more likely than the first violin to play accompaniment parts. The viola occasionally plays a major, soloistic role in orchestral music. Examples include the symphonic poems Don Quixote by Richard Strauss and Harold en Italie by Hector Berlioz. In the earlier part of the 20th century, more composers began to write for the viola, encouraged by the emergence of specialized soloists such as Lionel Tertis and William Primrose. English composers Arthur Bliss, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale, Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams all wrote substantial chamber and concert works. Many of these pieces were commissioned by, or written for Lionel Tertis. William Walton, Bohuslav Martinů, Toru Takemitsu, Tibor Serly, Alfred Schnittke, and Béla Bartók have written well-known viola concertos. Paul Hindemith, who was a violist, wrote a substantial amount of music for viola, including the concerto Der Schwanendreher. The concerti by Paul Hindemith, Béla Bartók, and William Walton are considered the "big three" of viola repertoire.


Viola Bridge.jpg

The viola is similar in material and construction to the violin. A full-size viola's body is between 25 mm (1 in) and 100 mm (4 in) longer than the body of a full-size violin (i.e., between 38 and 46 cm [15–18 in]), with an average length of 41 cm (16 in). Small violas typically made for children typically start at 30 cm (12 in), which is equivalent to a half-size violin. For a child who needs a smaller size, a fractional-sized violin is often strung with the strings of a viola.[3] Unlike the violin, the viola does not have a standard full size. The body of a viola would need to measure about 51 cm (20 in) long to match the acoustics of a violin, making it impractical to play in the same manner as the violin.[4] For centuries, viola makers have experimented with the size and shape of the viola, often adjusting proportions or shape to make a lighter instrument with shorter string lengths, but with a large enough sound box to retain the viola sound. Prior to the eighteenth century, violas had no uniform size. Large violas (tenors) were designed to play the lower register viola lines or second viola in five part harmony depending on instrumentation. A smaller viola, nearer the size of the violin, was called an alto viola. It was more suited to higher register writing, as in the viola 1 parts, as their sound was usually richer in the upper register. Its size was not as conducive to a full tone in the lower register.

Several experiments have intended to increase the size of the viola to improve its sound. Hermann Ritter's viola alta, which measured about 48 cm (19 in), was intended for use in Wagner's operas.[5] The Tertis model viola, which has wider bouts and deeper ribs to promote a better tone, is another slightly "nonstandard" shape that allows the player to use a larger instrument. Many experiments with the acoustics of a viola, particularly increasing the size of the body, have resulted in a much deeper tone, making it resemble the tone of a cello. Since many composers wrote for a traditional-sized viola, particularly in orchestral music, changes in the tone of a viola can have unintended consequences upon the balance in ensembles.

One of the most notable makers of violas of the twentieth century was Englishman A. E. Smith, whose violas are sought after and highly valued. Many of his violas remain in Australia, his country of residence, where during some decades the violists of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra had a dozen of them in their section.

More recent (and more radically shaped) innovations have addressed the ergonomic problems associated with playing the viola by making it shorter and lighter, while finding ways to keep the traditional sound. These include the Otto Erdesz "cutaway" viola, which has one shoulder cut out to make shifting easier;[6] the "Oak Leaf" viola, which has two extra bouts; viol-shaped violas such as Joseph Curtin's "Evia" model, which also uses a moveable neck and maple-veneered carbon fibre back, to reduce weight:[7] violas played in the same manner as cellos (see vertical viola); and the eye-catching "Dalí-esque" shapes of both Bernard Sabatier's violas in fractional sizes—which appear to have melted—and David Rivinus' Pellegrina model violas.[8]

Other experiments that deal with the "ergonomics vs. sound" problem have appeared. The American composer Harry Partch fitted a viola with a cello neck to allow the use of his 43-tone scale. Luthiers have also created five-stringed violas, which allow a greater playing range.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Altviool
Alemannisch: Bratsche
العربية: كمان متوسط
azərbaycanca: Alt
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Альт (струнны інструмэнт)
български: Виола
bosanski: Viola
català: Viola
Чӑвашла: Альт
čeština: Viola
Cymraeg: Fiola
dansk: Bratsch
Deutsch: Bratsche
eesti: Vioola
Ελληνικά: Βιόλα
español: Viola
Esperanto: Aldviolono
euskara: Biola
فارسی: ویولا
Frysk: Altfioele
Gaeilge: Vióla
Gàidhlig: Ailt
galego: Viola
한국어: 비올라
hrvatski: Viola
Ido: Alto
Interlingue: Bassviolin
íslenska: Víóla
עברית: ויולה
Kabɩyɛ: Alto
ಕನ್ನಡ: ವಿಯೋಲ
magyar: Brácsa
македонски: Виола
മലയാളം: വയോള
مصرى: ڤيولا
Mirandés: Biola
Nederlands: Altviool
日本語: ヴィオラ
norsk: Bratsj
norsk nynorsk: Bratsj
occitan: Violon alto
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Alt
polski: Altówka
português: Viola
română: Violă
Runa Simi: Wiyula
русский: Альт
Scots: Viola
Seeltersk: Viola
shqip: Viola
Simple English: Viola
slovenščina: Viola
کوردی: ڤیۆلا
српски / srpski: Виола
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Viola
suomi: Alttoviulu
svenska: Viola
Tagalog: Biyola
தமிழ்: வியோலம்
Türkçe: Viyola
vepsän kel’: Viol (jändesoit)
Tiếng Việt: Viola
Winaray: Viola
ייִדיש: וויאלע
粵語: 中提琴
中文: 中提琴